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Pure Content in the Wilderness: A Journey

F$JNews has been delayed in publishing our latest article because our journalist has been on assignment writing F$JNew’s very first long-form piece. And, yes, we admit that articles like this are simply an attempt to achieve some modicum of respectability.

Our journey started in midtown Manhattan when the F$JNews editor told us he had a hot assignment. To be fair, ‘we’ are the F$JNews editor. And the hot assignment wasn’t so much an assignment as it was a hunch. The hunch led to a search of property records which revealed that in one particular Western state, somebody had purchased a 10,000 acre ranch and they had done it only two months earlier. The place didn’t have a glorious home built on it. It didn’t have great grazing lands or stunning mountain views. It was pretty much the cheapest 10,000 acre ranch you could buy in the United States.

The 10,000 acre ranch


That was the first hint that we at F$JNews were actually on to something. The second confirmation was a simple verification that there were no telecom lines running through the property – or cell towers nearby. The final check involved purchasing one high-resolution satellite photo. I scanned every rundown structure I could see to determine whether the tell-tail white squares and circles of satellite internet were anywhere to be seen. They weren’t. What could be seen were about 15 people – both men and women – seemingly hard at work near the center of the vast property. It was the people, in this apparent wasteland, that convinced me. Yes, most of our stories are just made up on the spot. But the image of those people convinced me. This was a trip worth taking and a reality worth exploring.

Besides, a spot of reality might be just what we needed to refresh our satirical batteries and try to stay ahead of the craziness that is reality. By the way, did you hear that Elon Musk renamed Twitter X!

The trip started off normally enough. I took a commercial jet to a somewhat nearby hub city. Then I took a commuter prop plane to a smaller city. There were no roads where I needed to go – at least none this city dweller could navigate without voiding a rental company’s car insurance. Instead, I chartered a single-engine Cessna to fly me to the closest possible airfield – really just a strip of gravel in the wilderness. As the tiny aircraft was rocked by the area’s winds, I wondered whether I was doing the smart – or the right – thing. It wasn’t too late to turn back. I knew it wasn’t wise for somebody like me to try to trek to the little community I’d seen on the satellite photo. But F$JNews needed that hint of respectability and so I had to carry on. The fact was, I had packed plenty of food and water, and even some antivenom. I could survive for three days. I had to survive for three days.

My Chartered Cessna, with my laptop on board
My Chartered Cessna, with my laptop on board

When the pilot touched down and I stepped out into the wasteland, I thought about turning back again. Instead, I just handed my phone, tablet and laptop to the pilot and asked him to come back in three days. He looked at me like I was a little crazy. Then he turned his little aircraft around on that strip of dust, revved his little prop engines and lifted up into the air. I watched until his aircraft was no longer even a speck in the sky.

I was totally alone. I was really doing this.

It was then that I looked around and really took in the forlorn landscape. There were scattered trees here and there, but mostly the terrain was made up of bedraggled spots of grass, gravel and small hills that rose – in a way that could hardly be described as striking – here and there. “Cheapest 10,000 acres in America,” I thought to myself.

I put my pack on my back and started walking. About 30 minutes later, I realized the sun set in the West, it was the afternoon, and I was walking in completely the wrong direction. I turned around and passed the little runway for the second time that day.

When I had been planning my trip, I had estimated that I had a five hour walk to the encampment I had seen. But once I was there, in the wilderness, I wished I had budgeted more time. I wish I’d waited a day and flown in in the early morning. The fact was, before long, night would come. And I had no idea what, under the cover of darkness, would attack me. Perhaps it would be snakes, or wolves or even bears. I had brought matches to light a little fire from the local brush. It was meant to be something frighten away predators. Now, I wasn’t so sure it was a solid plan.

With increasing dread, I watched as afternoon turned into evening. And then evening began to turn into night. Danger was fast approaching.

I was already six hours into my five hour walk when a woman appeared far ahead of me. She looked thin, almost gaunt. Her clothes were worn and torn in places. She was rushing towards me. And she was holding a substantial looking club.

I raised my hand to wave peacefully, hoping she might slow down. However, it only caused her to pick up her pace. Her intent was obvious and I didn’t like my chances. I ripped my pack of my back, slid open the zipper and dumped the contents onto the ground in front of me. “No computers!” I shouted. My voice almost vanished into the vastness of the area. She was still coming.

I gestured at the pile, “No phone! No tablet!”

She began to slow down.

“Really?” she said.

I tried to raise my hands even higher. “Really,” I insisted.

The woman lowered the club, ran up to my belongings and began to sort through them frantically. Moments later, she looked up. There was a light in her eyes. She asked, eagerly, “Have you seen the Truth?!?”

