0544 – a man lives in a box

A man lives in a box. He has lived for 9,409 days, and has been living in the box for 1,155 days. It’s a pretty nice box, he can’t complain. It has the magic of clean tapwater and reliable electricity supplies, and it’s generally safe and clean. It’s 88 square meters in size, or about the 5th of the size of an NBA basketball court.

This box is one of about 150 boxes stacked together to make a bigger block of boxes. The man often amuses himself by looking out of one of the holes in his boxes to look at what other people are up to in their boxes. There are roughly 9,500 blocks with over 1,000,000 boxes on the island he lives on. The island itself, called Singapore, is 719 square kilometers, sitting on a spheroid planet called Earth.

Earth has radius of 6,371km and a surface area of 510,100,000 square kilometers, of which 71% is covered in water. The planet is 4,600,000,000 years old, and is home to over 7,125,000,000 people. It orbits an almost perfectly spherical nuclear reactor called the Sun, which is a million times larger than itself. The Earth is just one of 8 planetary bodies that orbit the Sun. The Sun is just one of over 100,000,000,000 stars in its neighborhood, the Milky Way. The Milky Way is in turn one of over 100,000,000,000 galaxies in the known Universe.

Every morning when the Earth has rotated (as it does because of angular momentum) so that the island faces the sun, the man gets out of his box. He walks over to gets into a smaller box (called an elevator, which uses a pulley system) that takes him to the foot of the block. He then walks across the street to wait for a travelling tube, called a bus. This tube typically runs by burning fossils in a combustion engine, and has a capacity of between 50 to 130 people. These people will be driven (by a person) along a route which stops by a much larger system of travelling tubes, called trains.

These trains run on tracks that are laid out across the island. There are 5 lines with a total combined route length of 148.9km, stopping at 102 stations. Our protagonist rides one tube towards the center of the island, then switches to another tube travelling towards the southwest, where he goes to work.

He gets out of the tube, paying for the service using a stored value card (which uses an embedded integrated circuit– basically a silicon chip– and communicates with the card readers on a radio frequency). He then rides up an escalator (which is powered by an alternating current motor) and crosses a road to get to another block of boxes– one of which is his office.

In the office there are about 15-20 people, working together to build, maintain, sell, market and provide support for a software product that online retailers around the planet use to run their customer referral programs. Our guy typically sits at his desk, plugs in his portable macbook computer to its peripherals (a monitor to display a graphic interface, and a keyboard and mouse as tools to navigate said interface) and gets to work. His job is to do whatever it takes to get more people signing up to use the software. He started out writing articles, then coaching other people to write articles, and there are all sorts of other nuanced details that go into crafting an optimized experience for people who would potentially want to pay to use such a service online.

Halfway through the day, the man needs to refuel. The man himself is technically a bunch of tubes (64% water, 16% proteins, 16% fats, 4% minerals, 1% carbohydrates), padded and reinforced with flesh and bones, moving around thanks to electrical impulses, which in turn are fueled by chemical energy, gotten by breaking down glucose into ATP (adenosine triphosphate) using teeth, stomach acid, enzymes. (The food doesn’t just refuel him in the short term– it’s also used to rebuild his physical body outright– bones, muscles, tissues, everything.)

So he heads out of the box to a nearby food place, where merchants sell food– carbohydrates, proteins, fats, in a variety of packages called rice, noodles, chicken, fish, eggs and so on– most of it is imported from beyond the island via a massive container shipping system spanning the entire planet.

The man then gets back to work, relying on his office’s trusty wifi (electromagnetic waves that are about 6 feet long with a 12cm wavelength, transmitting binary on-and-off at the speed of light) to allow him to manipulate data on the internet as desired. This is done through a complicated “stack”, beginning with silicon transistors (tiny switches that can turn on and off without any moving parts, thanks to silicon’s semi-conductivity and electrical signals) and ending with a manipulate-able interface displayed on a screen. In between, inputs are sent over vast networks, through underwater fibre optic cables and so on.

After several hours, our protagonist leaves the office box, gets back into the train tube, switches to another train tube, and at this point typically walks back to his home box. While walking home today, this man found himself feeling rather troubled and dissatisfied– a mind and body’s integrated response to a stimlus of some kind. He wonders if “the same thing over and over again” counts as a “stimulus”, and decides, upon getting back into his home-box, to sit and write as a way of coping with these emotions. He contemplates his daily routine and schedule, and how his life has become contained within these sets of boxes, literal and metaphorical.

Yeah, the guy in the box is me. (Getting tired of writing in the third person.) I suppose I was hoping that putting all of this in context would trigger something for me. That it would help me appreciate the grandeur of the scale of existence and how precious each fleeting moment is in.

But to be honest, right now at this moment, the recurring thought that keeps coming to me is that I’m a man in a box, in a block of boxes. And when the Earth turns, tomorrow, I will leave my box, go through a series of tubes, get into another box… and so on.

I have to challenge myself to somehow find joy and pleasure amidst all of this.

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