Today we printed out the Internet.
All of it.
Boredom is the main obstacle. Paper jams welcome, our printer stopping on random pages, gasping for respite. Occasional network issues keep our minds sharp. And the trucks outside, delivering paper to our door, as we stack and carry into the warehouse.
Otherwise it is the mundane, the churn of the printer barrel, its friction melodic. We compose accompanying ukulele chords, playing our song during long periods of self-doubt. The information we print is sometimes distracting, sometimes worthwhile, infrequently enriching. Content we never knew of, its existence beyond imagination.
We abandon our plan for governance, the physicality overwhelming. Our original intention to create a structure, a manual index. Prototypes still on our walls, built with string and pins and photos, all now hopeless. Instead we have chaos – information random, back to its anarchic conception. We print, and stack, and store as we find it, building towers of content. Archways of A4, avenues of ink.
We try not to think of the trees, or the transport footprint, or the excess. Instead we focus on the greater good. How every individual, or society, or civilisation needs a backup. The inevitable collapse of infrastructure, and a world thankful for our save state. Everything recycled.
Our first query is from an old man who wears medals on his jacket. He walks with a limp and a small dog. He compliments our efforts, peering into our back-yard Internet. Paper blocking the horizon, changing perspective. A forest cut down and reassembled new.
Can I use your Internet, he says, The local library is closed.
He is a writer, researching bacteria types for a new poetry collection. We draw him a map from our collective memory. The information is to the west, far beyond the recent paper monoliths, sheets fluttering like the snow. He takes a compass and a flare gun, declining our offer of a guide, before vanishing into the web.
Buoyed by our good deed, we double our efforts. The final million pages, a period of reflection. Holding individual sheets up to what remains of the sun. Observing gaps in the fonts. Touching our favourite words. Smelling the ink. Consuming both the form and content. Leaving our fingerprint on every piece of information ever created. The printer thin and worn down, operating beyond its design. Stray pages on the carpet, information trampled and lost forever.
Late in the day, a query comes from the old man’s daughter, concerned by his disappearance. Several hours and billions of pages have passed.
He is easily distracted, she says.
We assume shared responsibility, having been equally distracted by our nearness to completion. Could we have boxed him in? Does he still wander without direction? His daughter demands to search with us, but we persuade her to stay. The landscape is organic and collapsing, shifting sheets forming curves and slopes. Instead, she will stay to maintain the printer, and wait for our return,
In our bag we pack a map and compass, and a box of matches, in case of emergency. Before leaving we document our efforts and intention, for the scenario we do not return. Upload our story to the web, hoping it will print out before the cartridge r
Paul Thompson lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Okay Donkey, Spelk Fiction, Ellipsis Zine and The Cabinet of Heed.
Image via Pixabay