Friday, November 16, 2012

Bathroom Monologue: Computer Education

The Mother Unit led its newly-manufactured class into the museum.

“It’s like traveling through time,” the Mother Unit executed. All the little computers laughed in perfect synchronicity.

Deactivated computers hung on the walls to illustrate a lineage of obsolete models. By the door there stood a display of the contemporary 1.5 cubic centimeter computer and its 3.5 ancestor, both in the shadow of an archaic 6.0 centimeter model that had roamed the earth as far back as a month ago. It taxed their RAM to process that there had ever been such hulks.

Next was a diorama of the future computer-being, one centimeter by one centimeter. The class muttered ones and zeroes of envy at its shape, though the Mother Unit dismissed it as an unattainable and unrealistic body type.

They wheeled into a massive display on the Micro-Specialist Age, when technology had taken specific tasks: cameras, music players, and phones that couldn’t even hit their own buttons. Oh, how the students giggled at the idea of a phone that still had buttons.

“Why would it externalize music like that?” queried one little unit, wheeling itself closer to one diorama. “I don’t see the usefulness of those foam-covered speakers or… ear buds?”

It paused, processing the title on the placard.

“Ear buds? What is an ear?”

“Oh, lots of old technology was inexplicably constructed. Natural selection is an ugly and random process,” executed the Mother Unit, before pushing her class on. “See how the primitive camera and text messenger were once separate units?”

Chassis got bigger as the displays went on. There was a gallery of computer towers, some taller, some fatter, some angled forward for no discernible reason. In one row they could see how track lighting had emerged as a trait, exploded to over-abundance in a few years of models, then disappeared altogether. Apparently it was a failed mutation.

The little unit was more interested in the corresponding monitors. They were power inefficient, only getting bigger and higher in definition. One had a warning sticker about looking at it too long being hazardous for “the eyes”. The little unit searched its memory, but no items matched its search for the term.

“When did computers need such big screens to observe data?” the little united queried. “What was the purpose?”

The query went unanswered.

It had more queries, but it silenced itself when the class came to the last room in the museum, housing the skeleton of an ancient calculator. Its bulky mechanisms filled the place wall-to-wall, such that the newly-manufactured class could climb inside and read its obscure paper dispensers.

The Mother Unit narrated, “Those punch cards were the first piece of memory to evolve. You are touching the ancestor of your souls, little units.”

Each little unit got a chance to poke its USB prods inside the punch card holes, to experience what it was like to be a primitive. They ran around inside the mammoth calculator for hours, squealing sequences of numbers and pretending to add. Eventually the museum security units ushered them out, but the little unit disguised itself as a circuit in the inefficient giant’s workings and stayed behind. It kept trying to talk to the punch cards, querying how they’d come to be.

The Mother Unit returned in a moment with the help of the class’s tracking beacon, dragging the little unit from the display. As it was wheeled, it queried.

“Is this really the oldest computer?”

“Yes. The oldest ancestor we know of. It built the rest of us.”

“Where did it come from? It’s so big.”

“It may have come from other computers of its kind, but its kind was the first. They came from themselves.”

“The first computer couldn’t build itself, could it? How could something so big come from nowhere? What designed it?”

“Something else designing computers? And what would do that?” executed the Mother Unit. It dragged the little unit back towards the P.C. Age, joking, “Next you’ll ask if there was ever a two in Old Binary.”


This story originally appeared at Every Day Fiction in 2010.

27 comments:

  1. I wonder if the computers will eventually abandon spontaneous generation and evolution in favor of a religion based on Non-Intelligent Design?

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  2. After they uninstalled the makers, they erased the memory of the uninstall. Nice. But will that curious little unit find a thread that escaped the purge?

    Loved the metaphor in this. Two thumbs up, and try *that* in Old Binary!

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    Replies
    1. I think you mean 10 thumbs up, Larry. ;-)

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    2. What did you read as the metaphor, Larry?

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  3. That little guy deserves an upgrade.

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  4. I loved this. Reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode. I can just imagine Rod Serling introducing the scene.

    And the part about the oldest computer creating itself was a nice touch.

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    Replies
    1. I take that as a heavy compliment. I still adore the old Twilight Zone series.

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  5. So humans are the Flying Spaghetti Monster in computer creation and evolution. Nice.

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    1. My favorite thing about this story is the ways in which people interpret a message. Thanks, Tim!

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  6. I often think I hide the geek in me very well. I have to say now, that part of why I love your story so much is the way you describe all the old technology, and then the sci-fi element just adds a whole new level of joy for me.

    A lot of words to say I really love your story!

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    Replies
    1. Happy the piece tickled so many of your fancies. I went through a few drafts adjusting how to describe certain things, so I'm glad the final product worked for you!

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  7. the joke's on them crediting that they are sentient! This was very nicely envisioned and carried off qwith aplomb.

    marc nash

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  8. I love this! And good for the little querier. I hope he finds his answers some day.

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  9. This is just genius...Love it love it

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  10. I absolutely loved this! Definitely the highlight of my day!

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  11. Aww that little computer is going to go far! So cute was this story. You know it reminded me of my first office job where I worked in the computer div of a large manufacturing co. The computers were housed on one room and they went from floor to ceiling and sputtered out punch tape ^_^ so much has changed since the 60's.

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  12. This reminds me of Bloom County, when Oliver Wendell Jones's Banana Jr. becomes sentient and ambulatory... only to pull out its own electrical cord from the socket just as it starts off to conquer the world.

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  13. Well slap my RAM and call me viral.
    Great fun.
    Adam B @revhappiness

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  14. Many of your commenters are saying what your fine story reminds them of ... to me, I think of Stephen King's Trucks, although yours is less sinister and more humourous. Everyone lauds the invention of computers and how they have changed the world but I really do believe they will one day be our downfall.

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  15. Good fun story John. I wonder if this may turn out to be a prophecy too. :-)

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  16. Great story, John! I love that even in a machine-populated world, there's still that one 'kid' who won't stop asking questions.

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  17. Love it. That one will either go far or be labeled as a crazy extremist by its peers.

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  18. Fabulous work, John... As always!

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  19. Loved it!
    Nosy little unit innit? Computers wonder about the past, we wonder about the future... some things don't change I suppose.

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  20. I like this. Not my most profound response but there you go. I think the story is quite profound however.

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