invasive of the girls’ privacy) but
“Would have been even better if
they’re people I know,” as Lucas says.
“Next time I’m going to raise the
bounty and limit the range more. It’s
amazing what you can get, just by asking.” 25 Lucas anticipates that knowing
the girls involved would make the video
more satisfying. The invasion of private
space is part of the pleasure.
Aaron and Lucas respond very differently to the license-plate request, not
only because Aaron recognizes the
plate number but because he has something personal at stake in the fulfillment of the request, and in its asking.
Previously, the reader has seen Aaron
wonder why he is being asked to fulfill this or that request, but never
whether he should. Only when the request touches him personally does he
realize the damage that might be done
if it is fulfilled.
Aaron himself is later undermined
(in a small way) by another Tilly Here-and-Now user, fulfilling another of his
mother’s requests, when she discovers
he has been cast in the school play. On
the surface, this plot point lines up primarily with more typical concerns
about privacy. Aaron, who had hoped
to conceal the information about his
being cast in the play, is the one who has
been injured but, insofar as Aaron trusts
his mother less, she is also damaged.
Information control and performance.
The story repeatedly touches on the
theme of people pretending to be who
they are not, as signaled at the opening
of the story, when the reader learns Aaron has been cast in a play. A play is a performance, but the “deception” is a matter of mutual consent; the audience
knows it is watching actors, and in this
sense the play does not represent a miscarriage of knowledge.
This non-deceptive deception dif-
fers from the way Aaron’s parents talk
to each other over dinner toward the
end of the story. Aaron knows by then
that his mother suspects his father of
cheating and he halfway suspects his
father as well, but they treat each oth-
er normally, as if nothing is wrong.
“He couldn’t hear anything different
in their tones. His mother acted like
she had never asked the question. His
father acted like he had nothing to
hide.” 25 Aaron’s mother, and possibly
his father as well, perform with an in-
tent to mislead. But whom are they mis-
leading—Aaron, each other, or both?
And when did the deception begin?
It is also worth raising the question of
whether, and how, Aaron’s own actions
qualify as misrepresentations, as in his
desire to keep his role in the play a secret, and his own Tilly request, which is
designed to distract Lucas from fulfilling his mother’s request.
Additional topics. Liu’s “
Here-and-Now” also raises issues of access control
and information integration, or combining different possibly innocuous
sources to complete more complex,
thorough, and possibly invasive records.
At one point, the reader’s perception
shifts when Aaron recognizes his father’s license plate. How do the different
ethical theories frame the possibility of
deanonymization in the story, either deliberately or accidental? Discussing
deanonymization can lead to further
discussion of hacking and Wikileaks,
trust and distrust in data scrubbing, as
well as other directions.
Ethical description writing assignment. The purpose of this assignment is
description. Addressing the points cited
in the following paragraphs, describe
Liu’s story in terms of one of the three
major theories of ethics. (You will receive separate instructions telling you
which theory to use.) Be sure to title your
assignment “Here-and-Now: [name of
Assigned theory. Using the concepts
and worldview of your assigned theory, give a two-to-four sentence summary of the central ethical problem(s)
in the story.
Ethical problems. What is at stake in
the ethical problem(s) so described?
That is, what possible goods could be
gained or lost or what kinds of harm
could occur or be prevented? Using the
language of your theory, explain why
these costs or benefits are significant.
Characters. What character(s) is/are
in a position to take meaningful action
with respect to the problem? What
about their character or circumstances
positions them to take such action?
Course of action. Choose one such
character from your answer. Using the
language and concepts of your assigned
theory, describe the course of action this
character takes in the story. Are there
other possible courses of action the sto-
ry suggests the character might have
this particular narrative provides an
exceptionally effective window onto
Liu’s slightly reimagined world, and
the discussion will likely be more fo-
cused and productive if you dedicate at
least 20 minutes to 30 minutes to dis-
cussing Aaron’s experiences and re-
flections before moving onto the more
general implications of the Tilly app.
As always, the best approach is a Socratic one, in which you guide your students toward discovering things for
themselves. Here are some observations and details about the story. You
can use them to ask “fishing” questions if you think your students are
missing important details or to prompt
them to reassess their view of the story
if they have settled on a version that ignores such details.
Aaron. Aaron is interested in information about others. He likes claiming
bounties and furnishing others with the
information they want but also likes trying to figure out why it is that people
want them. When Lucas baits him, saying, “I got something cool,” Aaron cannot help asking about it.
On the other hand, Aaron hates giving up information about himself to the
people he knows. He does not want his
mother to know about his part in the
school play and will not tell Lucas how
much money he earned. In the entire
story, we learn of only one instance in
which Aaron willingly shares information with another character, when he
teaches his mother (before the beginning of the story) about Tilly Here-and-Now. By the end of the story, Aaron regrets having shared that information,
since his mother is now using the app
“against” him to learn things about him
and about his father.
The individuality of knowledge. At several points in the story, both major and
minor, the reader’s attention is directed
to the ways information matters more to
the people it touches directly. The story
thus adds a new layer to frequently expressed concerns about privacy, focusing on the damage done to the
character(s) whose information is
known or made available. As the story
explains, the person who knows can be
just as affected or damaged by that
knowledge as the subjects about whom
it is known.
Lucas is happy with his video of two
girls kissing (which strikes Aaron as