I thought I knew what she was talking about. But even so, I wasn’t sure of the answer I should give.

“Maybe…” I said, hedging my bets.

“Oh, wow!” she said. “Listen, I really need to get your feedback on something!”

What followed were the three strangest days of my life.

The woman led me back to the little collection of ad-hoc buildings I’d seen in the satellite photos. From the ground, they looked even more forlorn than they had from above. For the most part, sticks had been roughly assembled into teepee-like structures to form patchy barriers against the sun. It was not impressive.

As we drew closer, people emerged from the almost-huts. They were, like the woman who had come out to confront me, ragged and thin. The men sported full, dirty, beards. Everybody had incredibly long and ill-kempt hair. As soon as they saw the excited look on my guide’s face, they rushed back into their huts. By the time I had arrived at the village, the entire population was eagerly standing in front of me. They were chattering excitedly. They kept repeating, “Can I get your feedback? Can I get your feedback?”

I patiently greeted each one. And, indeed, each one had something to show me. One had written out ad copy on a collection of leaves. Another had compiled a LinkedIn post. Yet another showed me a tablet – made of clay – with the rough layout of a webpage etched into it. “It’s just a wireframe,” she said, eagerly, “But what do you think?”

The woman who had brought me in to the camp had the most impressive of the displays. She showed me a thick stack of leaves and then flipped through them. What appeared before my eyes was a ‘video’ testimonial. It even had captions, although (aside from the rustling) there was no sound.

My feedback was unreserved. While the materials and technology they were working with were indeed primitive, the work was fantastic. Not just fantastic given the circumstances, but just fantastic.

This crazy group of people was even more interesting than I had possibly imagined.

Eventually, when I had gone through what seemed like an immense quantity of material, one final man emerged from what might have been the least impressive hut of all. In desperate attempt to maintain some touch of his hipster past, he had a goatee. But his face was so scratched and torn that it looked like he may have been shaving with a rock. He looked around himself at the collected community, smiled warmly, and said, “They are a wonderful team, aren’t they.”

I just stared. And then I realized what I needed to say. He was also asking for feedback, just in a customer-facing way. “Yes,” I said, “T

Jan Frederick, Director of Marketing
Jan Frederick, Director of Marketing

hey are incredible.”

He smiled, truly happy. Then he extended one dirty hand. As I shook it, he said, “I’m Jan Frederick, Director of Marketing.”

“Joseph Cox,” I said, “Chief Editorial Officer of F$JNews.”

“I’ve never heard of you.”

It was my turn to grimace. “We’re new,” I said, trying to hide our lack of respectability.

Mr. Frederick answered, “Ah, and I suppose you’re here because securing advertisers is particularly rough in that market.” He waved his hand expansively, suggesting the remainder of the world.

“Well, no,” I said. A murmur went through the crowd. Jan looked almost crestfallen.

“It is easy to attract advertising revenue?” he whispered.

“No, no, no. It is terribly difficult.” Everyone all breathed a sigh of relief. “It is just that I’m not here for that. I’m here to write about you.”

I was worried for a moment that they might turn on me again. I didn’t know how to deal with the wolves and snakes. But then the chatter turned excited again. Finally, Jan announced, “We’re working late tonight everybody! The company will pay for dinner!”

As the night grew deeper, some sticks were gathered together and with the help of my matches, a little fire was started. Then, we sat down to eat. Jan introduced me to each of the villagers. There was Jim, who had designed the shadow on the Apple logo. Stan had been an editor one of the first successful true crime podcasts. Julie had written the tagline for a world-famous fast food chain. The woman who had brought me in was Betty. She’d been a videographer and she’d shot numerous award-winning commercials. For his part, Jan had been VP of Marketing at a massive toy company. The team was truly phenomenal.

Villagers around the campfire
Villagers around the campfire

The food was another story.

The most basic issue was that there was very little of it. The presentation was wonderful, but it seemed like the inhabitants of this place mostly subsided on grass and the occasional rodent. Betty, the videographer, was their Chief Hunter. She brought “you eat what you kill” into a very literal reality. It turns out she was just as proficient with her club as she’d looked when she’d been charging me. We had a possum and two rats for dinner. There was a stream not far away where the villagers collected water. They also attempted to fish in it. But, as they say, club-fishing is nothing like spear-fishing. They’d never caught anything. The reality was that the residents of this place didn’t just look gaunt and ill-fed, they were. I ended up sharing some of my food, to the delight of the starving villagers.

Eventually, the chatter settled down and all eyes seemed to turn to Jan. The Director of Marketing.

He smiled broadly, spread his hands expansively, and began to speak.

