So, this is going to be a bit of an intense post. I have a lot of thoughts I would like to share with you all. If you read this title and clicked this blog post anyway, it shows that you are prepared for a grim conversation (but I also promise that it will be equally parts inspirational!). Let’s dive in.
I’ve been thinking about death. It’s everyone’s endgame. We are all going to die.
The average life span in the USA is 78.69 years (as of 2016). I am 22. I am roughly 25% done with my life. My father, probably 80%, mother, 75%, brother, 22%, sister, 35%… so on and so forth. As scary as that is, and as depressing as it is, when I think about the fact that everyone around me, my loved ones, friends, people I have yet to meet in this life, are also going to die, it’s also… beautiful. Yes, you heard me right.
I think it’s beautiful because we are going through the circle of life. The fact that this, no - everything - won’t last, makes life beautiful. Maybe my thoughts on this website will exist for years to come, even after I’m dead. But me, the person I am, in the flesh, Jessica, will no longer exist. Nothing can ever replace me. You may try, but you will never be able to create something that is exactly me. I am one of a kind, and I will leave this world and my body will decompose one day. I will no longer produce what I think are interesting thoughts, and I will only exist in the memory of people, until that eventually fades and I’ll just be history. I’m not going to discuss where we are going to go after, because that varies upon individual belief. I’m just thinking about the fact that what I know now, given to me by my consciousness, is going to cease to run after I’m dead. My brain and body is like a program. One day, God, the Universe, the laws of nature, whatever it is that you choose to believe, is going to Ctrl+C my existence. (Little programmer joke.)
Jessica, the program I am, is going to expire. When that is, I have no idea. (Which is why I live everyday like I’m dying, because life is unpredictable.)
When I realized I would die when I was younger, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I didn’t seem to understand the point of life if everything that I knew, my mother, father, brother, sister, family, friends, are going to die, and I am going to die. What’s the point of trying so hard, to accomplish my goals and be a good human being, if one day I’m going to be gone? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just live a hedonistic lifestyle, not worry about achieving anything in my life or bettering humanity, if I’m not even going to be around? Wouldn’t it make sense to just … pardon my language but not give a fuck?
I can now confidently say that I no longer feel that way. Although it makes me tear up to think about the fact that my loved ones and I will eventually cease to exist… It is because this reason that I want to do my best, so that the future of humanity and my loved ones can have the best possible life they can. That’s why I do my best every fucking morning because life is short, and for that reason, oh so precious. I don’t want to lie on my death bed, reflecting on the ways that I have harmed others (as the Hippocratic Oath decrees: “Do no harm”), or swallowing the big lump of regret in my throat for all the ways in which I didn’t live as fully and purely as I could have. I am truly grateful to be alive right now. It’s a bit mindblowing to think that at some point, the Universe was created, dinosaurs and odd species of animals existed, humans came into being, life happened and continued to thrive for millions of years… and then, by a stroke of luck, I was brought into this world. (Thank you, Mom and Dad! Always trying to make you proud.) In this tiny spec of dot on the timeline that is existence… is me. My 70 years is insignificant, yet significant. I have so much power, yet I am so powerless to the laws of the Universe. The contradiction of human existence, of life, is the best algorithm of all time. (One that I hope that we may never crack, for fear of what human nature may do with such power.)
It’s also because of countless other people, who have done their best, that we have gotten to where we are as a society. I think there are a lot of problems with our society, but I’m not going to get into that. The fact that we are where we are now, with the technological advancements we have made, is the work of millions of other people. It’s because they laid the foundation for ME to exist, that I can be who I am right now, writing my thoughts online for people to read. And for that, I am grateful. It’s tempting to want to attribute one’s success to their own doing. “I worked hard, put in the time and effort, to get to where I am today!” I may think. That is true. But I also know that it’s not totally my doing. I am where I am today because of luck, the strangers who have made a positive impact on me, lent me a helping hand, and even people who have hurt me. Thank you all. Because of you, I’ve grown and am improving everyday. Bear no ill will towards others, for the poison in your heart will only consume you.
In the grand scheme of things, life is beautiful and magical. I used to wake up in the morning and complain about how darn cold it was whenever I had to heat up my car (My Michiganders or winter-area dwelling people, you know the pain that I speak of!). I used to be so… annoyed. Ugh. Got to heat up my freaking car again? Drive through this slush? Wake up early at 6am so I can get to work? UgH.
No. I am now so grateful. One day, when we are old (I don’t hope any of you leave this planet too early), nearing our respective ends, we are going to (literally) be dying to witness another morning. To see the beautiful sun shining, so far away, that gives us the energy for our planet to run. It’s human nature to want to stay a bit longer on this planet, even when nature is calling us home. (Did you know it takes 8 minutes for the sun’s rays to hit earth? I’m reading A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, and he tells us that if the sun were to just go out, we wouldn’t know for 8 minutes. So for 8 minutes, we would be living in beautiful, ignorant bliss before it dawns on us that the sun is gone. I wonder what would happen to life then?) I remember waking up one particular cold morning, and feeling a little grumpy that it was so darn cold.
