Lost In Track Changes is an ongoing literary remix experiment featuring Cate Kennedy, Fiona Capp, Krissy Kneen, Ryan O'Neill and Robert Hoge. Starting from a short work of memoir, the authors remix each other's work in series, with changes tracked between. Fiona Capp fast forwards Cate Kennedy's futuristic remix by another five years and explores its consequences. These remixes are based on Robert Hoge's memoir. Use the tabs to flick between versions of the story.
[tabs style="boxed"] [tab title="Walking the Walk 3.0"] [dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen Christopher got the job with Pro-aesthetic as an imagineer he was over moon and so was I. He had spent two, dispiriting years searching for work after graduating in Imagineering – in my day we called it marketing – and copping knock back after knock back. A few times, he reached the second round of interviews, but that was as far as it went. I had started to worry that he was too good for the world and would never get the break he deserved.
At school, his teachers often described him as ‘impressionable’ and ‘easily lead’ which meant that he occasionally got into strife. But he was a sweet natured boy and they could see this. He desperately wanted to be popular, to be with the in-group, which made him somewhat slavish in his attention to fashion and the latest trends. In job interviews, he was always trying to say the right thing and I suspect that he came across as a little too eager to please. At school, the nastier kids used to call him a suck.
If only he were only given the chance to prove himself, I was sure he would shine. But now, when I look back on what happened, I can’t help feeling that Pro-aesthetic chose him precisely because they saw him as pliable, an employee who would sacrifice his best interests for the sake of holding on to his job; a perfect mannequin for the company.
When Christopher started at Pro-aesthetic, the company was best known for consolidating its market share in prosthetics for diabetics, which was ravaging the Industrialised world. Back in the 20s, its primary market was amputees who were victims of old 20th century ordinance – the landmines that pep-pered warzones across the planet. With global viable farmland shrinking so much after the millennium, people were forced to venture back onto those zones – across Africa and Asia mostly – and the company had a stream of candidates who were will, desperate even, for new improved limbs to replace their old ones.
Before applying for the job, Christopher did his homework on the company’s biggest innovations – NewSkin, a knee joint that won them an international prize, Carefree Barefoot with indestructible synthetic soles and SuperReal Prosthetic Pro, the gamechanger which was so lifelike and responsive it could reproduce the marks caused by sock elastic.
During his first few months at Pro-aesthetic, he was on a high and a bit strung-out, as if all the hype he was imbibing and channelling had gone to his head. He would come home from work chattering wildly about the need to ‘harness emotional surges and the craving for specialness’ and ‘improved enhancement options for discerning clients’. The technology had become so sophisticated, he said, there was no limit to what artificial limbs could do. When he started talking about ‘pro-active cosmetic enhancement’ it meant nothing to me. As far as I was concerned, it was just more meaningless jargon. But Christopher had always loved playing with words and it was his job to dream this stuff up. I didn’t want to be a wet blanket, so I told him it sounded fascinating and that as a consumer I might be open to the idea, even though I had no idea what it meant.
I remember him looking at me keenly when I said this. ‘You really think so?’ he said. ‘It was Jared’s idea. He’s a genius at the big picture.’ I knew who Jared was because Christopher was always going on about him, the visionary CEO who was so far ahead of the rest of them.
After Christopher had been working at Pro-aesthetic for a year, he took four weeks holiday. I was hoping we could spend a week together at the little seaside resort where his father and I used to take him for summer holidays when he was a boy. But he said that Jared had something big planned for him and the other Imagineers. A bonding holiday he called it. It was important, he said, that the executive team demonstrate their brand loyalty, that they set the trend. It was all about fashion, art and primal attraction.
I found it hard to see what fashion, art or primal attraction had to do with prosthetic limbs, although I did have an inkling that there could be something fetishistic about them. I supposed he was referring to the interactive tattooing and self-tanning apps incorporated into some of these limbs. I liked to think that I was up on all the company’s latest innovations but I clearly, I didn’t have a clue. That’s painfully obvious to me now.
The day he came home from his holidays, it was over 35 degrees, with a dry northerly scouring the streets. I remember it vividly because Christopher was wearing a long-sleeve shirt and jeans, which was unusual for him. In this kind of weather, he’d normally be in shorts and a t-shirt. As he walked up the hallway towards me, there was something odd about his gait, as if he was terribly stiff. I assumed it was because of all that cross-country running he said they were going to be doing, although I couldn’t understand why he looked so pale. Surely he would have got plenty of sunshine?
When I put my arms out to give him a hug, he tensed and stepped backwards, as if he didn’t want to be touched.
‘I’m a bit sore, Mum,’ he said.
‘Have you strained anything?’
‘A hammy, maybe. Nothing serious.’
Looking across at him it suddenly struck me he looked taller than he had four weeks ago. He was only 24 and I wondered if he’d had a growth spurt. Or perhaps I was shrinking. My mother lost half an inch every decade after 50.
