Several People Are Typing: The New Tron Dance

How do you explain to someone you’re trapped in a computer when you’ve only ever spoken to them through a computer? We review Calvin Kasulke’s Several People Are Typing.

Several People Are Typing

Throughout the global pandemic, the ‘work from home’ revolution has been in full swing and the way we have interacted with our colleagues has been fundamentally changed forever. The workplace banter that used to occur in the staff kitchen are now reduced to a torrent of emojis and gifs, shared at all hours of the day. Blink and you missed it but work has bled into our digital life and our human connections have been digitally transformed.

Out of tragedy comes comedy and Calvin Kasulke’s new book, Several People Are Typing, is just dripping with a satirical take on the always-on digital revolution we’ve found ourselves in.

A New York PR firm is currently in crisis mode, trying to help their dog food client recover from the news that their product is poisoning Pomeranians. Gerald, one of the team members responsible for the positive spin, has bigger problems though. He’s found that his consciousness has left his physical form and has been subsumed by Slack, the office messaging application.

It’s not all bad though, Gerald’s never been so productive and he’s even found a friend in #Helpbot (Slack’s inbuilt chatbot). The tricky part is, how do you explain to someone you’re trapped in a computer when you’ve only ever spoken to them through a computer?

Lean and amusing, Several People Are Typing makes the most of its straightforward setup by dropping us into the messaging groups of a horrifyingly sycophantic PR firm, who fill their chats with the un-ironic double-speak of buzzwords and surface niceties.

Written entirely as a series of transcripts, Gerald navigates between the office’s public and private chats to find the human connection that binds people together when they’re not working. Then, perhaps, he can figure a way for him to return his consciousness back into his physical form.

As the story tracks through, there’s an underlying malevolence itching to be explored. Sadly there just isn’t time for anything like a deep dive into the morals surrounding AI and sentience. The book chooses instead to play to its strengths, delivering sharp satirical observations on the PR world, populated by people who really couldn’t care less that their friend is now trapped in a computer, so long as they have 200 Tweets by 5pm.

A concise high concept sci-fi comedy that supplies a perversely gratifying voyeurism of a 21st-century Madmen, complete with its own scandalous office flings as delightful side plots (though we suspect there’s less whiskey and more kale smoothies being drunk here), Kasulke’s debut is a joyous tonic to the modern era workplace.

In a world where Office Space meets Tron, the lines between our work and digital self have been erased and we’re left wondering where work ends and we begin…

Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke is out now from Hodder Studios