“This, this whole thing, started only five months ago.”

I saw heads nod all around me.

“The world out there,” Jan continued, “It changes to very very fast.”

I heard an actual “Amen.”

“And that was okay. That was good. We embraced the speed. We embraced the change. We were leaders in our own worlds. Of course, the world around us had been changing for a long long time. Drawing had been replaced by increasingly automated rendering. Splicing by transitions. Text by autocorrect and grammar checkers. Posting by buffers.

“We didn’t mind any of that. We were creators using tools, that was what we thought. In reality, though? In reality, we were being boiled. Boiled like frogs. Unaware that the water around us was becoming less and less real.”

He pronounced that last word with such an emphasis that the entire gathering seemed to collectively tense in appreciation. Even the campfire seemed to react, dimming momentarily.

“And then AI came. AI began to write the unreal as if it were real. It began to take photos without models, videos without scenes, music without composers. Everything began to be unreal. An illusion. A reality without reality. The Deceiver was real and people began to fall into his trap. They began to imagine the world they were seeing was real, even though it was shallow and false. They embraced the tools, spreading meaningless content, and watching it flood the world with nonsense. But we could see it, couldn’t we?”

The crowd murmured.

“We were the best at what we did. We saw what others didn’t. We could see that before AI, humanity had fallen. Our writing was predictable, our movies derivative, our photography cookie-cutter. It was not hard for AI to imitate that which was only imitation. Humanity thought AI was reality because humanity no longer recognized reality. My wife, my very own wife, was one of those who fell into the trap. I tried to save her, but she sunk into the sands of unreality. I could not rescue her. I could not even rescue myself.

“Then, I knew what had to be done. There was a project. An app, of sorts. The ultimate app.  The app that would rescue mankind. It would help people connect with reality, through their creative potential. Not derivative potential, their truly creative potential. It would bring out the artist in the house husband, the writer in the accountant, the sculptor in the data analyst. It would be the ultimate app.

“But it had to be pure. The content that would support it had to be pure. No AI, no tools of artifice. Just reality. I told my wife about it. I told her about the vision I’d seen, the vision I’d had. But she thought I’d fallen into a trap. She thought I was the one sucked into unreality. She thought I was the one who had sunk into the quicksands of insanity. Leaving her would have been one of the hardest decisions of my life. But she made it easy. When I used our life savings to buy this land, she made it easy. And I was free to come here and find Truth.”

Jan’s face looked resigned, sad, and yet resolute. I saw that same expression on those around me as they murmured and nodded their sympathies. I had the impression Jan was not the only one who had left family behind.

“Here,” Jan said quietly, his voice barely audible above the crackling of the fire, “Here we can create content in its purest form. Here there are no tools robbing us of our human creativity. There is no AI imitating our forms. Here, with leaves and sticks and ground rocks and even our own blood, we create. We create what is real. Truly real.

 “You might be wondering whether anybody will ever see our content? Our taglines, our videos, our mockups and wireframes. The answer is, yes! These things won’t be propagated online, endlessly copied to endless anonymous viewers – human and otherwise. They will be seen here, in this Mecca. This place of purity. Real people, showing real content to real people. And those real people will come, like Joseph here, and they will understand and be raised up! They will see past the falsehood of their lives.”

Jan’s excitement, and that of the community, seemed to grow. “Amen!” “Amen!” they cried out.

I was almost caught up in the moment. But Jan was not done.

“They will come here, to this New Jerusalem! They will come and they will understand. And the mountains of artifice will be broken apart and the wellsprings of reality will flow free and water our world with Truth!”

And then Jan quiets down again

“That is as it must be. Reality must conquer artifice. Truth falsehood. And, then? Then our families will return, rescued from the empty words of the Deceiver. Today, they live in a cocoon, a matrix, a web of lies and deceit. But tomorrow? Tomorrow, we can bring them back. Redemption can happen in an instant.”

Jan quieted down and the assembled visitors continued their talking.

I remained there, in that place, for three days. In those three days, I learned so much. I experienced hunger – not just literal hunger, but metaphorical as well. This was reality, in which you had to consume to create. In which you had to plant in order to harvest. This was reality.

On the third day, I went back to the landing strip, ready to write and file my report. I thought about sharing where these people are. But like a delicate orchid, I fear they might not survive the onslaught of humanity. The onslaught of those like me who recognize their Truth and want to be a part of it. I fear they may not survive the experience of their own Messiah. So, I will not tell you the State they live in or how to find their modest habitation.

Instead, I will simply leave you with this report – a simple story of inspiration.

Perhaps, if they survive the winter, I will file another in a year’s time.

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