But as I was pulling onto the roads, I saw the huge, fiery, orange circle that is the Sun. I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up and cried. We take everyday things so for granted. If humans were out in space, without a spacesuit to protect us from the harsh environment, the vaccuum of space will pull the air from your body. We will die very quickly. Yet, the Earth holds an environment suitable for me to thrive and live, even when it’s freezing outside and I might complain! (I know we can get frostbite and die, but it’s still so awesome that in the grand expanse of the universe, an environment has developed on Earth that has allowed for US, WE, EVERYONE!!!! to live!)
Children look at the world with such awe and bright eyes. They are amazed at everything. But us, on the other hands, individuals that have been on this planet much longer than these cute kids, aren’t “wow”ed by the same things they are. We’re just used to it. It was fall, and my nephew and I were sitting in the car, we were going to a family outing, and we saw a forest in the far distance. The branches were totally bare. My nephew exclaimed, “Wow! That’s like… a billion leaves!” It sounds dumb, like, “Of course, a lot of leaves fell… eyeroll”. But my nephew’s fresh take on life really moved me. Because a long time ago, I also looked at this awesome world in that same manner. What happened? If I could only look everyday with the same twinkle that children do, every day would be a beautiful, grand adventure. Nothing would bore me. Every second of breath I take in is a miracle. One’s mind, their thoughts, really do determine if you live in a figurative state of Hell or Heaven, so to speak.
Anyway, I’m done with talking about the magnificent thing that is LIFE, and the fact that I get to be here, on this planet, sharing this moment, with you.
So, I’ve made my point pretty clear, we’re going to all die (but I’m sure you knew this already!!!), but we should make the most of it. Do your best, because the rest of humanity depends on it.
As an avid SciFi fan (I can’t help it, as a software engineer, the idea that I may contribute to our future is extremely exciting), you come across very similar themes in TV shows, movies, books. There’s the idea that we can upload our consciousness to the internet, devices, somehow prolong our existence. That way, we wouldn’t die. We would just change states. In Nightflyers (which is kind of SpoOkY), this same theme exists, except they take it further because people can sort of create their own “idealized virtual families” through technology. (Will VR/AR/MR tempt humans to live a life that is totally isolated from other flesh human beings? I wonder.) In The Long Winter (a trilogy book series), SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER!!! DON’T READ FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO HAVE A PART OF THE BOOK SPOILED!!!, James, the genius protagonist, saves his dying father’s consciousness by putting it into a machine. But he ends up going to prison for life for doing exactly that (he misjudged human nature), until he’s called upon by the government to save the planet from an alien race that’s trying to steal the sun’s energy.
Which brings me to my next idea. If I could somehow preserve my consciousness through technology… would I? Or, would I want to continue “living” through technology?
At first thought, I was like, “Hell yeah!” That would be very neat. My loved ones for ages could interact with the preserved version of me for years to come, maybe Jessica 3.0.1 (before the accident that ends my life), or maybe they could interact with Jessica 2.0.9 (during my college years, when I’m young and spry). Even though my physical form is gone, my consciousness would still exist. It’s a comforting thought to think that someday (maybe)… my father, who will eventually pass, could always be with me, in my smartphone or something. I could go to him for advice, hear playbacks of him telling me he loves me. :’)
But… it’s not real. Is my father really in that machine? No. Is my true father actually in the cloud? No. Even if they somehow wrote algorithms or produced a method in which it would appear eerily life-like… No thank you. Maybe machine learning and artificial intelligence could somehow make it seem like my father is still progressing, growing like he would if he was still human. That way, I wouldn’t be limited to the “versions” of him that exist for me to playback at my will.
My loved ones, family members, friends, will simply have to live on in my heart and memories. Finally, it goes to a question of whether my loved ones would even willingly agree to have their consciousness preserved in the symbol space after they die (that’s literally what it is. Symbols in space, that we create). Who has the rights to my father’s intellectual property? I believe that the only person who should have the rights to my father’s thoughts and HIM (or what is left of him)… is my father. Is the person whose thoughts those are. It makes me question the “Terms and Conditions” that we already don’t read when we download apps that are actually drawing data from us (our age, location, etc. Did you know you can use TruthFinder, an app, that actually will give you basic, public data about individuals using just their address?). What would that look like, if we could download apps or data that actually contained a copy of human consciousness? That sounds like a very scary world (cue Black Mirror episode). The same way we have “fake deep”, software that allows us to change other data online, I can’t even begin to imagine the possible evils that would exist to alter the consciousness (which would literally just be lines of code, keep in mind) of humans. Imagine someone hacking into your grandma’s consciousness, to alter her so that she says things that do not reflect the person she once was. Terrifying.
