Ashwin Sundar

Untitled Story

Second Draft: Jan 17 2023


In retrospect, the access to information humanity once had was severely underappreciated in its time. When the Internet was unveiled, a decent percentage of even the general public DID know that it would be revolutionary, especially after the proof was very clear in only 2 decades from its inception to mass adoption. Those early generations knew, through experiments in e-mail, instant messaging, e-commerce, and social media, that what they had was a MILLION times better than the world where even the most basic of services was a chore and not free.

The Internet was a miracle in the truest sense. It made the effort of shopping free. You no longer had to load the family up in the car that you purchased, burn gas that you also purchased on your way to a parking lot to buy a ticket, walk into a store and purchase food and ice cream for the kids, go to the shop to buy that item that you desperately need, and then go home. The internet made it so all you had to was the last thing.

So everyone knew, probably up until the mid 50s of the 21st century. At that point, it became a bit like the memories of war that the general public had - none of which was first-hand anymore. There hadn’t been a draft in the United States since the early 1970s, which was ancient history to this generation. The Pullman Peace Accord of 2031 had been obeyed to a T for nearly 30 years. World peace was real, for all intents and purposes.

Every service and good had been abstracted away from reality - meaning everything could be done in some form or fashion, but virtually. When this abstraction first came launched as a consumer product, it had a hokey name called the “Metaverse”. It was ridiculed so badly that a company named Meta effectively lost all credibility and dissolved into obscurity. But there remained fragments of the idea, in the form of thought leaders, and each of those leaders and their ideas was absorbed by every other tech conglomerate of the time. The idea of an abstract reality metastasized in every conglomerate in a unique way, and they each began constructing the massive existence that we now know today as The Shell.

Not to be confused with SPG (Shell Petrogas), a former oil conglomerate turned minor player in the Nickel Wars, The Shell is the form of existence many people select for themselves now. It’s an “alternate reality”, to put it another way. But why was The Shell invented? What was the market factor? A change came upon the general populace, some believe in the early 2010s, that could best be characterized as “generalizable apathy”.

Various measures of civic engagement had begun to decline. Voting rates dropped. Social media addiction in pre-teens began manifesting themselves in massively increasing suicide rates. The company known as Meta seized the opportunity and created a world for these people. Their first foray into social media involved an alternate reality of this type, a flat-screen network called “The Facebook”. Users accessed this network through a personal computing device, which were large, bulky affairs that required enormous power consumption. Shell Petrogas (then known as Royal Dutch Shell) was a major provider of the toxic raw materials for electricity at the time, mainly petroleum and related products. It is still unknown whether Meta and Shell Petrogas ever colluded on this matter to boost their profits.

This generalizable apathy was like a horcrux. It needed a host to latch onto. It pickedo social media and never let go. Facebook, which Meta was simply known as back then, exploited self-reinforcing dopamine pathways in the human central nervous system to encourage addictive behavior towards their platforms. Ex-employees interviewed at the time admitted to as much.

Hence, our predicament today. The Shell is estimated to consume 86% of humanity’s total hours. The average human being spends over 20 hours per day inside the Shell. Merely 4 hours per day for bodily functions or unaided sleep. The number of RTIs (Reticular Temporal Implants) in the average adult exceeded 10 for the first time in 2083, with Striatal Spectrum Incorporated, an advertising giant, accounting for approximately 2 in 10 RTIs per person.

Society no longer believed that technological advancement needed to be accomplished by humans. Artificial intelligence of sufficient quality had been developed by the mid 2020s, and the vast majority of knowledge-based jobs no longer needed to be completed by humans. The number of students entering academia and research dropped by 50% from 2030 to 2050, and never stopped declining. Most people simply believed that all technological advancement could be accomplished by AI, but AI could only be trained to perform at the maximum capability of humanity, not any greater. Researchers never solved that problem, and as their profession dwindled, they could not progress quickly enough to solve the problems that humanity faced.

By 2150, humanity had lost its ability to progress further, and began the Great Descent. Techniques were forgotten. Religion and culture were discarded as inefficiencies. Massive infrastructure projects ran out of raw resources, and entire power grids shut down permanently. The population slowly de-skilled and outsourced their knowledge to artificial intelligence, instead opting to spend more time in the Shell. Literal mountains of waste were created of the technological products that humanity no longer could operate.