Periscope Depth

all this has happened before and all this will happen again

With the continuing refinement of communications technology (compare the antennaed brick you used in 1991 with the sleek clamshell of 2001 with the plastic wafer of 2011), the advancement of search semiotics and the inescapability of social media, there will soon come a day – and when I say “soon” I mean “before you pay off your mortgage” – where people will literally voice their wishes into thin air. “I could go for some pizza,” you might say, and a combination of visual and auditory cues will navigate you down the street to the nearest pizza joint, perhaps having already placed an order for you. There will be a couple years – maybe three, no more than five – where this will be a source of confusion, the same way strangers talking into Bluetooth headsets confused us four years ago. Stand-up comics will work it into their routines. But before long it will become commonplace and we’ll turn into a race of mutterers, our every whim available to us, or at least pointed out to us, by merely whispering it to the cosmos. This will last until the inevitable energy crash – maybe peak oil, or maybe just a solar flare – at which point the limitless bounty of information and consumption starts getting rationed. Only the wealthiest and most connected can afford comms. The engineers guard the technology carefully, thereby forcing an uneasy truce between the wealthy and their enablers. Within a generation, the ones who can still tap into “the cloud” are considered a class apart, worthy of their privilege by virtue of their intelligence or ethics or breeding; within two generations, they’re a priestly caste. To enforce their superiority over the masses, they recruit the strongest and most gullible as a cadre of warriors, laborers and functionaries, creating extensive rituals and traditions to justify the agglutination of power. This stagnation continues, growing ever more byzantine, until another resource shock – famine, plague, war, or maybe all three in rapid succession – shatters the priesthood. A popular uprising or a barbarian incursion charges the tiled steps; the sacred vestments are hurled into the city square, USB ports soaked in blood. Their rage abated, the underclasses disperse into the wilderness, where their wiser ancestors fled generations ago and have been planting fields of hard winter wheat. The bizarre practices of the cities are lost to the historical record and only dimly remembered via oral tradition, a grand and ancient time when wizards ruled the earth and a golden age provided every want. But of that time not even ruins will remain.

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