Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Strange Computer

This is a second person narrative essay that I wrote for my creative nonfiction class. It isn't actually nonfiction but the teacher let it pass for reasons that had to do with the ending, which I won't explain here because that would spoil it. This piece was heavily inspired by a scene from "Homestuck", an interactive webcomic by Andrew Hussie. Enjoy!

A Strange Computer
At the end of everything, when all civilization has ceased and the Sun is soon to burn out, you will stumble upon a mysterious and derelict underground base. In this base you will find a strange computer. On this strange computer there will be depicted a scene from your childhood. In the scene, your younger self will be doing or saying something stupid and crazy. Below the computer there will be a keyboard.
Realizing the remarkable similarities between this situation and a scene from Homestuck, one of your favorite interactive webcomics written by Andrew Hussie, you will begin typing on the keyboard, in the hopes that you will be able to guide your younger self to a better future if it is real, and not seeing the harm in trying if it is just a dream.
This will be a mistake. I will tell you that it will be a mistake. But you will not listen to me. You never have.
You will try to give your younger self helpful advice. He will not listen. He won’t even understand what you are trying to tell him. If you fill his mind with too much helpful advice, he will not know how to apply it and will just think that he is wise and profound.
Eventually you will turn on CAPS LOCK and start shouting into his mind as he sleeps, hoping desperately that he’ll get it. But while one sleeps, so does their capacity for reason. You could instead try shouting into his mind while he was awake, but you will choose not to because doing so would get him hauled off to the mental hospital.
He will not understand your pleas for him to listen to you, to be reasonable, to do what he must do to reach his future. He will be blind to all the obvious solutions you try to offer to him. He will have an excuse in advance for why they won’t work, and he will not even try them. And he will interpret your anger and frustration at his stupidity and irrationality as his own low opinion of himself. This will begin to tear his mind apart.
Finally, you will realize that you are taking entirely the wrong approach here. You will remember, guiltily, that when others have gotten angry and frustrated and started shouting at your younger self for being so foolish it would only make things worse. You will have made the same mistake that you promised yourself that you would never make.
And yet despite this promise, even your younger self castigated himself for his own foolish thoughts and acts for many years after the fact and continued to do so even as he continued to be foolish.
You have been shouting at and beating yourself up inside all your life. The only difference is that before you were mentally abusing yourself in person, but here you will be doing so through a computer keyboard.
Once you’ve managed to finally forgive yourself, you will begin to wonder about the nature of this strange computer. How does it work? Why does it show you your past in more visceral detail than you could possibly remember it? Perhaps, like the universe of Homestuck, you live in a simulated universe that contains itself? Perhaps you could change the focus of the computer monitor to view someone else’s past? Other people who you could subtly direct towards helping your younger self?
After trying that for a while, it occurs to you that maybe you could do this for other people too. You will soon find that this strange computer allows you to view anyone who has ever lived. You will wonder if perhaps you could try viewing anything in the past rather than just people, for there is no true distinction between living and nonliving material at the deepest “level” of reality. Everything is just quarks after all—or perhaps just a computer program, just a mathematical object.
And if you could view anything in the past, perhaps you could fast forwardsee what your future holds? Perhaps this computer stores the whole Universe, or perhaps it is one of many servers storing part of the Universe on a network. But then, if you could locate all the computers on the network, does that mean that you could back-up the whole Universe onto external hard drives? That way you could recover any lost or corrupted data.
You will realize that it was foolish and irresponsible of you to randomly start typing on the keyboard of a strange computer in a derelict underground base in the middle of nowhere without actually knowing what you’re doing. You will be very glad that you did not accidentally destroy the Universe.
 You will then decide that your first priority is to assemble a team of competent and ethical computer programmers and other specialists. You will copy and paste the mind of the computer programmer you most admire into a separate file on your external hard drives, and he will advise you on what to do next, including what other minds to copy and paste into external hard drives and in what order.
The minds you copy and paste into your external hard drives will all be experts in their fields who will work together and come up with plans for you to follow. You will act as their hands, typing exactly what they tell you to type, and in doing so you will prevent the heat death of the Universe and bring everyone back to life.
And all humankind will live happily ever after.

And then you will wake up from the dream, remembering that real life isn’t that easy or fair. There will never be a random computer terminal lying around that would just happen to contain a perfect simulation of the Universe you live in. In real life, lost data is not always recoverable. There are no second chances. You cannot change the past. You have to get it right the first time, or not at all.

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