In this future, humanity has uploaded our consciousnesses to cyberspace and thereby done away with physicality. Somewhere in myriad rooms, bodies sit, ingest nutrients, and decay, but all of this is rendered negligible by the mechanized wonder that completes our imaginations. In a sense, we have willfully submitted to the reality of the film The Matrix, thereby combining fantasy and imprisonment.
Occasionally, within the digitized whir which fills our consciousness, there are vague remembrances of something else. A loneliness emerges, or a sense of disassociation. There is a brief feeling that we are missing something, or have forgotten something, but this sensation passes… buried beneath the next blip on our mind-screen, the next sound in our holographic eardrum.
In this future, humanity intervened with respect to the onslaught of challenges that confronted us in the early twenty-first century, vaccinating ourselves against the Coronavirus, building sea walls to contend with climate change, instituting a universal basic income to mitigate against automation. However, as we did so, we recognized that these measures shared in the greater challenge they communicated: that we had become deeply, deeply out of touch with harmonious ways of living on planet earth.
Taking this project seriously, large swaths of our species reverted to gardening, local schooling, and deliberative democracy, and we gave up the utopian visions on which our industrial society had been based. In their stead, we formed a kind of hybridity that would have been unimaginable to both ancient peoples, and the early twenty-first century’s technocratic elite: we lived with and used technology, but we prioritized physical reality and relationships. In this future, the birds can again be heard singing; the fish leap playfully from the rivers. The average human no longer feels the twentieth century’s crushing aloneness, and purpose is no longer something which must be found.
In this future, humankind broke apart at the onset of the aforementioned crises, each taking to their private refuge, gathering supplies, and regarding the others as enemies. As things worsened, all semblances of civility vanished, and it was common to see people shooting one another for supplies, eating one another, taking one another hostage for ransom. In a sense, humanity during this time would have been indistinguishable from prehistoric humanity, except that the causes of this latter spurt of barbarism emanated from our own actions.
On an average day in this version of 2100, a survivor awakens in a shelter, makes sure they are alone, and scavenges for supplies for a few hours before returning to that same shelter. The air is toxic to breathe for long, so extinction is only a matter of time. It is dangerous to be seen by other humans, and starvation is the lesser fate.
No humans have made it to this future. Nothing has. Wiped clean by nuclear conflict, by environmental catastrophes, by poison, by radiation, the earth is as silent as prior to humanity’s arrival, the much-heralded Silent Spring of Rachel Carson—except without even humanity outstanding.
Except that sometimes, a noise is heard. It might be a clump of earth rustling, or leaves fluttering and falling from a tree branch. There are some creatures resilient enough to survive whatever has cleansed the planet: beetles, cockroaches, earthworms. Here and there, they scuttle about, searching for matter with which to nourish themselves and thereby coax forward the next generation’s life. And slowly, again, the grass begins to grow. Earth has found a way to renew its cycle.