Parsons DT 2022 Show

The Planetary Interview

Salil Parekh

It’s been a while since The Planetary Bureau was launched to much fanfare. In the last century and a half, they’ve been working hard, under the radar, doing what a bureau does. Red tape, paperwork, forms, and much more. It’s not Hollywood, and certainly not Bollywood, but they kept at it, and finally the day has come. They’ve managed to establish a communication protocol with the Planet. After decades of promising us they were close, we’re finally here. The Bureau claims time works differently on a planetary scale, but of course they would. What else would a bureau do? Deliver anything on time? 

As the human race moves forward on its journey to become a multi-planetary species, it’s perhaps useful to reflect on our legacy and get a better understanding of our conception and attempt to answer The Question: Who made us and for what? What were we meant to do? The Planetary Bureau was established to investigate the Planet and find answers, and to that extent, they eventually ended up establishing a communication protocol with the Planet. 

(Rather embarrassingly, we never considered the Planet to be a being of its own. An intern mistakenly inputted this framing and voila–the lights flickered on and “hello world” flashed on screen. Well not exactly, but you get the point.)

It took a lot of time, the revival of long extinct species and a lot more reframing to have  a conversation with the Planet, and soon, the Bureau announced we could apply to speak with the Planet. World leaders and corporate deities alike flocked to the Bureau to extract information on natural resources, but the Planet was having none of it. 

Unsurprisingly, it was a little confused and annoyed about what we had been up to. Peacekeeping delegations didn’t seem to thaw the ice (remember, when we had ice?) and icebreaking efforts (pun definitely intended) were going nowhere. The Planet was not in any mood to talk business and seemed far happier to simply chat with regular folk. The Bureau, now rather exhausted and disappointed, started accepting applications from internet writers like myself. The Planet reviewed my work and, having deemed me acceptable, set a date and made arrangements for tea and lava. I presumed the Earth is inclined to a magma chamber.

It’s difficult to put into words the contraption the Bureau had devised in order to communicate with the Planet, but it was very much what you’d expect from a bureau. Lots of rickety cane wood, leather, velvet, and terrible lighting. Cigarette smoke comes standard. The asthmatic air conditioning was an optional extra, which I had requested for and it subsequently never materialised. Nevertheless, I was seated, comfortable, in the presence of my machine, with a lukewarm cup of coffee and the Planet. 

I cleared my throat. “Hello, how are you..?”

“Excellent. Still getting to grips with everything, but could be worse.”

I made my introductions and presented my plan for my time with Earth. 

“It’s mostly small talk. Just small talk. I just want to get your side of the story, and ask about your thoughts on the past, present and future.”

“Hmm. Good. Let us begin.”

I should point out that the translation machine does a fair bit of work in translating, but it does fail now and then, as anything bureau-built should.

“In the beginning, which wasn’t that long ago, things were fairly fluid. Lots happening, very active social life. Very active. Boom. We were playing with gas, as you say? It was a great time–we were all just figuring ourselves out. We were elemental. Complete freedom. All the time and space we could use. I see you do not understand the ‘science’ or the reason behind it, but it’s okay, no one cares.

Then things sort of went a little slow. We kept to ourselves, did our thing, worked on ourselves. Self growth. Self care. Had a bit of an accident but it was okay, made a new partner. Funny how it works. It was violent, but now we are together. Of course, all of us here in this neighbourhood went different ways. We had messages from our friends now and then but that slowed down. Old age, you can relate. You seem old yourself, it must be sad, no?”

There’s insults, and then there’s planetary insults.

“But we move on. Settled in and started making ourselves at home. The big fellow did his thing, I did mine and the rest did theirs. I went a different way with my journey. As I settled in, I realised that I could have some fun on my own. I got lucky with some things but soon my experiments worked. I had created the perfect place to make more things. Of course, others also did something similar but they had their own idea about making things. Humans are one of the more successful experiments, and rest assured, there will be more after your time is up.”

I’m going to be honest with you, dear reader–I was far too invested in the Planet’s story to have taken note of the  “after your time is up” part. 

“Of course, I had little control of what would happen after the first thing was made. I, of course, worked on other things, but largely left the experiments to themselves. There are other things you haven’t yet seen, but those failed and your kind will probably never find them. The little things became bigger and bigger and eventually there were many different kinds of things moving. I was speaking with all the kinds of moving things–the ones you identify as animals–and making sure they all survived and worked together. We lost many, and mistakes were made. Your kind has seen some of the mistakes I made, I wasn’t able to dispose of all of them properly. 

And then your kind came along. It was interesting, of all of  the experiments, yours was very strange. I tried some other ideas in the water atmosphere which should have been better but rather peculiarly  the air atmosphere made some better ones. The most striking  part was that your kind stopped speaking with me. Make no mistake, we got along well. Good talks. But one day it just stopped. 

Your kind started making your own moving things! This was the most curious thing. This is why I am confused. It’s strange but wonderful. Your kind is making the oddest of moving things. Some of them eat things and excrete things. Just like what I made! I do not understand their language, it is made of things I know of but these things you make speak something else. They are like you and others. I can feel their senses but it feels different.”

Our machines caught the Planet’s attention. Of course they would, we were making contraptions bigger than any living thing the Planet had ever seen. What did the Planet think of our machines?

To be continued…

Salil Parekh

design researcher and creative technologist
Salil Parekh is a design researcher and creative technologist. He has worked on new-media based projects for education and digital heritage and is an avid storyteller-developer-artist. He enjoys working in the speculative and experimental realm.