People observe a filtered reality, blending out the poor, dividing society. To stay in, you have to be a taxpayer, but baseliners are on the fringe of society without access to police, public transport, or awareness of regular people.
Charlie looses his girlfriend first, then his university career, and lastly his tax status. Now he notices reality as it is, unfiltered, harsh, gross, and stinking.
This dystopian cyberpunk setting is nothing new – David Brin’s 2013 story „Insistence of Vision“ told us how to handle criminals with perception control, and a much earlier Vernor Vinge 2001 novella „Fast Times at Vernon High“ showed similar gadgets in society.
Bear stated that this story derives in some way from Silverberg’s 1989 „Enter a Soldier: Later: Enter Another„and 1985 Sailing to Byzantium. She did a fine job without producing anything spectacular, but plot, character, and emotions built up nicely.
Meta: isfdb. This SF short story was published May 2014 in The Book of Silverberg: Stories in Honor of Robert Silverberg. I read it as part of The Year’s Best SF #32.