Malachi McIntosh’s debut short collection, Parables, Fables, Nightmares, is to be published by The Emma Press in September 2023 and is available for pre-order
I write this from the distance of a great deal of History, the tragedy of Be-Me.com alive to us in ways that it couldn’t have been to its contemporaries. That fact brings with it certain challenges, not least the difficulty of knowing where and when to begin a Volume on Topic so well-known, especially one aimed at our average Reader. One is never certain how much familiarity to assume, how much of one’s own taken-for-granted expertise is in fact expertise at all; how far what one knows has, by virtue of one’s teaching or presentations or talks trickled into Society to soak into the minds of our People and become common Knowledge. This challenge is especially acute on a topic like this. While the rapid expansion then collapse of Be-Me.com is closely tied to us and our lives, there is no certainty that understanding of it is deep or will always be held. So, for that, I return to this topic primarily in order to offer an overview both for those who wish to fill in gaps in their own understanding, and for the future, where, I hope, generations to come will see this summary as a useful artefact and a clear warning of the mistakes made in the past, in the age that led to our age, and our halved lives, here, Inside. If you’re well-versed in the story of Be-Me.com then please, Reader, pass on; that said, for all those with vacant spaces in what they know, keep reading – be you here or in a place much better than ours.
By the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century, when the Internet had finally attained the omnipresence to which had it always aspired – with mobile computing devices located in all towns and all cities across the Earth, and used, through transnational wireless networks, by a percentage of humanity that steadily progressed towards its asymptote – what we can confidently call ‘voyeuristic’ websites were at their peak of popularity. All evidence suggests that almost every man, woman and child (that vexed and vexing category that continues to befuddle us today) possessed at least a mobile computing device, which, based on production figures and salvaged relics, operated via a touch-sensitive panel that enabled the owner to, among other things, check the meteorological conditions in their local area, communicate – by text or voice – with anyone anywhere (albeit, bizarrely to us, it seems that the latter function was used steadily less and less), and through this transmit snippets of text and photographic personal information to friends, strangers and any number of profit-making organisations.
Be-Me was, in many ways, the complete fulfilment of that latter potentiality. At the time of its debut, experiential websites were plying a good trade. A range of providers, beginning as far back as the late twentieth century, offered the means to glean updates on the lives of others. Whilst individuals themselves managed these interactions, the Archive suggests that many used these sites for minute-by-minute disclosure of their daily lives (and thus the trap into which many young Historians have fallen: hours spent in the Archive mutely consuming images of men and women hovering over colourful meals now lost to our culinary arts, as they are, or, oddly, taking pictures of themselves posed over sinks (something that is, regardless of any word to the contrary, a fascinating cultural phenomenon worth a Volume all its own)). As any astute Historian would likely have it, these early websites seem to have amply filled a need until the true depth of that need was identified with Be-Me.com’s birth.
Early Histories of Be-Me rank its creators Sara Gonzalez-Heinz and Samuel Johnson-Jones as visionaries, but when the full breadth of their own text messages and emails to each other are examined, the facts cloak them, at the risk of damning the Historians past who considered both in brief, in the guise of quite fortunate opportunists, at least at the start. Both Gonzalez-Heinz and Johnson-Jones were colleagues at ForeThought, a UK-based hard- and software company located in the curiously dubbed ‘Midlands Engine Silicon Network Build Back Levelling Up Square’ of Digbeth, Birmingham.
In what was then ‘England’, Birmingham had been the second-largest city. Often underappreciated and subject to several conflicting and stalled waves of regeneration, MESNet BLUpS (usually simply ‘MESNets’) was designed to lure tech entrepreneurs to boost a steadily atrophying national economy. Its offer was converted warehouse space renovated at government expense for ‘start-ups’ – new ventures launched by the wealthy to which Sarah and Samuel would both be drawn.