‘I promise I’ll be gentle,’ I said to him as I put my arms around him.
He reluctantly returned the embrace, his head turned to one side, a pained look on his face. I knew as soon as I felt his arms they were different in a way that four weeks holiday couldn’t explain. He had always been rather scrawny. For a period in his late teens, he went to the gym twice a week in an attempt to build what he considered a more manly physique. But working out didn’t transform him in the way he’d hoped and he soon gave up. ‘There’s nothing wrong with being lean,’ I told him. At school, they called him the Skelly, short for skeleton. He’d never had a girlfriend and was convinced it was because he was so ‘scraggy’ as he put it, so thin.
Before he could pull away, I grabbed him by the shoulders, shoulders that didn’t seem to belong to him. They were so muscular and broad, with biceps that bulged through his shirt.
Shocked, I whispered, ‘Have you been taking steroids?’
‘If only!’ he spat bitterly, and broke down. He sank on to the couch and put his face in his hands. That’s when I noticed them, his hands. Hands I had first seen when he was in my womb. Hands I had tickled and held and kissed since the day he was born. I would them recognise anywhere.
And they weren’t his.
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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he brand managers told us we were lucky to have come across the article in the archive. It’s not often, they said, that we—by which they meant we here at Pro-aesthetic ™—had access to primary source material like this. They were calling a meeting with the Imagineers and the CEOs and we’d get together over an actual table and dream up the direction of the new campaign.
‘It’s an piece of writing,’ Jonathon enthused as we made our way to the Senior Executive floor for the meeting, ‘full of simple statements of insight, written with actual first-hand experience. No sales agenda, no pitch.’
The managers were right—this was rare. By the time Pro-aesthetic had started making headway, back in the 20s, its primary market was amputees who were victims of old 20th century ordinance—the unexploded landmines that peppered warzones across the planet. With global viable farmland shrinking so much after the millenium, people were forced to venture back onto those zones – across Africa and Asia mostly – and we always had a stream of candidates who were willing – desperate even – for new improved limbs to replace their old ones. We hadn’t needed much market research. But it was the raging spike across the industrialised world in diabetes that really consolidated our market share. Unprecedented demand for prosthetics really put us on the map.
They’d been boom years for a while there—new legs all round, patented Innovative NewSkin, a knee joint that won us an international prize. Now it seemed we were headed in a new direction.
Inside the boardroom Jared, our wunderkind CEO, welcomed us.
‘These are exciting days,’ he said, as he often did. ‘Our history may have felt slow and methodical, but I think, as this article will show us, that it’s only been one short generation since the inception of a brilliantly fast and inventive revolution of which we are the proud vanguards.’
He brought an image of a page to the screen. Plain text. Just one candid sentence after another.
‘Most people learn to walk just once.’ it began. ‘…Then there’s the rest of us – the leaners, the lame, the legless – a tribe who needs to walk every time we get a new pair of prosthetic legs.’ Jared highlighted the word ‘tribe’ with a single touch, saying nothing.
‘New prosthetics can come with a whole range of changes – they might be a different shade of dark cream, they may be lighter, stronger, more reliable. Once I collected a new pair and discovered that instead of a crescent moon of rubber at the tip of the feet, they suddenly had toes.’ continued the article.
Jared raised his eyebrows and responded to our smiles. ‘This is what I mean,’ he said. ‘you can see we were at the very beginning of not only the technology, but also the conception of its marketing possibilities. The idea of toes being new, being novel. And you can see here how he jokes about his sister, painting the toenails. This would have been – let’s see – just a few short years before the app came out for incorporating interactive tattoos and the self-tanning feature became standard. Then the SuperReal Prosthetic Pro, the gamechanger. Remember the single idea that was based on?’
‘Imitating the compression marks caused by sock elastic on the shins,’ said Jonathon. Jared paused, looked at him.
‘Right,’ he said. ‘But not imitating, Jon. Reproducing.’ He turned back to the page and read a passage aloud:
‘Sometimes – the golden growing summers of my youth – my prosthetic legs would grow lengthen and all of a sudden I’d be 5cm taller. There wasn’t much about my appearance that filled me with pride when I was a kid, but leaving school one afternoon the third shortest student in class and coming back the next day the third tallest was pretty damn special.’ ‘Hear that?’ said Jared dreamily. ‘“Golden”. “Pride”. “Pretty damn special”. That’s what we’re after, friends. That overwhelming emotional surge. How to harness that surge? How to nurture a craving for it?’ ‘Putting one foot in front of the other should be simple, right. It should be dependable, knowable. It should be something you could rely on.’ ‘I know you’ve all read reports from diabetic amputees from the old days which echoed this fundamental frustration,’ said Jared. ‘They just wanted something reliable and straightforward, something that didn’t draw attention to the fact that their legs were prosthetic. And that market’s still bullish, don’t you worry. Diabetes is our bread and butter, as it were. But our customers…how can I put this. We love novelty, but we love normalising. We don’t mind spending to make a statement. And more and more of our clients feel encouraged now to purchase multiple sets from Pro-aesthetic, because they can see, as we can, that the sky’s the limit and it’s discriminatory to restrict options to consumer choice. Why not, after all, have a set for every day of the week, for each season, for every whim, if that’s what you want? Why not develop Pro-aesthetic limbs which reproduce the appearance of gradually increasing muscle tone of the calves, or adjust skin tone according to mood? You can see it already, if you’ve got the eyes to see it - in an early article like this one, straight from the heart of a person without legs – the possibility there, germinating.’
