Open Notes

500 Words - Counter-Narrative #5

The Selfie Ruined Civilization

This is a series of stories, a counter narrative from the future, numbered in sequence. If you’re a subscriber, you will receive them in order. If you’re not, and you’ve found them online, then start at #1 and read up.

We used to have a concert grand, but the only image I could find was this one of a toy piano that belonged to my youngest son. It fits this post that is all about large things getting smaller.

I don’t know how to break this to you gently, but the selfie ruined civilization. We all started playing smaller pianos. Clicking on the minutiae of life turned us away from master practitioners in all fields. “No worries,” we said. “I got this” About everything. It was a small step to create self-referential communities sealed off from all the others. “The world is how I see it. Here’s another selfie.”

A world tuned only to your own tastes is an incurious world. You already know that, but found out too late. So sorry! Why don’t you self-soothe with another selfie?

I write this from the future, so I apologize for sounding smug or like I know everything. But I do know everything. I have seen your world happen to its end. I have witnessed the missed cues, the incremental slide, the tiny bad things that became one big bad thing. I can tell you, with authority, that the trouble began when we all started playing on smaller pianos. When you lose vision, you lose it all. Remember movies on a wide screen viewed with hundreds of other people? Or subways connecting everything filled with all kinds of people who had to deal with each other every day? Remember when people held their phones in landscape, the way the eye saw things when it was taking in the grand vista of life? Sadly, I bet you don’t remember any of that.

When landscape mode was outlawed in 2024 there was barely a protest. People didn’t care. They were already shooting everything in portrait mode. Soon after, it became illegal for solo practitioners to profit by selling music, or pictures, or words without an Amazon license. You could get in trouble with the authorities for calling it digital sharecropping, but after all, we didn’t own the land we digitally farmed. It was a collective failure. It happened slowly, like the Earth’s transit around the Sun in 365.256 days.

Let me suggest, from my position in the future, having seen what will happen to you: Turn your camera outward to go inward. It’s what they used to call a paradox. Speaking a paradox aloud was outlawed in 2026, but I can write it now. I am an Uploader. I speak from a device, and anyway my children are talking about powering it down. Imagine an Alexa and your parent is in there talking and talking all the time. That will help you imagine what my kids are going through: A strange, warm hell that is sometimes pleasant but mostly not.

While I still have time, let me share a trick. If you’re reading this from Mars, sorry that the colonization didn’t work out so well. Emperor Elon might change his mind about the rules you didn’t know you had to follow when you signed up. (Always read Homesteading Terms of Service all the way through before clicking your consent.) If you’re reading this from Earth, congrats. We’ve all completed another trip around the Sun. Even though it seems like one day has melted into the next, in the past year we’ve traveled 584 million miles. Lot of miles! We’ve made some actual progress, even though it doesn’t always feel that way.

When you flip through the book of your memories, I ask that you try something. I ask you to look for the big picture in the little pictures. Choose a bigger piano when you can. Savor a few paradoxes before the consistency police arrive. Enjoy a picture of another person’s reality. Life is complex. Let it be so. And just to show that I’m a good sport, go ahead and snap a few selfies! Spread some glitter around. (I hate glitter.) From my lofty position in your future, I can see that small joys do matter on the day to day but go with the bigger piano when you can.