I’ve always had an exceptionally low threshold for pain. I spent most of my childhood exceeding that threshold, which always brought on my fainting. When I was twelve, I tumbled down the stairs as I was running up to my bedroom and collapsed face forward into unconsciousness. I broke my two front teeth when I landed.
I still remember Papa consoling my injuries, his message ingrained in me forever. “They’ve invented computers smarter than us; they’ve made babies in Petrie dishes; for heaven’s sake, they can sore to the moon and back! You don’t believe they can reconstruct your beautiful smile?”
It struck me that it wasn’t their capabilities I doubted. I just didn’t trust they’d be interested in perfecting something as insignificant as me. That’s also when I realized I was different from Papa. Material things were too simple for me. I paid more attention to intangible issues. Why was it that they could go from caves to skyscrapers and even the moon but in all the years of their existence, six billion people couldn’t fully comprehend concepts as basic as God, happiness, love or trust? Why was it that they continually questioned the subjective line between good and bad?
I couldn’t bring this up with Papa. The one time I tried, he spoke adamantly about his Hindu beliefs. “What are your beliefs against the individual beliefs of the entire world? Could you get everyone to agree with you on Hinduism like Newton did on gravity?” I wanted to ask but refrained. I told myself religion was another one of those lessons unlike the science lessons in school. I had to learn it through my own experience to believe it. I couldn’t just take his word for it.
Those were the days I could at least contemplate; when my thoughts were confined within my mind. The chip took that luxury from me a long time ago.
I had just completed my painstaking years in high school, having spent a lot of time with peer mentors and a great deal of money on tutors, barely passing. I was opting for hair dressing when Papa took me to one of the first clinics in our neighbourhood for my birthday, all the while beaming. I had seen a few advertisements about these clinics and heard rumours about kids at school getting chips installed after graduation but it still seemed surreal to me. I was apprehensive but Papa’s dream was to see me become a doctor so I trusted him.
A woman at the reception casually handed us a clipboard as we walked in and Papa filled in the form with my information, carefully checking off “Heart Surgeon” under the section labeled “Desired Career”. Within moments I was lying on an exam table with my eyes closed and I felt the technician insert something into my nostril. Then, there was the piercing pain somewhere inside my face. I felt a familiar wet cloth on my forehead as I slowly came back to consciousness and realized that I’d fainted from the pain. Papa was standing over me with a look of pride.
I found a job at the local hospital soon afterward with my chip authenticity certificate. It didn’t end there. There were new discoveries in the medical field almost daily so the hospital required that I get my chip upgraded every six months. That year I knew at least ten people who had the chip installed. The following year, it was as common as the television and not having one was unheard of. The world was flourishing with inventions. It was unrecognizable. Diseases that had plagued the world for hundreds of years were finally being cured.
Studies showed that during the Pre-Chip Era, the average human being began life with an amount of knowledge that became known as a Level Zero and throughout life accumulated enough learning experiences to be at a Level Five by the time they died. Their offspring would be born once again at a Level Zero and progress to a Level Five. This cycle of learning was repeated through the generations. The lifetime capacity for learning was five levels with the odd exception.
The age of the chip changed the realm of learning entirely. Children were born at a Level Zero and soon afterwards, they would have a chip installed that would allow them to jump to at least a Level Ten in an instant. Upgrades and their own experiences would allow them to progress even further. People were dying having obtained higher and higher levels of learning each year. “If you have learned so much, why should your children start from scratch?” Papa would explain. “They should exceed your legacy.”
The surge in medical professionals and engineers led to federal caps on annual chip production for each profession in order to maintain the natural balance of the world’s specialties. Chips were sold on a first-come-first-serve basis and government-issued authenticity certificates prevented the production of imitations. Parents would race to clinics immediately following the birth of their children. People were placed on waiting lists in case someone with a desired chip decided to make a career change or developed an ailment that prevented them from performing their job. Surprisingly, there were still people employed as garbage men and fire fighters.
I spent the greater part of my days unhappy. Most of my existence was spent operating on people’s hearts, which wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Papa relentlessly reminded me of how fortunate I was to be an early adopter of the chip. People were now spending their lives on waiting lists to obtain a career of such stature. Though he was right, I had a permanent unsettling feeling. I began to notice that the people I encountered day-to-day seemed a lot less happy than in the Pre-Chip Era. I couldn’t help wondering if it was because their lives were prescribed to them at birth.
Somewhere along the way I lost myself. I didn’t know if the thoughts I was having were my own or if they originated from the chip. I built a dependency to it. If I developed a new skill, I couldn’t tell if it was an upgrade or a God-given talent. If it was good that I was making a difference to society, why was I succumbing to deep depression? I feared changing careers and installing a chip that might’ve belonged to somebody else previously. My Hindu upbringing wouldn’t allow me to get past the idea that maybe karma was stored and transferred to people with every chip. I didn’t want to be punished for somebody else’s wrongdoings.
Though the world continued to evolve technologically, people still fell in love and hearts still broke. People still prayed for their dreams to come true and pursued the idea of happiness. The human species raced forward to find the next best solution for everything but the fundamental concerns of the Pre-Chip Era like divorce were equally prominent in the New Age.
Life improved vastly from the outside. Inwardly, I wondered if they were all at Level Zero, the way I knew I was. I was sure I had started at a Level Five but there had been nothing to show for it. The evolutionary theory eliminated my internal weaknesses and left me with nothing but superficial strength.