The Post-Self universe
Spoilers for the Post-Self Cycle itself are marked as such: Yikes!. Hover to expose the spoiler.
Beginning in the late 2100s, immersive computing technology began to become commonplace. The mechanism by which one enters the ‘net is a set of implants taking the form of metallic contacts on the middle carpals of the fingers, near-field pads beneath the skin of the forehead, interferites—microscopic neural blockers that prevent one from acting out in reality what happens when delved in—and an implant along the spine starting at the fifth cervical vertebra and running down to the bottom of the thoracic vertebrae. The exocortex contains much of the technology that actually controls the experience of interacting with the sim.
The net is comprised of simulated areas, or sims, where one can interact with objects and other people. Online, one is perceived through an avatar, or av, which can be whatever shape one chooses. These can be made, customized, purchased, and sold.
A new take on these as of the early 2100s are fully immersive sims, wherein one becomes something more abstract than an avatar, such as an entire room, where moving means controlling lights or sound, and sensations can be those of microphones or any other sensor one might like. This relies on the concept of homuncular flexibility, the ability for one’s internal representation of their physical self (the homunculus) to expand beyond that of a traditional body, and for this reason is not common: many find that they cannot integrate with these sims, or find it very uncomfortable when they do.
Sometimes referred to as ‘phys-side’, Earth continues to tick along.
At this point, the governments of earth are divided into two large political units comprised of smaller countries. The two largest players are the Western Federation (WF) and the Sino-Russian Bloc (S-R Bloc), but others include the North-East African Coalition (NEAC), and Southeast Asia/Pacifica (SEAPAC). Many countries still remain independent, with Israel being a notable example.
The previous century is described as troublesome, and there’s a marked decline in population, with global population hovering at around 7 billion. The climate has suffered greatly, but things are still habitable.
While the climate has continued to suffer, with temperatures slowing to a linear rather than exponential increase, income inequality has continued to increase and, under the guise of helping poorer families out, several governments have started to incentivize uploading, though in reality it comes across as thinly-veiled eugenics. This is largely due to influence sys-side by members of the Ode and Jonas clades, notably due to the work of Do I Know God After The End Waking. Many anthropologists describe this as the beginning of the post- or late-Anthropocene era, where the population levels out and the impact of humanity on the world around them slows dramatically due to the number of uploads and the slowing of technological advances.
Earth is described as a ‘shithole’. Global warming has proceeded to the pace where much of the population below a certain latitude lives below-ground, though many have simply moved towards the poles. Air quality is…not great, and many spend as much time as possible on the ‘net in sims, with children getting implants at around 5 years old, though the minimum upload age remains 18.
Created in the early 2100s, the System (a vague name to keep the original project secret, though one which stuck around) allows for uploaded consciousnesses to live functionally immortal lives.
The System measures time with systime. This takes the format of years since 2124+day of the year 24-hour time. For instance, Secession took place on 1+21 19:00 first contact from the Artemisians occurred at 222+148 3:06.
The date of midnight on January 1, 2124 was chosen as the opening of the reputation markets, as such a time scheme was needed for marking transactions. The use of systime is not universal among the inhabitants of the System, as getting the current time (an experience akin to remembering what time it is) provides both systime and standard phys-side dates, but those who work most often with history and sim design rely on it heavily for both mapping events and seasons of the year, should the sims in question require seasons.
Uploading is a one-way, destructive process. The body dies while the consciousness continues within the System. There is a small chance of failure (around 1% as of 2130, <0.5% as of 2140, <0.25% as of 2150, <0.001% as of 2200).
Consciousnesses are uploaded to the System at the L5 point (later called Lagrange) via the Ansible, a networked series of upload centers with a direct radio connection to the System itself. By the 2300s, this is largely automated and consists of signing a form and hitting a button.
Once uploaded, individuals are greeted by volunteers (later automated) to orient them to the concepts of creating clothing, simple objects, moving between sims, sensorium messages, and forking. Early uploads tend to live communally in larger sims, and many remain there, while the rest tend to flock towards smaller communities of like-minded individuals.