He pointed to another sentence: ‘You could really swap sets of legs I suppose – like an opening batsmen choosing the bat that best suits him for the day …Switching sets of legs just means re-adapting again and again..’
‘Thirty years ago,’ said Jared, musing. ‘Re-adapting again and again….there’s something in there for all of us to reflect on.’
‘The biggest sales spike last year,’ added the other wunderkind, Mark from Brand Mapping, ‘was Carefree Barefoot™, right? Because that just needed a conceptual leap. Why wear shoes, if you’re wearing prosthetic legs? Why not just make the synthetic soles indestructible?’
‘Thanks for bringing that up, Skye,’ answered Jared. ‘Because that kind of segues in a neat way into what I want to touch on next. That indicates a shift, the Carefree Barefoot™. A sign of a falling away of stigma, of a desire to be proud. A statement that says, ‘hey – I’m not hiding anything! I’m wearing these legs because I’m making a consumer choice to do so!’
He paused to let this sink in. ‘So what’s the way forward now?’ he said softly. ‘Where’s the path? How can we capitalise on this shift? It’s in this piece of writing, in my opinion; this simple sincere piece written three decades ago. Just let’s…look.’
He raised his finger and highlighted another fragment of text.
‘And there’s kind of a loveliness about it which makes you always conscious of your connection with the physical world. Your brain pauses for a second and re-discovers the world for you. This is the first time you’ve got in a car with these legs, and it feels different. The first time you’ve walked downstairs. The first time you’ve chugged up a hill. The first time you’ve tried to run, hoping that maybe just this once you’d be able to run. But it reminds you for just a few days that you’re not really connected to the Earth. You – the real you – is floating three feet above the ground. Your legs are your freedom and your burden.’
‘“Your freedom and your burden”,’ said Jared in the same dreamy voice. ‘There’s a keystone slogan for us right there. “The real you.” And don’t you love that? “…a kind of loveliness which makes you conscious of your connection with the physical world.” That’s what we need to think about now. Something elemental and visceral – something that does nothing less than re-discover the world for you.’
He turned back to us and spread his arms in entreaty. ‘So my challenge to you today is—do we have it in us to be audacious? Where is our new market? Where is our new fertile ground?’
‘Are you talking increased vertical market saturation?’ said Skye.
Jared eyed him patiently. ‘I’m talking “golden”. I’m talking “pride”. I’m talking “pretty damn special”. There’s limited prestige in contracting Type 2 Diabetes, Skye. We can recover that prestige with fabulous product, sure, we can restore the sense of choice and control to turn that around, but what if we take that—if you’ll forgive me—a step further? What if we began to create customised, state-of-the-art Proaesthetic improved limb enhancement options for a more discerning client? A client not afraid to take the steps to be pretty damn special?’
He stared at us, and we stared back. A glimmering of understanding of what he was saying. This was the genius of Jared, I couldn’t help thinking in that silence. Seeing this in context. What begins as tattooing and morphs into body piercing and scarification and plastic surgery and then anything for novelty, anything to embellish, to strut, to revise, to reinvent.
‘You’re talking ….voluntary amputation,’ said Skye hesitantly.
‘Stop,’ Jared said sharply. ‘I don’t want to hear the “a” word. I never want to hear it again in any of our promotional copy, is that understood? I don’t even like “voluntary”. And definitely not “cutting edge”, for obvious reasons.’
A nervous ripple of uncertain laughter greeted this.
‘I like “elective”,’ went on Jared. ‘I like “pro-active”. I like to think of this as “pro-active cosmetic enhancement”.’ He looked sternly across the room, full of faces gazing back at him. ‘Language is everything,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to make choosing to incorporate enhanced and eternally youthful limbs the ultimate statement. Of fashion. Of art. Of primal attraction. Remember that word—tribe. That’s our touchstone. I know we can do it.’
Brainstorm time, because even now, in the middle of the 21st century, groups of image marketeers still swear by brainstorming. We cleared our throats and shifted in our seats. Cast covert, anxious glances at each other. Secretly, everyone was wondering what I was nervously wondering, I suspect—what would our real test be, as our company’s executive team, to publicly demonstrate brand loyalty? What would be asked of us? What is the secret for getting through the task of taking this next impossible step?