The biggest innovation in sensory virtual reality came from Norwegian biotech company 8wave. If you hooked a person up to an 8wave machine in their dying moments, you could record their life’s experience. Then anyone could replay the recording through sensory VR and relive their life.
Once 8wave hit the mainstream, living and dying got complicated.
On your license registration, you can now check the box: [ ] Yes, I Want to Donate My Life Experience. It’s like donating your liver. You don’t really need that thing now that you’re dead, do you? Like… we know it’s meant a lot to you and all, but don’t be selfish.
But you don’t have to donate the recording of your life experience to Creative Commons. After all, ending up in Creative Commons could mean two seconds of your life starring in a virginity loss mashup.
Instead, your estate could retain the rights to your life experience and rent it on the various lifeX (life experience) servers. The rental profits could go to your family or a charity, and at some point a couple kids in Uganda can drink clean water for a day thanks to some randoms deciding that your life was the one they would fast-forward through for their evening entertainment.
But even if you decide to rent your lifeX on iTunes for others’ shits and giggles, you’d have to have a pretty cool life for the sales to amount to much. The competition’s fierce… and growing.
You don’t really care how many others will relive your life. But some people do. They’re called performers. Performers live their lives in the hopes that they’ll be a blockbuster hit on the lifeX servers. From drugs to sex to skydiving, performers spend their whole life in the extremes of experience. But while a performer should be out of his mind from the amount of mescaline he ingested before basejumping, his thoughts remains fixed: “How many views will this have? Will the audience like this? What will they think when they watch this moment?”
But what the audience is thinking (some of them, at least) is how he starts his life neglected by his parents, and ends it basejumping into a volcano, desperate and shouting for attention.
But back to you. Your life has been unremarkable at best, so you figure you’ll keep your life experience private. Or… mostly private. You consider opting out of having your lifeX recorded, but you figure your wife and your son ought to be able to access it… right? After that decision, your unremarkable life gets even more dull from fear of scrutiny.
“I wonder what they’ll think of that decision,” you worry after opting for whipped cream on your mocha for the third time that week. Maybe a heart attack is how you go down, and now they’re here in this moment, just watching to collect evidence of the gluttony that did you in. You slurp the mocha down, pretending not to savor the vanilla-sweet, creamy fat.
You think about all the times before 8wave when you were so sure that no one but maybe God was watching. Your teens spent stretching the limits of your creativity via YouPorn queries. The years in your 50s you wasted bird-watching out your office window. All soon to be available to anyone with your unique set of 1s and 0s and an 8wave machine. Forever.
When you die, your wife and son swear they’ll never view your lifeX. They think, maybe the future generations who grew up with this tech will want to experience you. They can’t do it. It’s just too weird.
But a few months pass. Your wife, sobbing with grief and drunk on scotch saved for a celebration that never came, queues you up.
It’s you, alright. But it’s worse than that. It’s you as you actually were, not as she saw you. It’s the you that’s thinking about your college girlfriend on your honeymoon. It’s the you contorting your face to appear interested while she tells you about her workplace dramas each evening. It’s the you that was attracted to her because of, as she now sees, how similar she is to your mother. And your wife begins thinking maybe it’s that primal comfort that motivated you to stick around even when your friends told you to end it and move on to your younger coworker who’s always pausing at your desk with some excuse of a question, leaning in and tossing her hair. Your wife never knew this colleague existed, but she now discovers this woman occupied the majority of your thoughts for several years.
But something remarkable happens after experiencing a person’s lifeX: you can never seem to really blame the person for how they were. Even a jury, tasked with deciding the fate of a murderer, starts to empathize with the defendant after reviewing the life of his dead accomplice. You see everything in a lifeX — from their first sight to their last breath, and in the end you’re forced to understand and you can’t help but forgive. The only thing left is to try not to be such a dumbass yourself.
And brush your teeth. That shit catches up with you, apparently.
So in the end your wife doesn’t blame you for being inattentive and spending your 40-some years of marriage eyeing the exit door. Your parents were cold and anxious. Hope never seemed to cross your mind.
She takes off the headset and logs on to her 8wave account. She checks the box: [ ] Do Not Record My Life Experience.
She tells herself she thought the whole experience was creepy and wants to save others the burden of reliving her, but the truth is she doesn’t want her son to see how silly she was to be so in love with you.
Your son holds off on viewing your lifeX until after your wife dies. He tries to scan past the sex scenes of your life, but he can’t help but experience his own conception as you drunkenly ejaculate into his mom. And he’s too stunned to fast forward through the subsequent, “Should we keep it?” conversations. He discovers that she was the primary advocate for his existence, whereas you… you never really saw yourself having a family. And, from the view inside your head, your son can’t help but root for his own disappearance, too.
But his conception is just one of several vignettes that open your son’s eyes to your true character. He had known you as a stingy man in almost every way, from money to attention to kind words. But what he sees in your lifeX is a man clenching his fists as the years disassemble each of his dreams. What he sees is a general being ambushed by enemies from both the outer world and his inner world, for 78 years.
Your life isn’t The Matrix. Your son has no urge to watch it a second time and savor its subtleties. The only reason he queues your lifeX up again is to share it with his girlfriend. He has to show her why he’s changed his mind about having kids with her. She puts it on. You remind her of everything she finds irritating about him. She can’t make it past your 50s spent watching the robins and finches outside your office window. They break up.
That’s the last time anyone watches your lifeX. In theory, anyone just has to queue you up and live you again. But they don’t.
Which is too bad.
Because had your wife played your lifeX once more, she might have noticed the day you memorized the veins on her wrists, and how much you cherished the feeling of your fingertips tracing those paths in the shared darkness. She might have realized that you insisted on keeping the worn framed photo of rivers crossing because it reminded you of those veins and being next to her, the perfume of her hair like soma, the warmth of her body the sun in your world.
And had your son played your lifeX again, he might have witnessed time dismantle the wall of your ego not out of some cruel and senseless battle, but because your will was in the way of life’s unfolding. And he might have caught how the day of his graduation was the day you stopped caring that you were a tin soldier of the man you once dreamed of being, because that was the day you realized your son would not waste his life like you did.
Some life experiences, like Elon Musk’s, are sent out into space for extraterrestrials to find and become familiar with human life, like they used to do with recordings of “Thriller” and The Beatles. While your life would be a better portrait of an average human life, they don’t send yours.
So then you really die. Because people stop living you. And then people stop living the people who had lived you.
And your life becomes a private, insignificant mystery once again.