Online reality in “Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” by N.K. Jemisin
Prompt: Post thoughts on the world or an artifact from an afrofuturism story*.
Story: “Too Many Yesterdays, Not Enough Tomorrows” by N.K. Jemisin
The story takes place in a dystopian future version of our world, following a semi-apocalyptic event. This is a near future.
The remaining inhabitants are physically isolated in their homes, but find each other online. Through online forums and chat rooms, these people collectively piece together what happened to their former world, and what happens in their present one. Each day there is a “rollover” - a restart that overwrites the previous day, erasing physical events and actions.
Everything is ephemeral except the artifacts left online. For example, Helen wakes up each morning to her fridge restocked with the same gross breakfast she had finished the morning before. Yet she can pick up from where she left off with her group chats online. She can revisit her blogposts, but not the thoughts she wrote on paper a day before, because the paper is gone.
Shared online histories become more real than what is personally experienced in one’s physical reality. And there is a clear limitation to how intimately a person connect with another, or oneself, when all lasting communications and thoughts must be public to a group.
Helen writes poetry on paper to cope in her strange world, and reflect on her intimate feelings with herself. She battles the trade-off of posting this personal poetry online to the public, so that she can revisit her feelings another day, or otherwise keeping her privacy at the cost of letting her thoughts disappear into the ether as the next day rolls over, and the previous day’s artifacts, and poems written on paper, are erased.
This trade-off also exists for the interpersonal relationships of this world. Direct communication channels are error prone; emails often bounce. When two people do connect too closely, or share intimate thoughts, they tend to disappear.
Is our current world moving towards this future one? One where experiences and thoughts become real, and can last, only when posted online? And what would this mean for the depth of human connections? When should we choose to disappear?
* Story published in “Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond”.