“…In The Astounding World To Come!”

Conversation on a porch, 2065 A.D.:

*

GRANDFATHER: Hey, kid!

KID: Hey, Grandpa.

G: What’d you learn in school today?

K: (pauses; looks at the Grandfather skeptically) Well, in History class, the teacher was talking about something…and…

G: Yes?

K: Is it true about the phones?

G: Sorry…the phones? Is what true about them?

K: Well…she said, back in the 2010s or whatever, that there were all these…

G: Oh, the PHONES!

K: So…you do know about that?

G: Oh yes! Good heavens. I had one.

K: You had one?

G: Everybody had one. Even your great-grandmother had one. Though to her, it was just a thing you turned on when you wanted to make a call…you couldn’t even leave her a message on it…

K: But…

G: Yes?

K: …But, how could everybody have one? They said people driving trucks and flying planes were on them all the time…

G: Well…

K: It just seems really wrong. And WEIRD. In class they showed this video of the Pope holding a mass for people’s phones…

G: Oh, no…I remember that, but it wasn’t a mass…and, I’m not sure it was the Pope? The Archbishop of Canterbury, or something?

K: But Grandpa, that’s CRAZY.

G: Oh, yeah; you’re right, kid. It was definitely crazy.

K: I just…I can’t believe it. Did that all really happen, I mean really?

G: Yes, really. Honestly, would I tell you a lie?

K: But, how could you put up with it? Why didn’t anybody do anything about it? People typing while they were driving their cars, typing while they were driving their cars, I mean…I mean, I know the teacher’s not lying, and I know you’re not lying, but…it’s just really hard to accept. I don’t understand why it happened.

G: Well…at the time that was the problem, you see? Nobody really understood the “why” of it, so they just kind of responded. Responded without thinking too hard about it. And that was easy to do, because they didn’t want to think about it. We did solve the phone problem eventually…

K: Twenty years later, Grandpa! So why’d it take so long?

G: Well, I’m getting to that bit. (sighs) See, what you have to understand first of all is that there’s really no limit to how much people can want things. We all want things, but there are limits on how much of them we can get, so we think — anyway we always did think — that the wanting was limited too, and it was limited the same way. You could want something just so much, and then eventually you’d stop wanting it and start wanting something else, is what we thought. And we thought there was good evidence for this, although…I mean, there was good evidence for it, but we were still wrong about it. There were some people, famous people, who would be in a position to not have to stop wanting more of the same, and they were pretty good examples of how the limit on wanting was actually way higher than we thought, but we used to just say there was something wrong with them. That they had “addictive personalities”. Really they were mostly just normal people in very strange situations — after a while an average person stops wanting anything they can’t get, and that’s how Nature works, like you get hungry when you see a picture of food because that’s automatic, that’s what evolution has given you…well, the brain stops assigning resources to wanting stuff that’s impossible after a while, and that’s evolution too. If you want something that’s in New York City, but you live in San Francisco, then you don’t want it for long because the brain decides it’s irrelevant. I mean, you can still want it, but you don’t want it like you want another peanut, you want it like “if I save up all my money for a year then I can find a place to stay there, and I can get a plane ticket, and I’ll do that next July.” You want it, but the wanting’s in the distance, it isn’t impulsive in its nature. But, if you’re a really famous person…at least, a really famous person of a certain type…

K: Were those the Celebrities?

G: Yeah, them.

K: They were mostly actors, they said at school.

G: They were, mostly. Although some were celebrities first and then they tried to become actors, like being an actor made it natural to be that way.

K: Huh.

G: There was this one girl…what was her name…ah! Lindsay Lohan.

K: She wanted to be an actor?

G: No, no, she was an actor already.

K: I don’t really understand the Celebrities thing…

G: Never mind, she was an actor, all right? And she was very famous, and she was extremely rich, and she could do whatever she wanted to, so she did. She was famously uncontrollable, completely impulsive. And we all thought things about her like “oh, she used to be such a sweet young thing, now look at her, she’s headed for a crash…”

K: And did she?

G: Did she what?

K: Did she crash?

G: Hmm, I don’t really remember…anyway, the point is that we thought there was something specially wrong with her, you see? We didn’t think she was like the rest of us. But she was. And we found that out, after a while. See, we all weren’t rich or famous, but the phones made us feel like we were…like we all had a sort of Inner Lohan that had always wanted to come out, but before it had always needed fame or money, but now it only needed the phones. And we just weren’t ready. And it happened to everybody; everybody suddenly started to feel that important. Including the people in politics, you see? So they didn’t do anything about people driving and texting, for years, because they really loved their phones. SO MUCH, they loved them! I loved mine, too. We all did. We loved them like…like…

K: Like?

