2120 Hindsight: The Barren Years
My Dear Eleanor,
A little while ago, I came across a silvery disc, half-buried in the hog lot. I don’t know how it got there. Probably a sow dug it up while she was rooting around.
I picked it up and looked at it. It was all scratched and scarred; still, I knew right away what it was. It was a CD disc, which meant it was well over a hundred years old. It looked like the ones we learned about in school, except this one didn’t have a label on it. The label must have gotten scratched off during its travels.
It surprises me that things like that could still be turning up at random, after all the decades of turmoil – all the waves of collectors and recyclers and government prohibitions on such objects. You’d think they would have pretty much gathered up the last of it by now. But they made so much of this stuff, way back then, that I guess it will probably take centuries to entirely cleanse the Earth of it.
It must sound silly that I would dwell on it. I know nobody’s much interested in objects from that era anymore. The smart thing is to just stay away from it. It was a crazy time. Well, anyway, I tossed the thing in a bucket. I’ll figure out what to do with it later.
But I have to tell you, something about the experience made me stop and think. Here I was, holding a little device, or whatever you’d call it – a marvelously technical thing, able to store large amounts of information if I recall correctly – and yet it had hardly any meaning to me at all. It was as if someone had been working all night to solve a problem, and then in the morning someone else came along, freshly rested, and fixed the thing in about five minutes. Or like when someone gets all wrapped up in the details of an argument and winds up disagreeing with what they, themselves, originally said. Like, this little disc would be capable of storing a hundred different ways in which its owner could prove, without meaning to, that his or her life made no sense.
I twirled it around my finger and looked out across the pasture, and I felt thankful to be alive and living now, and not then. Imagine living in a world of – what was it, eight billion people. Billion! No wonder the world back then was so crazy. Everyone needing food and a place to live and water to drink, and the poor Earth just groaning under the weight of it all.
Well, and I had to be thankful for China. God only knows what would have happened to America without the Chinese. We’d probably still be making babies and merchandise and junk – grow, grow, grow! We just didn’t have the depth of wisdom they developed, once they returned to their traditional role as the center of the world’s learning.
So now, thanks to what they have taught us, I can pick up this piece of plastic and put it in a bucket, and I can go on with my happy day. I am free of so many awful things that my great-grandfather told me about, when I was a little boy, things that he had heard from his own great-grandfather. I am free from constant interactions with people whose faces I cannot see. I am free to write you this letter with my love, without worrying that you are surrounded by a dozen men everywhere you go, indoors or out. We welcome strangers in need, of course, but we have the security and peace of knowing most everyone around us for years on end. I think our ancestors would have found that hard even to imagine, in that crowded and anonymous world of theirs.
People are rarer now. We are free to be special for one another, you and I and all our friends, and I cherish that. And so the day’s adventure made me think of you, as it always does, and I do so wish you were here.
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