There is a strange sort of symmetry in the lives of these two key figures. Sara, born in Germany, was educated and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, and by all recorded accounts – especially those of her teachers, who frequently sent short, tersely-worded emails to her parents to arrange meetings – she was a difficult but brilliant student (e.g. ‘Dear Ms. Gonzalez, It would be wonderful to arrange another time to meet this week. I’ve done what you’ve asked but I’ve unfortunately not seen much improvement in Sara this semester. Please call us or email me back for a good time to speak. We know you and your husband are both very busy, but we feel this meeting is unavoidable.’). Samuel Johnson-Jones, on the other side of the Atlantic, was the opposite: born and brought up in an affluent area of the town of Solihull, he was considered charming and wonderful by all who met him. His first girlfriend, an Angela Adams, described him in a text message as ‘the kindest and nicest boy at school’ a sentiment echoed in his teachers’ electronic reports, where he is frequently referred to as ‘a pleasure to teach’; one account by his sixth-form Physics tutor dubbing him ‘the sort of student who makes me happy I chose this career’. Samuel, a tall, rugby-playing prefect in his final year of education progressed easily to Imperial College, London to study for a degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering; Sara, on the other hand, gained access to MIT only through the unusually active intervention of her principal who, despite the trouble Sara brought to his staff, and in light of the perfect SAT score that accompanied her middling 2.0 average, wrote in his letter in support that he would ‘wager the education of all his future students’ on the fact that she had ‘special talents that we’ve completely failed to cultivate here’. Following these recommendations, on arrival at university, their fortunes quickly flipped.
Sara became a star at MIT, her daring software innovations immediately winning her accolades from her professors, while Samuel, at Imperial, as they said at the time, ‘sunk like a stone’, his exam marks amongst the lowest in the university’s recorded history. To put this in context, of the roughly 700 pictures posted by both on one popular website over their university careers the majority of Sara’s show her attending conferences, giving presentations and winning awards (a character after our own hearts!) where at least a third of Samuel’s photos show him drunk or unconscious with comments, added by a handful of his 1600 Friends on the site, reflected in just two: ‘The Jezz-Man strikes agin [sic]!’ and ‘double j on the sway, ftw!’. Sara, in line with her performance, was approached by several high-ranking American companies after completing university but chose instead to follow a boyfriend, an Edward Edmonds, to MESNetS for a place at ForeThought. Samuel, of course, secured a job there because his cousin had started the company.
Sara’s decision to join ForeThought is, for many reasons, very curious. For any Historian, however experienced, some events are sources of endless fascination. Why, ultimately, did Sara follow Edward Edmonds? He was, by all accounts, and in Sara’s own words, ‘a bit of a dweeb’; that is, her own text messages describe a relationship of disinterest, disillusionment, frustration and bemusement with a young man who seems to have embodied every stereotype in circulation at his time about intelligent young men (underscored by his nicknames, ‘EdEd’ and ‘Eds the Head’). We know well now the irrationalities committed in the name of ‘love’ (in no small part due to Historian 16’s fascinating early study Love and Idiocy); and many of Us now justifiably see ‘love’ as something of a sickness, an emotional plague that spread its wicked influence over the events of earlier centuries, the Archive dominated by communications which proclaim love’s name as the justification for a wide range of cruelties, injustices, neglect and aggression, the anguished pleas of the loved or once-loved rending their way through almost all private communication that we can access. This particular Historian remains ambivalent about this strange way of experiencing the self and others – love – but can nonetheless, and confidently, declare that love played no role whatsoever in Sara’s move – a fact made starkly clear in her immediate abandonment of Edmonds and engagement in sexual relations with Samuel Johnson-Jones, only one day after becoming a ForeThought employee.
Their messages to each other on the day following their first encounter are telling:
Samuel: i’ve been thinking… do you want to come round again tonight?
Sara: probably not…
Sara: well. yeah. it’s not like that, but.
Sara (one hour later): sorry but i think maybe that all happened a little too fast.
Sara: but it was fun.
Sara (five minutes later): so thanks.
Sara: i think we should break up
Sara: sorry. sent by mistake 🙈
Thus began the relationship that would go on to shape the remainder of the century.
The romantic aspect of Sara and Samuel’s companionship ended as abruptly as it began; the founding members of Be-Me quickly locating their only source of true unity not at the level of the brute intercourse of two post-adolescent bodies but in the fusion of two exceptional adult minds.
