Wednesday, September 02, 2015

tetherworld


Eventually, they could no longer lift their heads. Over the years, their neck muscles had atrophied to the point where their chins were permanently fused to their chests. Their field of vision had narrowed to a small sphere around their feet and, of course, their thumbs clicking rapidly on the tiny screens clutched to their torsos. 

They developed an instinct, eventually, to avoid obstacles as they walked. But in the early years, before the instinct kicked in fully - back when some of them could still lift their heads slightly - there were countless collisions along sidewalks and in hallways. Sorry - they would text one another after bumping shoulders or striding into each other head-on - didn’t see you. 

The majority of them had by this time lost the ability to vocalize. They had become so proficient at communicating through keystrokes that speaking out loud seemed unnecessary, inefficient and boorishly outdated. Eventually the practice died out entirely, with only a few archaic holdouts uttering the odd LOL or WTF as they narrowly avoided yet another collision in the mall. 

None of them had looked directly at the sky in years. A few had tried, arching themselves backward or draping themselves, head down, off chairs, but in the end it wasn’t worth the effort. At best, they caught a glimpse of the clouds before the strain of fiercely rolling their eyes upward caused them to quit. At worst, they dropped their devices in the process and then suffered excruciating panic attacks while they groped madly, blindly, for them.  

Some of the older ones could remember a time when the devices were a mere convenience, an easy way to tell your partner that you would be late for dinner, to find out where your pals were meeting for a drink, to recall the name of that song by that band that you used to love.  

Gradually, imperceptibly, there was a shift from convenience to lifeline. Over time, the devices became de facto memory banks. It seemed pointless, really, to memorize all that information, all those facts and figures and tedious numbers, when all the universe’s knowledge was right there, easily retrievable, at your fingertips.  

Eventually, amongst the bowed heads, collective hippocampi withered away. Once the seat of human memory, cerebral cortices ultimately became nothing more than shrivelled appendages of the central nervous system. These once defining organs of humanity were now vestigial and slightly perplexing bits of tissue.  

No new memories were ever made thereafter or stored within the human body. All knowledge was relegated directly to the devices. It was just easier that way. Heads began to bow, increasingly, permanently, endlessly, to the power contained within one small stylish box.

But not a single fact was ever unknowable, and they considered it a fair trade-off.

5 comments:

Missy said...

Terrifying.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thank you, Missy! That was my aim. (she typed to the other person, eye cast down onto her device...)

Ravens said...

Great opening. It intrigued me until the end of that first paragraph, when I got it and had to laugh out loud. Sorry - LOL. Great ending too, with the tradeoff humanity has made. And in between, a good description of the progression of this evolution, reading like an entry in some sociology student's textbook.
I didn't understand though how if the brain shriveled there was still a spark of curiosity that pushed people to still use the devices to search for answers - if even to a trivia quiz in a bar.

Joyce said...

My, my, my... What a horrifying vision of what could be if we, as a society, continue to text our friends and family while they are sitting across from us in the same room. You have really taken our obsession with technology to the hilt. I believe I'll leave my cell in the other room for the day and enjoy looking out the window. Superb job on this!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Thank you, Ravens. I am thrilled that the story kept your attention. You raise a valid point about how Google addiction overrides the degenerated cerebral cortex. I have no explanations, but, then, I am no anatomist.

Thanks so much, Joyce. I just thought about all the heads that I see every day bowed over devices, as if in supplication, and simply went with it. Fortunately, I am a terrible predictor of human nature.