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.

The Selfie Ruined Civilization

This is a toy piano that belonged to my youngest son back in 2020. We used to have a concert grand, but I only think about this one today. It fits this post about large things getting smaller. 

The selfie ruined civilization because 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. “We got this.” About everything. It was a small step to create self-referential communities sealed off from all the others. Your United States fractured into smaller pieces. “The world is how I see it. Here’s another selfie.” 

You already know how we fix this. A world tuned only to your own tastes is an incurious world. We have time for another go. Another chance to make it right. 

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. We lost the vista captured in landscape mode. Remember movies on a wide screen viewed with hundreds of other people? Or subways connecting everything filled with all kinds of people? Remember when you held your device in landscape, the way two eyes see things when they take in the majesty of life? I bet you don’t remember any of that. It was too long ago. 

When landscape mode was outlawed in 2024, there was scarcely a protest. People didn’t care. They were already shooting everything in portrait mode. Soon after, the world screwed tighter into itself. It became illegal for solo practitioners to profit by selling music, or pictures, or words without a license from Amazon. In a paradox, the tightening occurred in a majestic arc, like the Earth’s transit around the Sun in 365.256 days. 

Remember, I am an Uploader posting the last eight Polaroids I ever made. (Only three left!) I speak from a device. I can’t stop talking. Imagine an Alexa. Your parent is inside talking nonstop. It is a strange, warm hell that is sometimes pleasant but mostly not.

Let me suggest, from my position in the future, having seen what will happen to you: Turn your device outward to go inward. If you’re reading this from Mars, I’m 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 the Homesteading Terms of Service all the way through before clicking your consent.) If you’re reading this from Earth, congrats. At this time of year, you all talk about completing another trip around the Sun. Even though it seems like one day has melted into the next, in the past year you’ve traveled 584 million miles. You’ve made some actual progress, in a spiral kind of way. Self-sufficiency turned out to be a plus. Technology wasn’t all bad when it helped you care about other people. 

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. Play the big piano when you can. And just to show that I’m a good sport, snap a few selfies in portrait mode! 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 try the big piano. Choose landscape mode in life.

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