Similar to the ‘net back phys-side, one’s appearance is bound by one’s homuncular flexibility. How they appear depends on how well their minds can handle such an appearance. However, it’s important to note that one’s appearance must be able to be comprehended by others. Existing on the System is a consensual experience.
Introduced almost by accident, the concept of forking allows one to create a new instance of oneself. This copy is completely identical, but as soon as they’re created and their experiences begin to differ, that instance starts to undergo the process of individuation. They form their own memories, and their experience of the world is colored by those memories.
An instance may quit. When they do so, their memories are provided to their down-tree instance to remember or not in a process called merging. A merge may be wholesale (sometimes described as blithe) or cherrypicked, wherein the down-tree instance is able to choose some of the memories but not others in a labor-intensive process. After the mid 2100s, instances which are quitting may attach a priority to the merge. A high priority will be felt by the down-tree instance as a greater pressure, perhaps with a kick of adrenaline, while a lower priority merge will be felt as optional. A merge with explicitly no priority will not be offered to the down-tree instance.
The greater the individuation between and up- and down-tree instance, the greater the chance for conflicts. These occur when memories don’t line up—that is, the experiences may be of the same event, but the conclusions drawn from the event may be different. As time goes on, individuation will affect the entire personality of an individual, as personality is built in part atop memories. Cocladists who have diverged by decades or centuries may find such merges incredibly difficult.
Forking incurs a reputation cost. This is tied to available capacity on the System, and as capacity grows, the cost of forking decreases, to the point where, in the 2300s, it’s negligible. This cost is incurred after five minutes of forking or as soon as that instance forks, whichever comes first. The new instance begins with reputation equal to the cost of forking, though transferring reputation within a clade is possible. Several other things such as information production and exchange, sim creation, and some experiences can lead to reputation exchange.
The root instance of an individual will find it very difficult to quit as, to quote May Then My Name Die With Me of the Ode clade, “the System is not built for death”. This applies to their up-tree instances as well; it is easier to quit the shorter one has been around or if a newer up-tree instance exists (for instance, if Jace Doe#Tracker forks into Jace Doe#1234abc, #Tracker may quit easily right away, though it will get steadily more difficult as #1234abc individuates; similarly, if #1234abc forks into Jace Doe#5678def and #5678def individuates long enough, #1234abc will find it difficult to quit).
Clades and dissolution strategies
Groups of instances forked from a single individual are known as clades. Although these are all highly unique, the oh-so-human need to bucketize the world into useful categories has led to three general strategies:
Taskers fork infrequently and only ever for short-lived tasks, choosing to remain primarily a clade of one. Example: Tycho Brahe (from Nevi’im) is a tasker who forks so rarely he has a lot of trouble even managing it. Merging back down to his #Core proves difficult.
Relying more heavily on forks to accomplish tasks, trackers may keep instances around for months or years, and sometimes more than one at a time. However, these instances tend to retain a strong sense of identity with their root instance and will almost always merge back down. Example: Ioan Bălan, as a tracker, forks quite often for eir work, but those forks tend to be associated with projects and, on completion, will merge back down into eir #Tracker instance (with a few notable exceptions: Codrin Bălan individuated enough to become eir own person, and Sorina Bălan forced her own individuation to leave memories behind as best she could).
Dispersionistas don’t give a fuck. They fork at need and those forks may quit, may retain some sense of their identity, or may individuate and become their own individuals down the line. Example: Michelle Hadje founded the Ode clade, which nominally has 100 members, but they’re not super strict about it and many have long-lived instances they don’t really talk about.
Clades can form quasi-familial units or not even really talk to each other; it’s really up to the individual. There’s a mild taboo against relationships between cocladists, though the greater they have differentiated, the less that seems to be an issue. While one can rescind one’s membership in a clade, this is similar to distancing oneself from one’s family: your down-tree instance is still your down-tree instance.
