Beige is the Rage

The unfolding of the crisis — the actual events themselves — were similar for everyone, I suppose.

In my case, a co-worker, Sally Truesdale, zoom-called me and asked, “Did you hear yet?”
“What?” I asked.
“They are grounding all international flights.”
“The beige crisis.  It’s finally hitting.  You haven’t been following this one?”
Beige crisis?  Beige?  Like the color?”
“Read the article in the Atlantic, last month.  It’s spooky.”
“Apparently there are light-spectrum coefficients in all international airport technology that depend on beige being exactly what it should be, like the hex code or something.  If it’s wrong, between different countries, you could fly to London, and — on landing — be dumped in Piccadilly.”
“Does this mean our Cincinnati thing is off?”
“No, for now it’s just international flights, until they figure it out.  Read the Atlantic article.  This guy paints a really spooky picture.”
“We’re supposed to be taking this one seriously.”

I suppose, like most people, it felt strange to be hearing terms like “The International Commission on Beige,” and to know it had been around for a few decades, supported by generous UN and NGO funding.   It also felt strange to know that people were worried about “beige standards” slipping, and slipping dangerously.  Who knew that “beige standards” were a thing?
“Of course they’re a thing,” Sally told me, genuinely worried, “like you wouldn’t believe.  They affect everything from medical technology to food safety to basic neurological health.”
“Beige,” I said.  “Beige?”
“It was new to me too, but now that I know, I can’t ‘un-know’ it.”

Over the next few months, like most people, we all began learning much more about ‘beige’ than we had ever thought necessary.  The networks were full of technology experts who demanded immediate action on better standards for defining the color in a way that certainly seemed world-ending to ignore.  It was made brutally clear about a month into the crisis in a CNN interview, when an MIT professor, Hyrum Libowitz, told a startled Christiane Amanpour, that there was a global “back door” problem.

“Look,” the tired professor confessed, “picture government access to almost all technology these days.  It all depends on beige being beige.  That’s all I can say, but I can tell you the whole system is totally F-ed up now.  We think Putin may have something to do with it.  You’ve got governments all over the world unable to access private security cameras, unable to monitor vaccine batches, unable to monitor political opponents.  It’s just a mess.”

Professor Libowitz’s death, three days later, and the subsequent absence of any more “back-door” discussion made the entire topic more sinister, but you couldn’t avoid the brutal crackdown on the question.  After his death, Hyrum Libowitz was accused of bestiality, serial adultery, and child trafficking in the New York Times.  Previous to the crisis, he had more academic publications on artificial intelligence than anyone in the field, but after that “back door” interview, he was accused of getting all his research from the “mother ship.”  All you had to do was reference his name, and anyone under 30 would wonder whether you needed a care-giver.

For me, I just couldn’t avoid my own confused, bewildered, oft-repeated quandary..
“Beige,” I said to myself.  “Beige?”

I wasn’t alone, of course.  Lots of people were confused as to why international travel had to cease, why police had to turn off their body-cams, why chiropractors and health food stores had to close down unless they could prove they were “beige-compliant,” but the folks who were confused tended to be the ones who weren’t required to attend, or didn’t enjoy, human resources workshops.  I was an independent contractor and Sally Truesdale was a company girl.  Thinking back, it explains a lot.

“Here,” Sally told me, “is what I don’t think you understand: we need everyone to be on board, not just here, but globally.  We can’t have rogue governments and bad actors modifying the beige firmware.  Otherwise, we can’t trust the coffee we get from Nicaragua or the chocolate we get from Cameroon.”
“But we’ve been getting coffee and chocolate from those countries for decades, centuries.  I just don’t understand what ‘beige’ has to do with it.”
“Things have changed.  If a country isn’t beige-compliant, you could be slurping what you think is coffee but is secretly laced with fentanyl.”
“Seems to me,” I said, “a country that shipped fentanyl-laced chocolate wouldn’t be shipping chocolate for very long.”
“Which,” Sally responded, “is precisely why they should be happy to comply with all beige-compliant regulations.”
“But,” I said, requiring an entire country to turn over all of their electronic devices for government inspection, just to make sure their beige-color firmware is up to date?  Don’t you see why people would object to that invasion of privacy?”
“Yes,” she said, “if they care about their privacy more than peoples’ lives.”

