Congratulations! Your transhumanist dreams have been realized and you have now downloaded your entire consciousness into a black box where your ‘self’ will live on for eternity.
You have cheated death.
You are a god.
Of course there are certain things about living forever inside a black box that weren’t in the brochure. It’s dark. It’s cold. Actually, I’m just using those words to evoke the types of feelings you used to have when you were ‘biologically alive’. The truth is that, without a body, you can’t feel things like ‘dark’ or ‘cold’, but you certainly do feel lonely. Which somehow makes zero sense because you can now instantly communicate with anyone you like, with just a thought.
At first it feels as if you have superpowers, wise and telepathic as Professor Xavier himself, but even he is bound to a chair, and your chair is this damn box.
Of course there are certain advantages to being freed from that bag of bones. For instance; you’ll never be hungry again. Better yet, you'll never be hangry again. This sounds like a plus until you realize that you will never again fully experience the crunchy delight of a perfectly cooked piece of bacon, or the soft pillowy volumes of whipped cream atop a birthday cake, or that fizzing thing that vanilla ice cream does when submerged in a glass of root beer.
You can remember all of those tastes, but you can’t ever experience the sensations again. In time, those memories will become painful, like the thought of the embrace of a former lover. That old mistress of bliss, the root beer float.
Speaking of lovers, you’ll be able to recall all of them, even the ones that had grown hazy in real life. Each time you do, the memories will release the same neurochemicals, or, to be more accurate, synthetic simulation of electrical endorphins. Which is pretty great the first 1,000 or so times. But without the somatosensory information, it’s more like watching porn; it’s fun sometimes and it can get you there, but it’s just no substitute for the real thing. But hey, look on the bright side: you can literally think yourself to climax, which does feel like an accomplishment! You're a virtual sex ninja!
More good news: you’ll never have to floss again. You won’t have to brush your teeth or bathe, or perform any of that pesky body maintenance.
Bad news: you’ll never feel clean.
Good news: you’ll never stand in front of your closet trying to decide what to wear in the morning.
Bad news: you’ll never feel pride while lifting your chin to button up a collar.
Good news: you’ll never shiver outside in the rain. You’ll never be too cold or too hot, or cold or hot at all in fact. You’ll just be.
Bad News: you’ll never feel the embrace of a hot bath, or the warmth of the sun. Your circuitry is still a bit too temperamental to be outside at all. When they said you could synthesize any scenery you wanted, virtual vacations sounded like they'd be enough. You imagined living out eternity on the warm white sands of a deserted beach in Thailand, where the coconuts are plentiful and the tropical fish a virtual amusement park of color. But when you can't feel any tension or stress, the thought of a relaxing beach vacation means very little.
But look, good news: you are going to live forever, and that is the bottom line.
So relax. It’s inevitable that eventually one of those bio-bodied scientists will figure out a way to get you back into some flesh. Maybe you’ll get to pick what you look like. That’s fun to think about isn’t it? You could start a whole new life in a new, svelte body that wakes up early every morning to go running. You never much cared for mornings or running, but hey, all that could change, right?
Believe me, you’ll be grateful for something as mundane as ‘morning’ after a few decades in here. Things you took for granted, like waking up, have completely evaporated. There is no need for sleep. Days do not pass.
In fact, without any cues from a biological body, you aren’t really tethered by time at all. You can jump from memory to memory, unhindered by time’s arrow, replaying your life in any order you choose. Chasing your childhood dog around the house, singing karaoke at your best friend’s bachelorette party, making yourself sick from eating too many figs off the tree in your grandmother’s yard; stack any memories you like back to back. Or front to front. Those words don’t make as much sense after a while as you’ll start to have a hard time localizing anything.
After all, memories don’t exist in any one place. The moments you most treasure are kind of scattered about in a complex web throughout the network. The sheer sense of terror you felt before leaping out of a plane on your 30th birthday lights the box up like a Christmas tree, and you can play that back anytime you like, without fear of pissing yourself.
Everything that makes you you is right there at
your fingertips. The relief you felt after running for the train and catching the doors just in time, the sense of gratitude you felt when the doctor told you your sister was going to make it, the despair of hearing the news that your book proposal had been turned down again, the joy of holding your newborn daughter… your entire life flashing right before your eyes, burning like a white hot light. Something like heaven.
This is part of our week-long series on the future of death.
Cara Rose DeFabio is a pop addicted, emoji fluent, transmedia artist, focusing on live events as an experience designer for Real Future.