“Is nothing sacred?” Jillian said to herself as she looked into her mug, with its large red ‘J’ on the front and with the dregs of some unidentifiable grey drink festering inside. She poured the liquid away and her lips curled towards her nose as she reached for the washing up liquid. Coating the mug until it became awkward to hold and turning the tap to its hottest setting, she glared at the small yellow sticker on the tiles behind the sink which warned to expect extremely hot water.
Jillian tutted in the empty kitchen as she scrubbed and rinsed the mug before adding more washing up liquid and repeating the process. When finally the inner walls of the mug were completely free of the stains from minutes before and her finger squeaked beneath its tip as she ran it across the bright letter on its clean outside, she took a fresh tea towel from a drawer, dried the cup and finally began to make her first cup of tea of the night.
Fragrant steam wafted up to her nose as she left the kitchen, turned out the light and headed back to her desk, or rather the desk she shared with her daytime equivalent, and which without fail every evening, she would spend the first five minutes of her shift righting the misplaced stationary, amending the settings on her chair and monitors and usually wiping clean the crumbs and coffee stains her esteemed colleague had left for her.
She tutted again as she moved her mouse to awaken the screens and realised it was stuck to the desk with what appeared to be the same grey liquid she’d poured away earlier in the kitchen. Jillian opened the top drawer and took out a packet of wipes and proceeded to use two on the mouse, three on the keyboard and one on the phone. Admittedly she rarely used the phone, but ‘the way that some people live’, she thought, warranted special attention.
Content that her desk had been reclaimed, she relaxed by a degree. She typed in her password and looked around at the mostly empty office, noting where the glow of the other active screens was emanating from tonight. Within the tombstone lines of seats in the open plan office, no-one was within fifteen desks of her. She relaxed a degree more, and double clicked on a spreadsheet on her desktop. She took a sip of the tea and felt its warmth creep down through her chest like only the first sip will and crossed her legs, releasing her heel from the shoe she was wearing, dangling it from her toes as the spreadsheet opened. She’d been working on it for around three weeks now, and it was now about 80% complete. She went to the next row for completion and highlighted the file path and opened the relevant folder. She then went back to the spreadsheet and copied the IP address in the next column and clicked the button on her taskbar to take her to the other programme she used.
She slid her chair back and reached down into her handbag whilst the programme loaded. She took out the smaller of the two Tupperware lunchboxes and put it on the desk next to her cup of tea. There were three biscuits inside, but she would wait a few minutes more before having one. The programme popped open with a blink of the screen and she pasted the copied IP address into the relevant field, hit return and watched as first browsing history, then emails received, then emails sent, keystrokes and mouse clicks made over the past three months, populated row after row of a new document. As it slowed and finished, she highlighted these new entries and exported it, saving the data to the folder she’d visited before, returning to her original sheet and logging yet another line as complete.
Jillian tried not to think of the lines as people, even drawing the line at referring to them as ‘users’. The lines were just that; another line in another spreadsheet. An I.P. address at a push. Maybe an amusing or naughty website name or address she noticed as the programme scrolled and populated with all this private data. She’d once or twice wondered if she might be on the spreadsheet somewhere, but of course she never saw names or actual physical addresses and had no idea what was significant about these I.P. addresses anyway. Since she’d never know it wasn’t worth dwelling on really, she reasoned.
One more sip of her tea and she flipped the lid off the Tupperware. She bit into the chocolate chip cookie and dropped a few crumbs on her desk as she pasted another I.P. address in and watched the data harvesting. “Hey Jill,” called out the cleaning man as he walked past pulling a vacuum behind him. “Hi ya,” she replied. She never could remember his name, but, she thought he definitely might like her, as he always made a point of having to travel past her desk. She marked another line as complete in the spreadsheet as the shoe slipped off her toe. She relaxed another degree and settled into the rest of her shift with a flex of her neck, and another biscuit.
Photo Credit: Kacper Pempel, Reuters, via The Guardian