Mr. Blake was very excited. His performance review was today, and he was looking forward to it. Whistling, he knotted his tie and inspected himself in the mirror. He thought he looked good. Solid, mature, but with a twinkle in his eye—a guy you’d like to have a beer with, because he seemed like he knew how to kick back.
He set out for work with a skip in his step. His office was only twelve blocks away across Manhattan. Plenty of time! It was a glorious February day, nippy but with a bright blue sky and a smiling sun.
Mr. Blake still had most of his Christmas bonus, and his performance review would almost certainly come with a raise. It always did. Ten years Mr. Blake had been working for his company, Apptima (and it really was the best!) and ten straight years he had gotten raises. Soon he was expecting a promotion to Assistant Vice-President of Development, a step up from Head Tester. Perhaps not this year—old Gordon hung on to his desk like a shipwrecked sailor clinging to flotsam for his life—but certainly next year? Surely? Gordon couldn’t hang on forever, and Mr. Blake had plans for the development department.
Mr. Blake felt so flush that when he passed the homeless man who lived on the corner, he dropped a twenty-dollar bill into his outstretched hand. The man was so fogged out that he didn’t seem to register the amount and merely mumbled a thank you.
Mr. Blake shrugged. He didn’t need to be thanked as effusively as some of his fellow men wanted to be. He saw a woman racing down the street, trying to catch the attention of the driver of the bus that was pulling up at the stop next to him. Mr. Blake’s phone buzzed in his breast pocket, he pressed his Bluetooth earpiece into his ear, listened for a moment, and then he waved at the bus driver. Stop!
“Oh thank you, thank you,” the woman gasped as she ran up. “I just have to get to my job interview on time! I don’t know what would have happened if I’d missed this bus.”
“My pleasure, madam! And good luck!” Mr. Blake inclined his head to her and waved a cheery goodbye at the bus. Several passengers, hardened New Yorkers all, waved back.
Mr. Blake stopped to deal with his phone and tapped in some notes. Things to bring up at his performance review.
On the next block was his favorite bar. He checked his phone. Noon. Certainly he could treat himself to a drink! After all, he had a performance review. Nerves must be settled. Just don’t drink too much!
He turned towards the steps down to the bar, and noticed a young man hesitating nearby.
“Come, come, young man,” Mr. Blake called out. “Come in out of the cold and warm yourself up!”
Despite his effusive encouragement, the young man looked unsure. “Well…it’s not even noon.”
“Nonsense!” Mr. Blake showed him his phone, where 12:02 blinked large on the screen. “It is not only after noon, but you look like you could use a drink. Let me treat you.” He gestured politely for the hesitant young man to precede him down the steps.
Inside, Mr. Blake signaled the bartender. “One tequila sunrise, and my friend here will have—?”
“Scotch. On the rocks.” The young man paused, then added. “A double.”
“There you go!” Mr. Blake slapped him on the back. “I knew you needed a drink!”
They sat and sipped and made chat about the weather and the stock market and the big trade the Yankees had just made, and Mr. Blake ordered his new friend another double. Just as it arrived, Mr. Blake’s phone vibrated on the table, and he glanced at it and then the door. A young woman was entering.
Mr. Blake nudged his drinking companion. “Pretty, huh?”
“Yeah.” The young man’s eyes were on the young woman, or rather the parts of her anatomy that were most visible as she leaned across the bar to give the bartender her order.
“Let’s invite her over!”
The young man hesitated. Mr. Blake clapped him on the back again. “Now, now, you’ll never get a girl that way! Yoo-hoo!”
The young woman turned. Mr. Blake waved at her like a director positioning his actors for a big scene. “Join us, miss? And let me get that for you?”
“I won’t say no,” the girl laughed. “I’m Jackie.”
“My name is William. And this is Charles.” Mr. Blake gestured at the young man. Charles smiled and pulled out a chair for Jackie.
“Oh, dear!” Mr. Blake said as his phone’s alarm went off. “I must go—I have my performance review at work today and I can’t be late. I’ve been late before! You two stay here and enjoy yourselves.”
On his way out he gave the bartender a fifty-dollar bill to keep the young couple supplied with whatever they wanted. “And keep the change!”
That had been well done! But he really did need to get to work for his performance review. Mr. Blake hurried on. A few blocks passed before his phone buzzed at him again, and as he listened to his Bluetooth earpiece he stopped and looked down the side street. There was a nice old church there, and outside, despite the cold, was a booth selling baked goods.
Never one to turn down a good apple turnover, Mr. Blake detoured down the street. There was just time, and a good pastry could salve the pain of a poor performance review. Not that that would happen!
“Goodness! You ladies must be very dedicated! It’s cold today!”
“Oh we are, we are,” the older woman behind the table answered. “You see, we’re fundraising for a missionary trip to Haiti this summer.” She indicated the poster board propped up on the easel by the table, which explained that members of the parish would be traveling to Haiti to build some houses and a chapel to help restore a village destroyed by mudslides the previous year. To allow as many parishioners as wanted to go, they were raising funds to pay for lodging and transportation in Haiti.
“What a worthy cause!” Mr. Blake exclaimed. “Let’s see…how about half a dozen apple turnovers…and that cherry pie?”
“Of course. Thank you, sir.”
“No, no, no need for thanks.” Mr. Blake paid for the pastries, then added, “Just a little bit more of a donation, to help you all out.” He slipped a hundred-dollar bill across the table.
“Oh, how generous! Thank you! Do you want a receipt?”
Mr. Blake waved the offer off. “No, no. Just have a productive trip!” And off he trotted, clutching his apple turnovers and cherry pie.