It began with technology. Like so much at this time, the ability to do preceded any justification for doing. The facilitating invention, in this case, was the SeeMe Projector-lens heads-up display (or HUD). SeeMes were ForeThought´s last hope. Despite the involvement of both Gonzalez-Heinz and Johnson-Jones, the company had been, for the three months of Sara’s employment and the fifteen months of Samuel’s, mostly bereft of ideas. ForeThought’s company mission statement declared its goal as ‘innovating ahead of the curve’. This goal, so far as the evidence of the Archive, was never achieved; the most unique of ForeThought’s several creations a glowing electronic dog locator and a small device that assessed how well one brushed one’s teeth. Both of these inventions were adaptations of existing technology and already under-used by the time of Sara’s arrival. The SeeMe displays, albeit designed by Samuel, were no different.
Somewhere in the 2010s, a variety of technology companies began experimenting with the means of projecting images from the Internet either into or just ahead of the eyes of interested users. At first prohibitively expensive and aimed only at the small fraction of frequent browsers willing to accept what I can confidently describe, from the Archive’s evidence, as the heavy social penalty of wearing bulky, rectangular glass lenses, or more traditional ‘goggles’ over one’s eyes (often in addition to other forms of corrective eyewear), these HUDs would develop into manifold variations on an analogous headwear design, all dubbed with similar configurations of the words, ‘glass’, ‘sights’, ‘eyes’, ‘vision’, ‘lenses’ and so on. HUDs slowly shrank in size and dropped in price but, even when available for the same fee as an advanced mobile phone, they remained restricted to a niche of specialised, though progressively less wealthy, consumers. The HUDs had many uses: data could be called up with a mere eyelid flutter. Films could be screened during the many and frequent commutes of the era. Electronic communication could be sent from anywhere at any time even immediately on awakening. Nonetheless, and despite all this, a definitive use-case had yet to emerge to attract the average buyer; the devices most often utilised to read embarrassing content discretely and browse for physical addresses if and when lost. Forethought’s SeeMe displays passed through two iterations under different names before Johnson-Jones joined and designed the SeeMe Slice, a tiny u-shaped device intended to snap over the nose of its wearer. The Slice projected miniscule coloured rectangles directly into the corner of either of its wearer’s eyes which expanded with a slight shift in attention into full translucent images, superimposed over outside surroundings, bringing, in the words of its advertising, ‘The World in[to] [Your] Sight’.
The SeeMe itself was a mild success, its small form-factor earning just enough sales within a still niche market for Forethought to remain active, albeit with a slimmed team of only eight employees. The SeeMe’s existence alone did not change the course of human events (leading, of course, and inevitably, to our current Predicament), but Samuel’s design and its success in the wake of his brief-lived fling with his new colleague, inspired Gonzalez-Heinz’s epochal intelligence, competitiveness and prompted real change.
An Archived video conference captures the flare of Sara’s stunning will and vision. In a conversation with potential investors that included the four senior employees of Forethought (now, one year after Sara joined the company – comprised of her, Samuel, Samuel’s cousin, John, and his assistant). In the conference camera (and we only have the audio produced within Forethought’s offices to accompany the images, all thanks to the Archive) we see Sara, her bodily disposition the opposite of Samuel’s: he sits forward and responds to what could only have been praise from the unseen speaker, blushing and nodding frantically as Sara slumps so far down in her chair only her head and collarbones are visible above the meeting room’s table. John slides his gaze to his nephew and then creases his brow at Sara, who, after her evening with Samuel little more than one year ago (followed, I must add, by a text message sent to Sara, several days later that read, simply ‘balls.’ – which seems likely to have come from another user of Samuel’s phone, most likely his flatmate Gavin Barryman) had sunk into anonymity in the company, falling well short of the promise of her arrival. As Samuel swells and swells with the ladled praise (‘No, I agree. Yeah,’ he says. Pauses. Nods energetically. ‘No totally. Totally. Smaller. Exactly – I thought. What does it need? What does it need? It needs to be smaller.’), Sara shrinks, rolls her eyes, raises and drops her shoulders repeatedly, lifts both hands to the top of her now unruly frenzy of tangled hair and shakes her head violently, muttering something imperceptible in the Archive’s recording.
Then, suddenly, she leaps up.
‘Oh my God!’ she says.