Finally, in my EECS 495 class, we read a great Atlantic Article titled, “Does Tech Help?”, about a person who wrote a blog post. (I can’t find it anymore online, but it was an assigned reading in class.) This person discussed the problems of prison and offered very cool, SciFi solutions to reform prison. Prisoners would drink Soylent, a drink that contains all the nutrients a person would need. Prisoners would also be isolated, wearing VR headsets. It was pretty interesting. But the article explained that this was problematic because it was using technology as a “solution” to a symptom of a larger issue. Not to mention the fact that we don’t even know the impact of people using VR headsets for long-term, like how that would impact our eyes… I don’t have the solutions to prisons, I’m just mentioning that this article brought up an excellent point. We frequently view technology as our catch-all solution. But is it?
That’s how I feel about social media and the enticing ideas of being able to preserve people using technology. At the end of the day, we are humans, and as much as we might try to distance ourselves from nature by living in nice apartments, having wonderful jobs, whatever it is that works for us, even drugs, we can never escape the primal urge that is the fear of death. Even as I write this article, confident in my views on life (they may very well change), I know that when I am lying on my death bed, I will be initially overcome with fear. It’s healthy. It’s normal. That’s why animals fight for their lives when a predatory creature tries to eat it. As much as I love SciFi, preserving human consciousness or transferring our consciousness to robot shells, is not something I am interested in participating in. I want to embrace my humanity and mortality. It’s because of this acute awareness that my existence has an expiry date that I am able to truly appreciate every moment of life. Not now (Universe-willing), but I will eventually welcome death with open arms, the sister of Life.
Additionally, I feel like social media is becoming a problem. I haven’t used social media for over a month… It was because I realized I was becoming addicted to it. The likes, the pings, the notifications. All forms of validation that yes, I, Jessica, DO indeed exist in this symbol space. But I feel like the tools that we have created, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, are beginning to control … me (I won’t say us). I want to use social media, not the other way around. I refer to all of this as “symbol space” (something that I picked up along the way in my readings, I can’t remember where I first came across this, otherwise I would credit that person). I firmly do not believe it is real. It’s only real because we participate in this symbol space. We give it life by uploading selfies, interacting with other humans through this proxy of software… It’s a lot like a house. In my opinion, a house is dead. It’s a thing that only comes to life because of the laughter of children, the family that lives in it, the friends that you invite. Take away the people, and what do you get? Emptiness. Of course, a house is more straightforward and isn’t at all addictive like social media.
Did you know? I realized that I had trouble looking people in the eye. (I want to ask you, when was the last time you made quality eye contact with another living human being?) I mean, not just glance. Actually being OK with looking into that person’s eyes and seeing who they are. Don’t pull out your phone and mindlessly scroll Instagram next time you’re in a social situation in which you’d rather distance yourself from. Force yourself to be uncomfortable with the most human, natural thing of all: Connecting with another human being without the recent inventions of social media and technology. I know you don’t care about what’s going on in Instagram. It’s simply an easy escape, a way for us to detach from reality with a little device. Do you feel uncomfortable looking someone into the eye? I used to, but not anymore. Making eye contact was scary. I was looking into another person’s soul, reading their emotions with every flicker their eyes made. It was unnerving, because I knew that it was bi-directional. They are also looking into me, seeing me for who I am, not the person I purport to be online. I had to sit down and ask myself, “Jessica, why are you so comfortable with acting silly and interacting with people through social media, yet you don’t even have the power to be able to look into someone’s eyes without feeling… naked?”
My opinion is that social media is another bandaid we are using for a very basic, human, connection problem. It’s analogous to how the Atlantic Article, “Does Tech Help?” addresses the very cool, SciFi-esque ideas to try to reform prison. Courageous, and I believe the intent was not malicious, but problematic. Social media can also be problematic. (Anything can be, really.) So, ask yourself, are you using social media, or is social media using you?
I tend to now spend time reading, working on my hobbies, writing my thoughts for the public to peruse at their leisure here, and being actively present with my loved ones. Social media is not real. It’s only real because we give it power. I wonder if one day we will no longer have text messages, maybe ISPs will get rid of that feature to directly message a number a device is assigned, that instead, all things will be incorporated in a social media account. Facebook has managed to crawl its way into every niche on the internet. “Log in with your Facebook account!” says 100000000s of websites. I can’t do anything without my damned Facebook account (No offense Mark Zuckerberg, or anyone who works for Facebook). I simply have a Facebook so I can gain access to many of the everyday sites that I use. I just find it frustrating (I am also, admittedly, part of the problem, as a software engineer) that it seems I am unable to live a life without a simple social media account. (Maybe one day, once I’ve saved up enough money, I’ll go off the grid and live in the wilderness (if any still exists by then). Anybody want to join me? We can fish and live a self-sustaining life where the all-knowing eyes of social media and technology won’t be able to reach us.)
Anyway, that’s all for now. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about these things, and I’ve decided that sharing it with you all would do no harm. You can agree or disagree, it’s not my goal to change your mind.
So… What do you think?