Donnie was never a fan of being interviewed. And having it conducted in virtual reality didn’t do much to change that. As he adjusted his VR headset, the interviewer asked him another question. “So I noticed that you ended your previous employment in June 2041; that’s almost a year of being unemployed now,” she said. “Would you mind sharing what you’ve been doing in that time?”
Donnie felt a bead of sweat trickle down his forehead and hoped that his online avatar would not mirror him. “Well, uh,” he started, “it just happened to turn out that way. There’s not much to it.”
The interviewer simply nodded. “Well, that’s all the questions I had for you. Is there anything about our company that you need clarification on?”
“I think you covered everything that I needed to know.”
“In that case, we’re all done for now. You should hear back from us shortly.” With that, the interview concluded, and both participants were returned to the real world.
Donnie threw off the VR headset onto the computer desk before him. The blue lights that ran the perimeter of the device faded to black as it powered off. He took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and looked around his apartment.
It was a mess.
But he knew the placement of every T-shirt on the floor and furniture, the approximate age of every pizza box that he’d neglected to throw out, and the number of remaining uses in his air freshener spray cans. To most people, it looked like a scene out of a post-apocalypse movie. But to Donnie, this was home.
His stomach growled. A quick glance out of his dirty window showed a dark sky contrasting with the bright city lights underneath it. He plodded from his desk over to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. Inside he found a few packets of sauce, a pickle jar, an expired gallon of milk, and a container of gochujang that he purchased for a single recipe a year ago and had not yet cooked again.
Donnie checked his bank account online. He had a total of $750 to his name. Being unemployed, the next time he’d see that number increase would be when his next welfare check arrived. He concluded that dinner would be delivered. He became forty dollars poorer. After a few minutes of deliberation on what to order, followed by a half hour for delivery, his burger and fries combo arrived at his doorstep.
As he returned to his desk with his meal, he glanced at his computer monitor and noticed a new email had entered his inbox. It was from the company that he had just interviewed with. He ran his eyes over the message’s content, picking out any important phrases. “Appreciate your interest, careful review, won’t continue the hiring process.” Those ten words were all the information he needed.
He promptly deleted the email.
Luckily for him, he had another interview with a different company scheduled for the following week. He hoped that the upcoming one would end with better results.
Donnie ate his dinner as he watched online videos, hoping to numb the sting of the rejection email. After finishing his meal, he crumpled up the burger box and French fry carton into the bag they came in. He left the trash on his desk for a future version of himself to clean up.
Standing up from his desk, he brushed the crumbs off his shirt and pants. He then clapped his hands three times to close the blinds of his window to stop the flood of light streaming in. But something outside caught his eye. He clapped again, causing the blinds to reopen.
Ten stories below, a building-sized holographic advertisement displayed a rotating image of a new energy drink. The ad’s accompanying text that circled the drink claimed that it boosted serotonin levels and that all orders this week would include a 10 percent discount. “Might as well give it a shot,” Donnie thought.
Another eighty dollars left his bank account.
He took thirty minutes to shower and brush his teeth, and once done his order of the serotonin-boosting drink arrived at his doorstep. He pulled one bottle of the drink out of the pack of six and stuffed the remaining five into his fridge.
Gulping down the sugary beverage, he felt a tingling sensation at the back of his throat. Once empty, he threw the can into the trash and waited for the serotonin rush.
He felt no different.
Disappointed, Donnie started for bed. But before tucking himself under the sheets, he strapped on a sleep-tracking watch to monitor the quality of his night’s rest. To help himself fall asleep, he browsed through multiple social media applications until his eyes forced themselves shut.
The following morning, he woke up with a headache. According to the watch, he earned a sleep score of 37/100—likely because he fell asleep at 3 a.m. With no responsibilities, he spent the day entirely online by playing video games and browsing social media.
Unexpectedly, his virtual afternoon adventure was cut short. His monitor screen turned black, and the lights of his apartment turned off. Donnie couldn’t see his hands in front of him in the darkness. A moment later, his apartment’s emergency power light flicked on, emitting a dim red light.
Someone knocked on his door. He opened it to see his neighbor, but he couldn’t remember her name. In one hand she held an extension cord and in the other was a vacuum.
“Hey, Donnie,” she started, “is your power out too?”
“It appears so,” he replied.
“Hmm, that’s unfortunate. My vacuuming got interrupted.” She started wrapping the extension cord around her arm to make it easier to hold onto. “Well, see you later,” she said as she started toward a neighboring door.
Donnie still couldn’t remember her name. But whatever her name was, she gave him an idea on how to spend the rest of his day.
Without the distraction of games, movies, TV shows, or social media, he cleaned his apartment. First, he gathered all the clothes on the ground and tossed them into his hamper. However, the hamper reached its full capacity with only the clothes in the living room. With the power out, the building’s laundromat would be out of operation too. Believing it to be his best course of action, he created a pile beside the hamper with the remaining clothes.
Second, he gathered all the old pizza boxes, the trash from last night’s dinner, and various other items to dump into his trashcan. It too reached full capacity.
Unlike his neighbor, he didn’t own a vacuum. However, after digging through one of the closets, he found a broom and dustpan. He swept for what felt like an eternity.
By the time he finished, it was dark outside again.
He repeated his typical nighttime routine, including putting on his sleep-tracking watch. But to save his phone’s battery life, he refrained from scrolling until he fell asleep.
He woke up the next morning with a sleep score of 84/100 and no headache. He trudged to his bathroom and flipped on the light switch. White light flooded the room; the power was back on. After brushing his teeth and showering, he approached his desk, intending to do the same thing as he always did—spend the entire day online.
But something was different today. He didn’t have to look at the floor to avoid slipping on a ragged T-shirt. And the smell of spoiled food wasn’t as suffocating as it usually was.
He decided that taking a few hours to finish laundry and take out the trash wouldn’t hurt. It was not like he had anything better to do with his time. In the following three hours, he made two trips to the laundromat, threw his trash into the large dumpster outside, and came home with fresh groceries to restock his fridge.
The rest of the day proceeded as usual with the exception of a home-cooked meal in place of meal delivery. To replicate the high sleep score that he earned that morning and to avoid waking up with a headache, he went to bed without his phone again.
A week later, the day of his other interview came. Waking up to a sleep score of 92, he started his new morning routine, which consisted of normal personal hygiene, stretches, calisthenics exercises, and a glass of water.
Afterward, he sat himself in front of his desk, donned the VR headset, and connected to the interview room. The interviewer asked the typical questions: “What’s your greatest strength? How do you deal with stress? What do you do when you disagree with someone?”
And just like the previous week’s interview, Donnie’s year of unemployment was brought up.
“I was working on a personal side project to improve myself,” Donnie responded.
The next day, while Donnie watched videos on cooking techniques, an email notification popped up on his screen. He opened it and read the message.
It was an invitation to a second interview.