Mr. Blake arrived at his building, showed his badge to Frank the security guard, asked after his sons, bestowed on him an apple turnover, and headed for the elevators. Almost time! Nothing to fear, he reminded himself.
Upstairs, he removed his coat and unwound his scarf, leaving both on the coat tree he had by his desk. He put the cherry pie in the staff room to be enjoyed by all, and in the men’s room he straightened his tie and slicked back his hair.
Then he took the elevator to the top floor.
“William Blake?” A secretary called his name. “They’re ready for you.”
As Mr. Blake walked down the hall towards the conference room after her, he began to look wary, even concerned. The secretary notices and smiled at him. “I’m sure you don’t need to worry.”
“Are they in good moods?” Mr. Blake whispered back.
“They’ve been pretty cheerful. They had to break for a bit when Mr. Rutherford’s diabetes acted up. He was feeling dizzy.”
“Oh, I hope he’s all right now.” Mr. Blake beamed at the secretary as she opened the conference room door for him and thanked her. His phone buzzed as he entered the room, but he ignored it.
In the conference room were three men. They stood to greet him. Mr. Rutherford, the COO, shook hands first. “Nice to see you again, William. You remember Mr. Thomas from Finance and Mr. Percy from Marketing.” The men nodded.
“Honey,” Mr. Rutherford said to the secretary, “bring us some coffee, and make sure it’s not burnt like the pot you made this morning. And remember, Splenda, not sugar.” He shook his head at the others while she was leaving. “You’d think anyone could manage to make a decent carafe of coffee.”
“So, William,” Mr. Rutherford settled his considerable bulk back into his chair and paged through the file in front of him. “You’ve been doing your usual excellent job. Usually punctual, no sick days, dedicated team member and leader, extremely thorough and well-researched testing reports. I’m not sure we even have anything to discuss about practicals.”
“But,” Mr. Percy picked up the thread, “we are very interested in the app you recently proposed and have been developing and testing on your own. I’d like to know more about it. Random Acts? Of kindness, I assume?”
“Yes.” Mr. Blake nodded. “That is going very well. Users will earn points based on the quantity and quality of random acts of kindness they do every day. The app tracks all publicly available information from social media and location services. It alerts users when there is someone nearby who could use a random act of kindness. If the user acts on those alerts, they will earn points.”
“Rather saccharin, isn’t it?” Mr. Thomas said skeptically. “Could we really make a long-term profit on an app that just helps you do good? I would imagine most users will get bored rather quickly.”
“Ah!” Mr. Blake responded. “I thought of that myself after a few days of testing. So I made a few tweaks. Users buy an app that facilitates acts of kindness, but select users, chosen based on their social media profiles, will be invited to utilize an extra feature—for a subscription fee, of course, and after agreeing to terms of service that include a non-disclosure agreement, except for purposes of recruiting their friends. After performing an act of kindness to log into the app, they will be able to perform acts that are ostensibly acts of kindness, but are really acts of unkindness, as judged by the statistical probability of a negative outcome, determined from information online relevant to the targets and their situations. The market for that tests much better. We can tie the subscription crossed to our increased online information costs from private databases.”
The other men glanced at each other. “Explain,” said Mr. Rutherford.
Mr. Blake pulled his phone from his pocket, glanced quickly at his latest alert, and began reading from his notes. “For instance, just from my walk here this morning.
“Tester activated the app by giving a homeless man $20. Outcome uncertain, but not relevant.
“Item one. Tester stopped a bus for a woman running to catch it so she would not miss a job interview. In fact, what the woman did not realize but the tester knew was that it was the wrong bus – the local, not the express. Likelihood of a negative outcome, 76%, possible outcomes including missed interview and domestic issues. Most likely outcome based on social media metadata: loss of current living conditions and custody of her children.
“Item two. Tester bought a young man several drinks, and introduced him to a young woman for whom he also bought several drinks. Social media information indicates both are on the cusp of alcoholism. Likelihood of a negative outcome, ranging from the development of full-fledged alcoholism to a codependent relationship between the two in which they encourage each other’s alcoholism, 91%.
“Item three. Tester purchased several baked goods at a church fundraiser in support of a mission to Haiti. Tester also donated one hundred dollars towards the fundraising goal. Likelihood of a negative outcome, 63.5%, ranging from the entire mission being kidnapped and held for ransom to individual members experiencing murders and rapes.
“I’m afraid that’s all I had time for this morning.” Mr. Blake put his phone away and waited.
It was Mr. Thomas who broke the silence. “This is brilliant. I can absolutely see a market for this, especially if users can key it to people they know and might want revenge on—a boss, an ex, a romantic rival.”
“Absolutely.” Mr. Blake nodded enthusiastically. “And as they do more random acts, more features of the app can open for them if they pay just a bit more. More detailed tracking, more refined statistical analysis, greater ability to target individuals or groups of people.”
“Heck, I’d buy it.” Mr. Percy said. “You meet so many jerks on the street these days. It’s time they got their comeuppance.”
Mr. Rutherford leaned across the table. “I’d like to shake your hand, William. And while this was supposed to be kept under wraps for a bit longer while we worked out Mr. Gordon’s severance package, I don’t mind telling you that when Gordon leaves next month, you will become the new Assistant Vice-President for Development.” The other men added, “hear, hear.”
Mr. Blake beamed. “Why, thank you!” He opened his briefcase as his phone once again buzzed insistently in his pocket. “Now, would any of you gentlemen care for an apple turnover?”
Image – Pixabay.com