LINCOLNWOOD, IL—It's Tuesday morning and Michael Royce, 27, is about to begin his day. Steeling himself for the wild journey ahead, this bold techno-traveler coolly presses a button, boots up his mainframe, and jacks into a strange, high-tech futurescape.
For Royce inhabits a sci-fi universe where his every transaction and correspondence occurs at lightning speed across the vast electronic data-stream known as "cyberspace."
"I usually check a couple news sites first thing in the morning," Royce says as he instantaneously uplinks current events from across the globe on his brightly illuminated view-screen. "CNN.com and Huffington Post are pretty good."
"I'm just going to check my e-mail real quick," he adds, conjuring, as if by magic, an entirely new info-box of data from out of the online ether.
In the blink of an eye, this real-life Johnny Mnemonic keys in his encrypted, top-secret passcode and enters the fortified binary area from which all his personal communiqués are sent forth in a dizzying array of ones and zeroes.
As if it were just a natural part of his day, Royce calmly surveys a torrent of classified cyber messages that flicker before his eyes in a mad rush. It's a chaotic scene, but Royce doesn't panic, for he is the lord and master of this virtual dimension.
A lone cyber-wolf, he prowls not the bustling streets of the analog world, but the electric avenues of the metaverse.
"I found these really cool shoes on Zappos the other day," Royce says cryptically as he scans the contents of a dispatch from an info-merchant thousands of miles away. "They've got some good deals, actually. You should check it out."
Utilizing invisible digi-creds to purchase goods electronically, Royce navigates a vast cyber marketplace containing every item imaginable. But he needn't look too hard, for this is an interactive realm in which all of his preferences and desires are predicted automatically by the net-stream.
Royce's bizarre electric world may seem like some fantastical realm, but it is also fraught with peril. Bands of roving cyber-thieves lurk around every corner, ready to hack into his motherboard and steal his virtual identity. The firewall defenses he has constructed around him can only keep intruders away for so long: every day, they're getting smarter—and stronger.
"Why do I get all these pop-ups now?" asks Royce, who over the years has masked his true identity so cunningly behind a variety of electronic avatars that it is nearly impossible to tell which version of him is currently speaking to reporters. "It's so annoying."
"I should download a new blocker," Royce adds.
Though his high-tech, cybertronic existence may appear overwhelming to the rest of us, it is the only way this weary wanderer of circuits and space knows how to live. And until the day our world catches up with his, Royce will be out there on the virtual nexus, searching.