Null pointer

Anthony was fired. He was already expecting that. In the last weeks it had become harder and harder to understand his boss and his colleagues. Yesterday, just before leaving work, there was a meeting and he was not invited. He could barely understand that it was a meeting. The only creatures that could understand him were his computer, his code and Polly, Mary’s dog. It was not easy to understand Mary, but it was still possible, and it was while trying to communicate with her that he became sure of the inevitability of his fate.

It had started on his birthday. A little book, he believes, that he received as a present. He had always been an average person, never daring to pursue anything out of the ordinary, but this book somehow made him think different. It was his boss, Ernest, who gave him the book. Ernest probably didn’t actually think about the content, or perhaps he believed that Anthony would only read it, like he read any other book, and not be terribly affected by it, after all it’s a mere story, a work of fiction. I am absolutely sure Ernest has no idea the book has anything to do with Anthony’s transformation. I think nobody does. Even Anthony, who believes the book is to blame, is not so sure about it sometimes.

I myself have not read the book and all I know about it is from the few times I’ve seen Anthony reading it. It’s a small hardcover and blue. He removed the dust cover so I don’t really know the title. I know that there are two main characters. He told me that when I still could understand him. But I don’t remember anything else, and I wasn’t really interested until the transformation began.

At first he misunderstood small gestures, like smiles, nods, but only when they were out of context, when they didn’t match what was said. After a few days it didn’t matter what was said. He also missed intonations, volume, and intensity. After a week it didn’t make any difference if you screamed at him or if you spoke softly. The actual meaning of words was never a problem. It was all about the intended meaning. In the beginning he detected contradictions and tried to make things clear before continuing. But then this started to become more and more complex. Many times his arguments became impossible to decipher, and nobody could understand the reasoning. He tried to ignore the contradictions and continue communicating, but it was impossible. His words made no sense whatsoever to the others. It made no difference if he spoke or wrote. In the beginning Mary would help him, translating what she understood to the others, and then translating our words back to him. But after two weeks she became incapable of helping anymore.

The company was an average small software company, with typical problems of small average software companies: clients who don’t understand what they want, programmers who don’t understand the designers, project managers who don’t understand programmers, salespeople who don’t understand what they are selling. To deal with those problems they had frequent meetings, where there would be an attempt to improve communication. It never actually worked.

During the three weeks that Anthony misunderstood the world, somehow all the others understood themselves better. The deadlines were met for the first time in years. The clients made objective comments on tests and requirements, and even proposed alternatives to technical limitations. And the sales team discovered a new market among their existing clients. But the meetings continued.

As for Anthony, they told me that outside the company he discovered some people that he could understand, and that were able to communicate with him. I find that somewhat unbelievable, but as this planet is such a strange place, anything might be possible.


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Thomas forgot his name. Not his first name. He knows he is Thomas, but his full name. He was only aware of this when he was asked for it. It happened at the control point. He was asked: “Name”. And he replied “Thomas”. The guard just... Continue →