Locations in the System are known as sims, an artifact from the pre-System ‘net days. Sims may be public or private. Public sims are usually open to anyone and can be accessed by querying the perisystem architecture for their tags (e.g: Josephine’s#aaca9bb9).
Private sims are generally owned by a single individual, clade, or family. These sims generally have much more restrictive ACLs (from ‘access control lists’, but now generally used to refer to fine-grained permissions) which can limit who may enter, whether or not the location is visible to others, who in the sim may create new objects, modify boundaries, and so on. The owners have full ACLs, including the ability to grant others owner status and rescind their own (though every sim must have at least one owner).
Although by the 2200s the System mostly exists as a post-scarcity society (or non-society, as it is not at all unified), a market was put into place early on when capacity was at a premium. This market worked on reputation (marked Ŕ) which was gained via recognition. Appreciation of someone or the works they produce increases their reputation, which can then be spent on various things such as forking (which only costs a nominal amount by 2250), creating sims, seeking information from individuals, and so on.
With technological advancements increasing System capacity exponentially, the reputation market shifted in purpose early in the 2200s to be a place for sharing information between individuals, with one gaining reputation by way of producing content and spending it by requesting content from others.
The perisystem architecture is the conceptual foam of computer-stuff in which individuals reside and items such as sims, food, very nice fountain pens, and very fine paper exist. However, it also contains large amounts of information in the form of books, the reputation market, and various information feeds.
Some maintenance of the perisystem architecture is required, usually by engineers both sys-side and phys-side. In the instance of the two launch vehicles, for instance, PA engineers managed the DMZ later called Convergence
Life continues on the System much as it does back phys-side. People fall into and out of love, there are arguments and drunken conversations and saying stupid things that will make you wince even decades down the line even though the other person will have all but forgotten the interaction.
And, just like back phys-side, there are all sorts of social niceties that come with living on the system.
Communication between sys-side and phys-side
Communication between the two levels of existence was limited to text-only until A/V communication was unveiled in 2350 based on information gained from the Artemisians. When one considers that the Systems act as a consensual dream, an item from outside must somehow be dreamt into consensus by those who view it. An interesting problem to tackle, to be sure, but as with many aspects of life that involve the relationships between sys- and phys-side, many influential individuals on both sides gently discouraged such explorations over the years for their own various political reasons. The democratized nature of the data from Artemis led to enough momentum to overcome this friction. This also included A/V communications between Lagrange and the LVs, though due to bandwidth limitations with the Deep Space Network, this was quickly limited to still images.
Children and pets
There are no children born on the System. While there have been several failed attempts to create a synthesis of two unrelated minds into a new person, something of a taboo has sprung up around the idea. Uploading is generally limited to those 18 years or older, though this is more strictly enforced in some countries than others.
While there is no uploading of pets or other animals, many common animals can be created. Just as there are those who become well known as sim artists, there are those who have taken up the creation of animals (and, in some instances, automated non-human individuals, affectionately termed NPCs) as their passion project, and the demand for dogs and cats is not inconsiderable. The reason for this falls squarely within the core mechanic of the System: everything that exists there has to be able to be held in mind in at least similar ways by all those who perceive it. The System is built on human minds perceiving the world they’ve created.
As with any social system, conflict happens. People don’t like each other. They argue, they fight, and sometimes they seek to damage each other. As mentioned, however, the System will not allow one to be killed. While it is possible to hurt someone on the System through violence, after a certain point, the System will simply render them unconscious. As with most other dramatic changes to oneself, damage can be fixed by forking. Should one lose a finger, one can fork back to the body one remembers—finger included. Should one be unconscious, a System engineer can instruct the System to force an individual to fork, whereupon they’ll wind up in what their mind considers to be a default state for themselves.
The one exception to being killed on the System is through a subtle virus which will crash one’s instance. This virus must be tailored to the individual it’s meant for and is not trivial to produce, so instances of such death are rare. It’s most commonly associated with symbolic objects such as syringes or knives rather than poison; as always, having the symbol be recognized as one that can cause damage is often part of the process.