All heads turn; Samuel frowns, rotates last.
‘Holy shit. I’m a—fucking genius. I’ve got to make this.’
‘Make what?’ says the owner, John.
‘What’s the one thing missing from all these HUDs? What’s the one thing, the killer app that nobody else has? What’s the one thing they could do that we’re not doing?’ She claps her hands, smiles, rears back and screams something indistinguishable ‘[Yacaba!]’
Everyone shakes their heads.
Samuel’s face falls, then brightens and he intakes breath.
With that changed expression, the two sets of eyes meet, which they haven’t done for the entire meeting, or in any video conference or security-camera footage we have in the Archive that captures the eleven months and three weeks after their first encounter. Something frighteningly alive bursts between the two of them – something I have paused and repeated many times, a connection between two beings missing from much of the material we own. It’s well known that the bulk of the Archive contains images and scenes of human sexual relations, but it is well known too that those scenes are characterised by a paradoxical lack of contact between the participants; that is, as we Historians know well, despite actual physical contact, despite the often frenzied connection of naked bodies, there remains, somehow, no psychological union, eyes meet but do not touch; voices speak but their sounds fail to harmonise; bodies unite but beings do not. But, here, in that recognition between Johnson-Jones and Gonzalez-Heinz there is a fascinating link, deeper than any I have ever seen.
‘Sam, come with me,’ Sara says and abandons the meeting.
Samuel, comically, looks to his two other colleagues, shrugs, then leaves.
Five days later, Be-Me.com is born. Consecutive evenings of frantic coding in Samuel’s apartment produced a product for which Sara and Samuel claimed joint ownership, offering Forethought shares in exchange for office and server space.
Until Be-Me, HUDs connected to a variety of spectating websites, but did so in a static manner; users were able to call up the location of their friends in order to track their proximity, they could search dating posts for the personal information of those they meet during the evening in ‘bars’ and ‘clubs’ and they could, through a series of complex eye movements, post their own thoughts as text. The outward-facing cameras of the display were excellent for taking photographs but were judged ill-suited to Internet-hosted voice or image communication (although – in one of the cheerier sections of the Archive, one can witness the efforts of the obstinate who experimented with video calls filmed in mirrors, speaking to their reflections and thus enabling their listeners to see their actual faces rather than virtual avatars). Be-Me offered something more and capitalised on the ever-growing desire for information on other people that, combined with the tiny, infinitely portable SeeMe, revolutionised daily life.
Be-Me.com enabled its registered users to tap into the feed of other SeeMe cameras (and only SeeMe cameras; Sara recognised the potential for total control of a growing market instantly); by accessing the SeeMe of another, any given user gained the ability to ‘be’ – by effectively seeing through another’s eyes – a different human being, for an indefinite, potentially infinite span of time. Users could jump into and out of the ‘eyes’ of any of their registered viewers while on the site – an activity dubbed ‘beme-ing’ (pronounced ‘beaming’) – and, while watching, post live comments on what they saw and experienced – offering advice, support, instructions, commentary – or simply watching silently, as one user described it ‘truly Being by bemeing’. The site and SeeMes did not become popular immediately, although they would within a year of launch. The first users were, as with other trends at this time, and the case of the HUDs themselves, those described as ‘early adopters’.
The revolution began with celebrities, enticed into the market through the combined efforts of Be-Me’s founders. Samuel suggested, via text message to Sara, that they ‘branch out’ the product, which, three months after launch had 200,000 users – a number considered – in that age, far too small despite the spike in revenue the Be-Me launch brought to ForeThought and, through advertisements, to Samuel and Sara. Samuel, at that time, was updating the SeeMe technology to enable multiple ‘feeds’ in the mini-screen in the corner of each user’s eye; he created a visual scrolling system that enabled users to, once shifting their attention to the screen and expanding it, view up to four SeeMes simultaneously. Samuel persuaded Sara, in an afternoon recorded on their own SeeMes, to venture into and beyond the bohemian regions of Digbeth where they lived to meet with local recording artists to discuss the possibility of promoting the product.