So if it was strange to think about the color beige as a problem, it became even more strange to think not taking the beige problem seriously meant you were a killer.  My relationship with Sally was getting more and more strained.  I could tell she was beginning to regard me with caution.

“I just finished a great article in the New Yorker,” she told me, “and you should think about it.”
“How so?”
“Consider this.  When you get together with family, or you have friends over, you really should think about making sure they are beige-compliant.”
“Oh my word, Sally.  I’ve been reading articles by impeccably credentialed people who swear up and down that almost NONE of our everyday technology even has the ability to measure the integrity of beige.”
“You’ve been watching too much Fox news.”
“No, Sally.  Listen.  This was a roundtable of Stanford, Harvard and Oxford scientists.”
“All you need,” Sally responded, “is for one cell phone to be beige-faulty.  Bad actors could infect all of your technology.  They can turn your flat panel into a recording device. They can turn your microwave into a slow-death machine.”
“So,” I responded, “just for the sake of argument.  How often do you get your cell phone disinfected?”
“I take it to the post office once a week.  It’s free.  They scan it and clean my firmware. I take my car to the DMV once a month.  Totally free.”
“So the government has all your data?  Who you talk to, where you drive?”
“Oh, please,” she said, “and the next thing you’re going to tell me is that Chinese communists created the beige crisis, right?”

There were a few more of these conversations, but the end result was brutal. Sally got me fired.  I lost my consulting gig with a Fortune 100 technology firm, and Sally let me know, afterwards, she didn’t want to see me socially anymore.

It was at about this time that linguist Noam Chomsky and neuroscientist Sam Harris, like many public intellectuals, began self-isolating and urging the government to demand beige purity–if the world were ever to recover is former self.  Chomsky went so far as to demand that the beige impure not even be allowed to use technology for home grocery delivery.  “If they starve,” he said, “it’s not our problem.”

“I understand, “Sam Harris said, ” how uneducated people might not be able to fathom the problem we’re facing here, but it is irresponsible to think merely in hexameter.  We aren’t talking about 16 million RGB colors.  We are looking at base 85 stuff.  We need a precise beige, or all of our systems will begin to fail. We simply must put an end to disinformation on this score.”

“The beige-deniers,” thundered the president of the United States, “are the problem here.  Turn in your technology.  Get the new firmware. The sooner we all get new firmware, the safer we will be.”

Losing my primary client, at that point in time, represented very bad timing.  Medical bills had put me behind on everything, and I lost my house too.  My skepticism about the entire beige crisis left me looking like an untouchable in certain circles, and I was having trouble getting any work at all.  For a few months there, if you didn’t keep your cell phone in its led-lined case, people looked at you funny.  Cell phones were simply not crowd-friendly devices anymore.  You were required to find a space at least 50 feet from anyone else, remove your cell phone from its case, and then use your phone mostly for emergencies.  Within the space of a few days, almost every major corporation in America sported a positive-speak “keep it latched” message.  Anyone who used their phone carelessly didn’t really love his neighbor.

I did try the original firmware purification because I couldn’t get on a flight in New York without it, but I couldn’t help noticing how frightfully hot my phone kept getting shortly thereafter, and then I heard about people getting injured by exploding mobile devices.  I also heard all the stories about random email forwards to unknown addresses, and the entire thing creeped me out, so I did something weird.  I fired up an old phone.  I went backward technologically, and I became something of a “beige-dirty” rebel.

“Beige?” I kept asking myself.  “Beige??”

It did not make any sense at all.  It was as if leaders worldwide, and corporations, and major intellectuals were all asking us to be stupid simultaneously.  The actor Sean Penn went so far as to say they should open up detention camps for people who wouldn’t beige-purify.  I simply couldn’t believe how quickly the entire world seemed to embrace a crisis that really wasn’t a crisis at all.

And all of us skeptics were eventually proved right, of course.  Airplanes unable to read “beige,” did not crash into villages next to the airport.  Traffic light systems didn’t break down.  Point of sale devices continued to work.  ATMs continued to produce cash.  There were no nuclear silo disasters or meltdowns.  For about 18 months, strangely, the world experienced no official internet outage, and whenever an internet outage did occur it was attributed to beige impurity problems.

The odd correlation between people who compulsively beige-purify and device-inspired fatality continues to rise, but no one seems to talk about it.

And no one in leadership seems to care about the jobs, homes, and lives lost.  They never apologize.

Sally hasn’t said a word to me either.