The following excerpt was taken from a notebook discovered on a bench by the Ohio River in Pittsburgh. It contains the thoughts and feelings of a creature who claims to be a “Flussfremder,” a German word that roughly translates as “river stranger.” 

One of the first entries in the notebook describes the Flussfremder as “a creature that lives formless in the water at night, only to emerge each morning as a human that interacts in society without a sliver of suspicion.” Whether these excerpts were written by an actual shapeshifter or simply an insane (albeit  highly perceptive) vagrant remains a mystery.

Over the coming weeks, Our Land will publish — for the first time ever, anywhere — numerous entries from the Flussfremder’s diary. The author’s identity has been deemed a moot point by our editors, considering these works of literature possess merits that transcend their creator and offer an insightful critique of modern life. 

Without further ado, here’s today’s excerpt.

Living Inside Screens, May 6, 9:24 p.m.

I must admit, despite existing alongside human beings for the past couple of months, I’m having a difficult time understanding why they live the way they do. Perhaps the thing that confounds me most is how much time they spend looking at screens, whether it be computers, televisions or — most commonly — cell phones. Sometimes they look at multiple screens at the same time, a phenomenon that’s absolutely befuddling to me. Earlier today, in fact, I gazed through the window of a street-level apartment and saw a man watching TV in his recliner, a phone in his hand and a computer in his lap. With his attention pulled in so many directions, I wondered how he could have absorbed all of the information being projected onto his psyche. Wouldn’t it be more advantageous to focus on a single source of stimulation at a time, so that one truly remembers, in full, the content presented? Attention split is no attention at all, or so I’ve heard several wise humans say during my time in the Upper World — which is what I’ve come to call human society.  

Of all the screens human beings stare into — and there are many — phones seem to be the most abused. Just yesterday, as I walked down the street during a gorgeous spring afternoon, enjoying the earthy smell of blooming flowers and twittering from the trees, I noticed something truly stunning: every human being around me was staring down at their phone, utterly oblivious to the world around them popping with life and vitality. It took everything in my power not to scream at the top of my fake human lungs: “WAKE UP!”

Of all the screens human beings stare into — and there are many — phones seem to be the most abused.

When I initially emerged from the river, I posited that these small electronic devices were serving a vital purpose. I thought: human beings must be using them to direct their motions through the world, or some similarly important task. But through some amateur detective work — namely, looking over the shoulders of humans, here and there — I realized that these small pieces of plastic are rarely used for even moderately important tasks. 

I will now list what I’ve seen on these phones during my research:

  • A video of a young human girl holding a guitar and singing the words: “I wonder what’s inside your butthole/maybe there are astronauts/or maybe there are aliens/all inside your butthole.” (I must admit, it was a rather catchy tune).
  • A compilation video of young (mostly white) human men being hit in the genitals with various objects.
  • Videos of adult humans performing intercourse with one another. Most of the humans I’ve seen watching these so-called “erotic” videos have been either at the library or on a public bus. All of them smelled like sweat. 
  • News articles. At first, I thought this was a noble undertaking, given the importance of staying informed about what’s going on in the Upper World. But I quickly noticed that most humans refrain from actually reading the article in question, opting instead to glance at the headline and the first few sentences before sharing it on a website called “Facebook” (see below), usually with a caption featuring a lot of CAPITAL LETTERS, exclamation points (which look like this: !!!) and misspelled words. 
  • Endless scrolling through Facebook, which seems to be nothing more than a way for people to look at people on a screen instead of in the world around them.  
  • Videos of baby cats — or “kittens,” as they’re called — falling asleep while sitting up. These were by far my favorite videos.

I’ve learned from perusing books of words and letters at the local library* that cell phones were created by humans only 30 years ago, give or take — a snap of a finger in Upper World time. I’ve also discovered through my studies that humans have existed for approximately six million years, which means their race has lived without cell phones for 5,999,970ish years and now, all of sudden, these small plastic bricks are one of the most important objects in all of the Upper World. The fact that humanity successfully existed for so long without them makes me wonder if they’re as necessary as they appear.

To test this theory, I purchased a cell phone of my own at a gigantic store called “WalMart,” which smelled like river garbage and featured a lot of human beings walking around in stained sweatpants. For a week, I used this phone in the manner that most humans do: to help them get from one place to another, watch generally mindless videos and share news articles of dubious quality with their “friends” on Facebook. To my dismay, I found myself sucked into this alternate universe, this world of the “internet,” which seems to be a sort of meta-reality pasted on top of the Upper World. The internet can’t be found in a physical space (one cannot “touch it” or “pick it up”); it only lives inside screens, which gives it the strange quality of existing everywhere and nowhere at the same time. 

The internet can’t be found in a physical space (one cannot “touch it” or “pick it up”); it only lives inside screens, which gives it the strange quality of existing everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Nonetheless, I found myself absolutely enthralled with my new phone. I quickly became just like those humans I so loathed for constantly holding the things in front of their faces. Within a week, even I started to ignore all of the beautiful characteristics I had once loved about the Upper World: the green trees, the chirping birds, the smell of blooming flowers. All of these tactile sensations faded into the periphery as my little plastic brick established a monopoly on my attention, while also making me feel a vague sense of guilt down in my fake human stomach. 

I probably would have gone on living in this isolated manner for an indefinite amount of time had I not had a personal “wake-up call,” a phrase many humans use that means to snap out of a blind stupor. It was a small-yet-meaningful moment that brought me back to reality: I was lying in a park, watching yet another compilation video of baby cats falling asleep while sitting up, feeling that familiar sense of guilt, when out of nowhere, I experienced an urge to set my phone aside and simply exist in the Upper World. 

What I experienced delighted me: I saw people (the ones not on their cell phones, that is) holding hands and smiling. I watched birds pecking food from the lush grass. I felt the warm breeze on my skin.

What I experienced delighted me: I saw people (the ones not on their cell phones, that is) holding hands and smiling. I watched birds pecking food from the lush grass. I felt the warm breeze on my skin. To my excitement, guilt was replaced with a sense of contentment. And at this precise moment, I resolved to hurl my cell phone into the river, while also making myself a promise: I would never, under any circumstance, purchase another one of these evil devices. 

My brief experiment proved that owning a cell phone is by no means a prerequisite to a happy existence in the Upper World, despite what many (most) humans have been programmed to believe over the past two or three decades. In fact, one could argue that cell phones actually stand in direct opposition to true spiritual fulfillment. The Upper World existed long before little plastic bricks were created, and it will continue to exist long after they’re gone. That thought, for whatever reason, fills me with bliss. 

But anyway, it’s getting late. I must return to the river. Until next time:  seltsam verrückt

* – A truly incredible place that allows any human being to borrow books, videos and music discs free of charge on virtually any subject known to the Upper World.

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