They met first, and only, with a rapper named ‘DedMan’ (see Historian 9576’s DedMan’s ‘Blaze’: The Song that Defied a Nation), who was based in a small recording studio in Hockley. Bearded and wearing his trademark keffiyeh, red mesh vest and firefighters’ gloves, DedMan listens to both with little evident interest, switching from nodding slowly at Samuel to suddenly and intensely staring at Sara after she removes her coat.
‘How much would an endorsement cost?’ Samuel asks.
Samuel’s SeeMe bounces up and down enthusiastically as DedMan leans back in his chair, shrugs and strokes his beard.
‘I don’t even know, rudeboy,’ he says and then sees Sara.
‘What?’ she asks.
‘Yo. Who’s this?’
‘Sara Gonzalez-Heinz,’ Sara says. ‘I introduced myself when we arrived.’ She checks her watch. ‘Like three minutes ago. Look, we’ve got other appointments. Could we speed this up?’
DedMan leans forward, grins. ‘I’d love to speed you up, darling. Where you from, Sarah?’
Samuel’s SeeMe swivels to Sara, swivels back to DedMan, drops to his feet, rises up. ‘Who else do you know who might be interested?’ he says.
‘Whereabouts in America you from, Sara? Went all over America on tour last year. Mans is well known over there, you know. Man’s been Houston. Atlanta. Georgia. God Loves DedMan Kills is my America album, Sara, you get me? When that drops–Pow! You get me?’
‘I don’t know what that has to do with anything.’
DedMan smiles. ‘Feisty. I like a bit feisty.’ He leans out of the frame of both SeeMes, shouts ‘Dennis!’ to his left, ‘come in here and check out this gal, star.’
‘What the fuck is this about?’ Sara says.
Samuel’s SeeMe tracks her, rotates back to DedMan. One of his Be-Me viewers writes sara does look good today, another gives the comment two exclamation marks out of a possible three. Samuel writes, how can i use this? can we take advantage of this? His brother Rupert, his first and most frequent viewer, responds
– let sara take the lead.
@GavinBarryman: sell her to him
– fuck off, Gavin! Aren’t you at work?
@GavinBarryman: sickie brooooo
@Mohamed Rafael Saadi: !
@Rupert Johnson-Jones: offer him a date with her?
– i don’t own her. plus he’s a rapper, why would he want sara?
@Jamaica Murray: shes fit?
@Mohamed Rafael Saadi: !!!
@Jack Harris: !!!
@Simon Wilson: fit as
@Damian Murray: @Simon Wilson !!!
– she’s frigid.
>> THE BEKO MINI FRIDGE COMES IN BLUE. BLINK NOW <<
@Simon Wilson: still fit
@Mohamed Rafael Saadi: !!
@Jack Harris: !
@GavinBarryman: not what you said last year mate
@TheWidget: look at that peach gnom gnom gnom
During the course of Samuel’s chat with his viewers, DedMan’s bodyguard, Dennis Clarke, enters the small studio and begins a conversation with Sara. The contents of the conversation are recorded on both Sara and Samuel’s SeeMes but Samuel fails to acknowledge the speakers as further viewers begin bemeing him in response to posts from his current viewers for their friends to change feeds (the fact that Samuel and Sara distributed free SeeMes and Be-Me accounts to their friends and family, across the globe, was an effort to encourage usage that, ultimately, seems to have caused them as many problems as it solved in the first year of Be-Me’s life). Absorbed in his bemeings, Samuel seems to miss the way in which Sara deftly pilots the conversation with DedMan. The rapper says that he wants to take her out; she says she’ll only go to high profile events, not to a kebab shop or his local dealer like she suspects he wants. He smiles and says ‘Feisty. I should write a song about you called Little Feisty’. He gestures at Samuel and asks what’s wrong with him. ‘What’s he squinting at?’ She says he’s dyspraxic. DedMan shrugs. Sara turns to Dennis who is wearing his own, early 2020s, large HUD, and explains that hers, the SeeMe, can do far more.
Dennis nods, clips the narrow SeeMes onto his nose and says they feel ‘odd’. Sara takes them back, adjusts the size and switches her feed to that of her old college roommate, Charlotte Gardner, a professional tennis player.
‘Try now. Look up to the left to start it’, she says, her determined face recorded on her own SeeMe, her back in Samuel’s.
