May 7, 2060
My mom gave me an old leather-bound journal for my seventeenth
birthday. At first the blank pages surprised me, as if the story inside
was lost or had slipped out. She explained sometimes the story is
supposed to be missing because it’s still waiting to be written. Leave
it to my mom to give me something from the past to use in the
They don’t make paper books anymore—it’s illegal to chop down
real trees. They still grow in some parts of the world, but I’ve never
seen one. Most cities have switched to synthetic trees, and people
prefer them to the living ones. Synthetic trees come shipped to your
house in any size you want, so you don’t have to wait fifteen years for
them to grow. Now you shop online and choose your desired size and
height, and in days you have a full-grown tree in your yard, cemented
into the ground and supported with steel beams anchored
into the base. Instant. Simple. No fuss.
Synthetic trees never die. They don’t wither in the fall. You don’t
have a mess of leaves and needles to sweep up. They’re fireproof. They
don’t cause allergies. And they’re always perfectly green (constantlygreen
.com has the best synthetic tree selection, according to my mom). The
leaves can fade a little from the sun, but you just spray-paint them
green again. During Halloween, people spray-paint the leaves on
their trees yellow, orange, and red. It’s the colors leaves used to turn
before they fell to the ground. My mom said she can remember seeing
the fall colors when she was young. She said it was the most beautiful
time of the year. It’s hard to imagine anything becoming beautiful
as it dies. Then again, it’s hard to imagine much that Mom
insists used to “be.”
When trees were dying offin fires and overharvested, books were
the first to go. These days books are downloaded digitally and you
can order any book you want to be uploaded into your Bookbag in
seconds, which I convert onto my Zipfeed. It reads the words out
loud to me on my computer. Simple. Convenient. I know how to
read, of course. We learn it in Digital School 2. I still read my chat
messages on my phone. But it was proven that audio learning is a
faster way to retain information, according to some Ph.D. researchers
who studied rats in a cage. By observing rats they figured out the
best way for humans to learn. Some politician thought this theory
sounded glamorous, so they changed a law that changed the world.
That’s why I listen to almost all of my books.
I didn’t escape the chore of using my eyes to read. Mom still
enforces it. She saved all her old novels and stores them in these
wooden cabinets with glass doors called bookshelves. Every year she
hands down a few of her favorites to me. I have a collection slowly
building in my bedroom. I have to admit, I like the look of them. I
also like to escape inside their world, tucked behind their colorful
spines. It forces me to fully invest my mind into what I’m doing, not
just my ears or my eyes. I think barricading them behind glass is a
little obsessive, but Mom says the paper in books will yellow if they’re
exposed to air. Just like the leaves on the trees that couldn’t survive in
this world. Hey, if you can’t acclimate, you disintegrate. I learned
that in Digital School 3.
So, you can imagine my surprise when my mom gave me a blank
book. I rarely see a book with print in it, and now a blank one—what
a waste. No wonder we killed all the trees. And I’m supposed to
write in this thing. Longhand. It’s this form of writing using ink on
paper. It’s so slow! It makes me laugh watching people do it in old
movies. It hasn’t been used in twenty years. We learn it in school, but
it’s simulated on our flipscreens. Only specialty online stores sell ink
pens, but leave it to my mom to invest in this historic item. “Madeline,”
she told me, “it’s good for you to write down your thoughts.
It’s therapeutic because it forces you to slow down and think about
I feel guilty writing on this paper, staining something with words
when maybe it’s their emptiness, the fact that they’re unscathed, that’s
more interesting than anything I have to say. My life is far from
remarkable. Sadly, it’s the other extreme. It is predictable. Controlled.
Mandated. Paved out for me in a trail I’m forced to follow.
Why should I take the time to write down my thoughts when no
one else can even read them? I’m used to millions of people having
access to everything about me. I’m used to a fountain of feedback
and comments trailing every entry I type, every thought I expose.
That makes me feel justified. It shows that people genuinely care
about me. It reminds me that I’m real and I exist. Why try to hide it
all in a book? Besides, there are no secrets. Sooner or later, the truth
always leaks out. That’s one thing I’ve learned in this life.
I pulled a sweatshirt over my head, and just as I opened my bedroom
door, I was distracted by a red light flashing on my computer.
I was running late, but the glow of the light caught my
attention and held me in place like a net. I programmed my screen
to flash different colors depending on who was calling. I knew red
could only mean one person. I sat down and tapped the light with
my finger and a single white sentence dissolved on the screen.
Are you going to be there tonight?
I read Justin’s question and bit my lips together. My mind told
me to say no. That answer would please my father. He trained me
to squeeze my thoughts through a filter so my decisions came out
acceptable and obedient. But lately it was making me feel weak,
like my mind wasn’t reallymine
anymore, just a program to manipulate.
That’s why this time, I was tempted to say yes.
I met Justin two months ago on TutorPage—it’s
a live chatroom
for students to get help on homework assignments. We were both
stuck on writing a thesis sentence for our literary analysis paper, a
requirement in Digital School 4. Since the tutor was being swarmed
with questions and Justin and I had the same problem, we figured
it out together. I remember him writing the oddest comment that
day. He wrote, “Two brains are better than one.” It was strange
because you can go through all of DS-4 without even looking at
another person, let alone working with someone. One of the perks
to a digital life is it forces you to be independent.
Justin and I coordinated to study two days a week together and
then he started sending me invites to face-to-face tutor sessions
held in downtown Corvallis. When he assured me the groups were
small, but could be helpful, I still dreaded the idea of meeting him
in public. I’m used to the security of living behind my online profiles
and the clip art advertisements I create to define me. I can be
whoever I want to be in that world. I can be funny, deep, pensive,
eccentric. I can be the best version of myself. Better yet, an exaggeration
of the best version of myself. I can make all the right decisions.
I can delete my flaws by pressing a button.
In the real world anything can happen. It’s like stepping onto
an icy surface—you have to adjust your footing or you’ll