G: …Like a little girl loves a sock monkey, is the only way I can put it to you. Like a child loves a puppy. There is nothing they won’t do, at a certain age, to be with that puppy. The puppy is the most important thing in the whole world. Do you see what I’m saying?

K: I…guess so…

G: The phones reached into our brains, and they made us feel like kids again. Made us reason like little kids. They looked like toys! We used to say that all the time, we used to call them toys. We used to tell each other that we were addicted to them. We were just trying to figure out how to figure it out, we kept talking about it and talking about it, trying to hear ourselves. And, it took some time…

K: …But, you finally did hear?

G: Erm. No. (sighs) That would’ve been nice, but it didn’t happen that way.

K: What did happen, then?

G: Well…what happened was that it wasn’t just adults who had the phones. The kids had them too. And they used them. Nobody was really ready for this, so nobody took any steps. No one saw what was going to happen.

K: Which was…?

G: I think it started in about…oh, maybe 2020? It was on the news, and it did seem like a big deal at the time, but we just didn’t put the pieces together right away. So, all across the country, what happened was that about thirty percent of all the Grade Seven classes — all of them — failed to graduate from elementary school.

K: …What?

G: It was all the texting. They texted. All day, every chance they got. Well, why wouldn’t they? We drove cars while texting…and they saw that, so they texted too. So by the time they got to the age of going on to high school, they weren’t ready, and the teachers gave them failing grades. And still we didn’t see it coming. I mean: the teachers saw. But nobody listened to what teachers said, in those days. And it just looked like a hiccup. We didn’t know it was going to be a clog.

G: Until the next year, when fifty percent of the Grade Sevens failed to graduate…and thirty percent of the Grade Sixes failed to move on to Grade Seven.

G: Schools kind of work like plumbing, you know? Pipes sometimes get clogged, but all the pipes don’t get clogged at the same time…and when clogs happen then you call the plumber, and if a bunch of pipes get clogged then you call the plumber fast. But we still didn’t know what was happening; it was on the news, and there was outrage and everything, but things still weren’t moving. Over at the schools, they were in this huge emergency where things were going to burst: the year before they’d needed new portables everywhere, millions and millions of dollars…they needed more teachers, they needed more chairs. But this year they needed whole new buildings, actual school buildings, and they needed them in every jurisdiction, in every city and town, and suddenly it was hundreds of billions of dollars, and the money just wasn’t there. But they had to do something. So they did the only thing they could.

K: What did they do?

G: They graduated all the kids anyway.

K: WHAT?!

G: Because it made the problem go away. Parents were happy again, because their kids weren’t being held back. The government was happy, because it didn’t have to build all new schools everywhere. It wasn’t on the news, so the general public was happy because they felt like they’d fixed something. But then, one year later…

K: Oh no!

G: Yes? What do you think it is?

K: …The universities?

G: Right on the button. One year later, about 80% of first-year students washed out when they couldn’t pass the Language Comprehension Exam. That was in the Faculty of Arts. The Faculty of Science was basically EMPTY, because most kids couldn’t even do long division, so they didn’t even bother applying. And universities weren’t going to lower their standards! So then it became a much bigger deal, and can you guess what made it even worse?

K: Uh… (thinks)

G: What made it so all the new laws got passed?

K: (thinks harder)

G: Where do you think teachers come from?

K: …OH!!

G: Such a little step, eh? Such a small thing. Just phones. Well, would you want to do without texting?

K: (grins) No way!

G: Yeah, we didn’t want to do without it either. And neither did that Inner Lohan…oh, HEY!

K: What? Did you remember what happened to her?

G: Yeah, sort of! She went to jail, finally, I think. But then afterwards she founded this big literacy organization! Jeez, I’d forgotten all about that. What a scandal.

K: It was a scandal? What was the scandal?

G: Well, everyone wanted her to do some kind of rehab thing instead…

K: Wait, they wanted her to do something else?

G: Oh, people wanted celebrities to do things all the time! They never did, though. Or, just sometimes.

K: I don’t really…

G: It was a long time ago. Anyway, we’re not talking about that, are we? We’re not talking about Lindsay Lohan, we’re talking about the Inner Lohan. And Lindsay was still walking around when the Inner Lohan got sent to jail. Did you get to the Badge System, in your class?

K: (pulls out a chip on a necklace from under his shirt) You mean these badges?

G: (chuckles) No, kid. Not those badges. Heh.

K: (gives quizzical look)

G: Tell you what, I’m gonna call your teacher tomorrow. How old is your teacher?

K: Uh…thirty?

G: I should not have asked you that question.

G: How about a game of ping-pong?

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