@Mohamed Rafael Saadi: gnom gnom gnom
@Jack Harris: gnom gnom gnom gnom
@Wilson Collins: gnom gnom gnom gnom gnom gnom
>> ORGANIC FRUIT AND VEG BOXES. £12.99 P/MONTH DELIVERED. BLINK NOW <<
@Mohamed Rafael Saadi: !!!
@Jamie Duncan: !!!
Dennis, well over six feet tall, and almost as broad, responds. ‘Tennis match. Nice one.’
‘It’s live,’ Sara says. ‘I mean, it’s my friend, playing a match in Germany live. You’re her. You’re seeing what she sees.’
Dennis watches mutely for two minutes. ‘Ah yeah. Cool,’ he says then insists that DedMan ‘have a go’.
DedMan takes the SeeMe and watches Charlotte serve two aces, silent, then accidentally, but fortuitously, switches to Samuel’s feed to see himself seeing Samuel and, we can assume, read some of the many comments.
@Jason Aimes: he’s on the feed! delete!
All of the viewers hastily quit their bemeings. Samuel stares at DedMan staring at him. DedMan turns to Sara, her face again filling her own SeeMe screen.
‘Two things,’ DedMan says, ‘Number one, I got backstage tickets to a thing in London. I wasn’t gonna go but, seeing as though now man’s got a date … Number two, I need fifty of these.’
DedMan and Sara’s relationship lasted three months and was conducted in tandem with one other relationship of Sara’s, with an actor she met with him at the gala opening she attended with him in London. Sara banned Samuel from bemeing her, and, in the words of the time ‘worked the crowd’. She separated from DedMan quickly, interacted confidently with musicians, actors, models, producers allowing anyone with the mildest interest in the SeeMe to try it, ensuring that she switched her feed to the most relevant one available for the individual at hand. She told the actors that the device would enable perfect research for upcoming parts; the models the possibilities of seeing themselves as they were seen; the musicians and producers her interest in product placement and subsidising free SeeMes. She sent several texts to Samuel, at home alone, of the impending success of the device. ‘it’s going to explode’, she wrote.
It did. A combination of endorsement deals with the actors and entertainers and DedMan’s wild enthusiasm for the product enabled the SeeMe and Be-Me.com to reach a range of audiences simultaneously. Due to what appears to be the accidental activation of the SeeMe by some of its celebrity endorsers, the product was quickly adopted by the pornography industry and, in another canny move by Sara – a move counter to that of other mainstream websites in her era – a free ‘over 18’, password-protected subscription feed was installed on the platform, viewers able, now, to ‘be’ all professional participants simultaneously (although comments were often blocked). There are signs that Sara’s foresight granted her an early sense that the product had this potential use. In her relationships with both DedMan and the actor Sebastian French, she insisted that SeeMes were never worn at any time. The Archive contains a lone recording of French seemingly donning his SeeMe after Sara has fallen asleep, turning to her in the bed that they shared. As he reaches for the blanket that shields her body, his SeeMe flashes ¡¡Sara Gonzalez-Heinz!! and immediately switches off. Unfortunately, there is much evidence that few others were aware of, or knew how to operate, this function of the device.
The novelist Paul Holmes had this to say of Be-Me.com in his article ‘Believe It’, published in The London Review of Books two years after the website’s launch:
My father regularly said to me that I should believe none of what I hear and only half of what I see, but since Be-Me broke into the scene I can no longer ignore my eyes. The things I’ve seen as I’ve beme’d have ranged from grotesque to the carnivalesque. I’ve seen a man casually strolling down the street only to suddenly stumble and hit the sidewalk, his SeeMe projecting, for rolling hours, several people passing by. I’ve seen mothers giving birth through both their doctors’ and their own eyes. I’ve seen criminals – and I’ve tried to look away – gleefully hunt down their prey; their own idiocy and the ease with which they were caught by police simply switching to their feeds in no way reducing the violence of their crimes. Against my father’s advice, I now believe everything that I see, and I’ve seen it all.
