I wouldn’t be surprised if you hadn’t heard of Earth. Not many people have. Its a rather small, insignificant planet orbiting a dot of a sun at perhaps the most unfashionable end of the universe. The primary inhabitants of Earth, humans, have spent a great deal of time and effort in reaching out to the stars but the truth is this. We came. We saw. We thought better of it. One of our ships came near it in the middle of the 20th Century but after seeing humanity’s reliance on the exchange of little green bits of paper to keep them happy and the misery that tended to cause, we promptly left. You will no doubt have heard of the planet which we encountered next, Melior, where the entire population live out their lives permanently in that state of mind just after one has received a rather unexpected and generous raise. As a result they are in an almost permanent state of elation tinged with generosity. This makes them very good hosts which was of course what we were after in the first place.
However, the Earth and humanity are growing in importance in one particular regard. You will have bought this book because you are currently undertaking a module at university related to the development of doomed planets. The Earth is one such planet. It is being increasingly used as a prime example of missed opportunities in terms of its capacity for supporting life and creating non-iron shirts that actually did not require ironing. In its early days it showed great promise. Single celled organisms had pretty much nailed it. Free speech and movement of peoples had been established as well as debt free higher education and the implementation of a universal living wage. There was also a worldwide ban on the production of the sort of music that can most accurately be compared to that of teen boybands and an outlawing of bad poetry. But as time ploughed on, and for the sake of ‘progress’, one of these cells split. And then another did the same. And then another again. Even at this stage the human race could be likened to a group of creatures that would later be known as lemmings. The pivotal splitting of cells is almost unanimously regarded as a bad move amongst the more learned members of our society. I will outline one example of why.
There was a point in history when it looked like Humanity could redeem itself and would join the ranks of our noble species. But after the burning of the Alexandrian Library, it all went even further downhill. However, what is unanimously agreed that perhaps the worst decade in human history was the 21st Century but the origins of this catastrophic era can be found as early as the 19th Century. In the year 1849 A.D (Anno Domini), or, for those of you preferring not to use the Julian or Gregorian Earth calendar, 119 Y.B.K. (Years Before Kylie), some humans from Austria attempted to attack the Italian city of Venice with unmanned balloons loaded with explosives. This is humanity in a nutshell; invent a bit of clever technology, blow someone up with it. Fortunately for the Venetians the wind blew the balloons back to Austria. However as humanity drifted into the twentieth century and early twenty first, these drones became far more sophisticated. Although primarily used for war, humanity adapted these drones to satisfy their tied second favourite activities; shopping and simulating war.
The company Amazon (whose warehouses eventually became so big that by the year 2106 they were forced to expand on the moon and began offering “1 Launch Window Delivery” for its Prime members who were now paying more for membership than the entire sum of goods they would order over their lifetime) began using drones to deliver packages during the early 21st Century. Whilst used in moderation, this was a rather innovative idea. It was often thought that it would be the risk of head injuries or the loss of jobs for delivery men that would cause the initiative to fold. However, as the number of ‘funny cat videos’ of pets being whisked away on them whilst their owners filmed on began to rise at an alarming rate, animal rights groups took control. This was a step too far. The cat on the Roomba was funny. This was something else.They protested against the drones in the way that only animal rights protesters the universe over can. That is, with gusto. In the end Amazon withdrew the drones and paid out millions of dollars in compensation to cats and their owners who had found the drones just too tempting to resist strapping their pet onto. It occurred to no-one that it might actually be humanity’s own innate stupidity and endless pursuit of YouTube fame that caused the downfall of AmazonAir rather than the alluring design of the drone itself.
Where the Amazon drones failed, Oculus Rift flourished. Oculus Rift, the creator of virtual reality headsets, could quite accurately be described as the final nail in humanity’s coffin. What started out as a tool for gaming and simulating the very wars that this technology was born from, developed into something far more disturbing. Oculus developed a drone technology whereby you could travel the world/attend meetings/see relatives all from the comfort of your room. You would merely don the oversize black goggles, direct the drone camera and you could be anywhere you wished to be. Almost instantaneously the travel industry began to collapse. Why suffer the discomfort of being soaked by Niagara Falls when you could get up close and personal through drone technology and remain thoroughly dry? Why bother expending all that effort and energy climbing up to Machu Picchu when you could do it during the half time of the football?
As time went on, Oculus perfected their virtual realities. No longer were they just streaming reality or creating barren war zones or strange lands where small, moustachioed Italian plumbers jumped on mushrooms, they were creating worlds which people actually wanted to spend all their time in. Virtual reality became better than reality. People were getting bored. They had explored all the wonders of the world in an afternoon and were now feeling resentful of the life that they were left with. Oculus’ marketing techniques switched and their slogans targeted to a species in denial of its own impending downfall; “Don’t want to deal with bills? Put on your Oculus glasses and boom. You’re on a sandy beach on a planet that exists in a permanent state of sunset, drinking a cocktail you don’t know the name of listening to some stereotypical hula-hula music”. The same went for husbands and wives; “Fed up of your husband/wife looking like, well, whatever it is he/she looks like? Put on those glasses and Oculus will superimpose the head of your dream man/woman onto the head of your significant other!”. This particular feature had far more downloads of male celebrities’ visages than female. This either indicates that it was primarily used by women or a lot of men were lying to themselves and others about something very important.
Towards the middle of the 23rd Century, humanity was almost extinct. People spent so much time in their virtual worlds that they neglected to take care of the real one. Birth rates plummeted, food supplies dwindled and most of humanity was now actually blind. They were so used to the artificial light that Oculus provided that when faced with the real sun, they couldn’t really cope. The progress that humanity had strived after ground to a halt. Oculus had brought in a feature where you could live in any era Many chose to step back, nostalgic for a time when life was simpler and Oculus didn’t exist. Pretty ironic really. As ever, humanity was solving problems by perpetuating the problem that they had initially.
The last human died, like many thousands before him, with the Oculus Rift glasses still on. Many years later when we did eventually revisit Earth, we assumed that everyone had died in a freak snowboarding accident due to the black goggles they were all wearing. It wasn’t until a good ten years later that we discovered the truth. Its sad to think that while all humanity was doing was trying to create a kind of paradise, they should have just raised their heads from their textbooks and their computers and their account sheets and looked out the window. If they had they would have seen a whole host of other people looking out their windows and wondering if there was a better way to communicate with one another than through a pair of cross-hairs. The great variety of humanity and its passionate beliefs for progress and a better world were its downfall. It could easily have been so different.