SeeMes and Be-Me gained ubiquity in the United States, Canada and Latin America, across Europe and Asia and in the middle-class stratum of societies worldwide. While various privacy controls were enabled, and many filters installed to filter who could post comments on or access bemeings, with patience it was possible to see, as Holmes mentions, absolutely everything. Be-Me.com is, as all Historians know, one of the prime resources in the Archive, its footage featuring the most quotidian coupled with the most chilling – it seems everything, for the two years of its steady ascendance, was recorded. The SeeMe became so small it was both easy to wear undetected (covered over, for instance, with make-up to hide the thin strip fitted to the bridge of the nose) and easy to forget about entirely.
Most celebrities created Be-Me feeds, those who were reluctant to use them often dogged by fans or asked in interviews what they had to hide. Bemeing gained prevalence in the political sphere through similar demands, often opposition-party inspired, for ‘disclosure’ and ‘transparency’. Wives, husbands and partners requested constant Be-Me access and parents gave their children SeeMes for the sake of safety – some more protective parents setting up automatic emergency calls if their children feeds were ever interrupted.
This constant watching and assessment, in line with Holmes’ quotation above, seemed to foster greater and greater mistrust. In an interview first screened on British television, Gonzalez-Heinz and Johnson-Jones maintain that the device only captured, it didn’t encourage. Samuel shifts in place when asked by the interviewer, Amy Oshun, if Be-Me’s existence was changing human behaviour. Sara answers, practiced, ‘Technology is just a tool. It creates potentials but it’s for people to choose what they do with it.’
‘Are you saying that “guns don’t kill people, people do”?’
‘Not at all. Be-Me isn’t a weapon. Weapons are made for killing or at least hurting other living things. At its heart Be-Me.com is a way for people to connect, to experience the lives of others, to deepen their understanding of their fellow man. It’s a way for us to increase our understanding of each other and to sustain close relationships when separated, like I am from my family, by oceans or continents. The thing is, and I’ll admit, and we’ve seen, that yes, the website and the SeeMe can be used for other ends. But a hammer can be used as club. Does that mean we should ban hammers? Of course not. Like other tools, the vast majority of our users – ninety-nine plus percent – isn’t that right, Samuel—’
‘—The vast majority of our users use Be-me to help each other, to explain, for instance, how to repair a bicycle or build a tree house, to demonstrate how to play a guitar part, to show what it’s like to be in the cockpit of a Formula One racecar. For a child in Africa to play with a child in Sweden. And with the newest version of the SeeMe, all users will have the chance to have their body mirror the sensations felt by the person they’re bemeing – to feel their heart pound in rhythm, to have a rough equivalence of the tastes they taste and the smells they smell. The possibilities are absolutely endless. To our critics we say – Do you want to staunch the flow of innovation? Do you want to be the Luddite that defies the pace of change?’
The release of the SeeMe Extreme, the final version of the SeeMe to which Sara refers in many televised interviews – the device that grants users ‘the chance to have their body mirror the sensations felt by the person they’re bemeing’ – marked the start of the company’s rapid fall. The Extreme sold in record numbers taking ForeThought (now owned and controlled by Sara and Samuel) to the apex of the list of the world’s most profitable companies, but from that point at the peak of the pyramid, Sara and Samuel attracted more attention and soon, more scorn. Be-Me.com began to eat into the profits of various industries – Why see a film if one could simply beme and feel another’s life? Why buy music if you could simply beme a band in their studio or an audience member at a concert? Why attend a concert at all? With messaging and translation software, one could easily beme a scientist to ask a question – beme a cook for help with a recipe – beme a doctor and stand in front of a mirror for a consultation. The usual uses for other Internet sites began to decline and rumours began to circulate about Sara and Samuel’s ultimate plans. It is clear all of these things were linked. Despite Be-Me’s birth into the world of film, music and fashion through Sara, these industries quickly turned on her and began questioning the ethics of Be-Me as high-profile public figures declared their abandonment of the website and what were increasingly derided as its intrusive practices.
A new company, LiveLife.com launched with the support of several Indian and American actors and the slogan, ‘Why Be when you can Do?’. LiveLife built upon the sense-producing capabilities of the SeeMe Extreme to create immersive virtual worlds where users could, in total privacy, and quite literally, do anything they could imagine, either alone or in groups, behind multiply encrypted barriers. Due to its security, we have only fragments of LiveLife.com preserved in the Archive. What we have is riveting; the logic of its fleshed fantasies that of nightmares. It rose rapidly, in no small part because of a growing reluctance to venture far into the outside world fostered by Be-Me (which catalysed the decline of Outside so deeply mourned by all of Us, Now). More and more people spent their time at home, bemeing, but their options for bemeing subjects began to constrict: increasing numbers of those on Be-Me.com passed their free time on Be-Me.com – so the most common bemes became bemes of others at home or at work, bemeing – staring into something like a tunnel of endless reflections. LiveLife offered the chance to capitalise on an increasingly sedentary population to offer them what Be-Me once granted – the chance to see and feel what had never been seen or felt before – to know what it was to live in others’ skin.
Samuel, counter to his steady worries about his role in the company, clung to the endeavour to the last. Fantastically wealthy and even less tolerant of slow movement and muddled thinking than she was in her early twenties, Sara sold her shares in Be-Me at age twenty-six after the release of the Extreme, before the company began to tumble. She bought an island and large properties across America and Europe; her final communication on the platform she invented and nurtured a one-word message to all her viewers: ‘Retired’. Samuel manned ForeThought as its stocks fell, LiveLife began to manufacture its own HUD, and his family many times advised him to give up and sell out.
Sara and Samuel would meet a final time for a dinner in Birmingham recorded on Samuel’s SeeMe Extreme. He has aged poorly, his hair receded to beyond the mid-line of his scalp, his eyes tired, his lips dry, the damage of the years captured in his desultory preparation for his night out. Sara looks better than she ever has; she sits at their table with skin sun-blushed, hair wild and radiating. Now fully detached from the company, she tries to steer Samuel’s talk to other things throughout the evening. He was still with Cas now, right? How was she? Any plans to settle down? Still living in Digbeth? It’s ridiculous, Samuel, move out, you can afford it – move to London – just enjoy it! How’s Gavin, anyway. Samuel mutters along through the meal’s several courses, granting one-word answers, animated only when he asks Sara for her thoughts on the future of Be-Me. She says she has no thoughts and explains her plan to move to her island exclusively and just ‘be’, she says, then laughs, covering her mouth.
‘We did well, didn’t we?’ She says, finally. ‘Considering?’
And Samuel swivels his SeeMe around the mostly empty restaurant, pausing on other patrons staring past their partners wearing the devices as well.
‘You did,’ he says.
‘You should marry Cas,’ Sara responds. ‘I’ve decided. I think she’s perfect for you.’
There are many potential places to end the story of Be-Me.com, but Samuel’s unnoticed accusation is perhaps the best. As with any general History there is so much at every stage of this narrative that could be added – more information on the childhoods of both major players; more on Sara’s life as she steered and shaped the company, her handwritten diaries in which she expressed her fears about its direction, its potential, the accusations levelled against them; at least a brief detour into Samuel and Sara’s drunken kiss in the taxi that transported them from the National Business Innovation Awards of Be-Me’s second year, the frenzy of apologies that followed – but this sketch of rise and decline and the cloistering of individuals and communities begun by Be-Me and cemented through LiveLife and its precipitation of the Collapse before the Enclosure which catalysed the Fall is perhaps the best location to end. Both Sara and Samuel were singular individuals that this miniscule treatise for the general Reader could never hope to fully capture. On each, much more work should be done, as more study should be undertaken on the century they inhabited, the one that fascinates all of us living in this very different time.
There is so much more to Know; the Archive is endless, and our work has only ever just begun.
 ‘On the sway, ftw’ translates into something like ‘enjoying himself, once again’.
 A fool.
 Roughly, ‘manufacturing unique products’.
 As Historians will know, but others may not, ‘lost’, at this time, held a layer of meaning distinct from our common usage of the term to mean ‘deep existential dread’, particularly dread at the future prospect of our species. At this time, but only for a few years hence, it was still possible to become confused as to your physical location in relation to other individuals or landmarks and thus feel – purely positionally – ‘lost’.
 Those willing to experiment with a new product who tended to form virtual communities where they were able to post the tribulations faced in operating their often heavily flawed devices and find succour in their shared suffering.
 Enjoyed herself very much.