📺 You can watch my spoken word rendition of this post on TikTok or YouTube, or close your eyes and listen to the audio-only version on SoundCloud. 🎧

Stories used to belong to the land. They were born out of the beauty of the land, the hardships of trying to survive with the land, the languages shaped by the land, the ecosystems of the land. Stories told in the right place at the right time.

Stories haunted with the ghosts of the past, shaped by worries of the present, and reflecting our dreams and hopes for the future. Stories that helped us find purpose and meaning in the land.

We called it progress when our stories became untethered from the land and started placing selfish human desires above all else. Spreading a false sense of superiority and entitlement: man above nature, man above land, man above man, man above woman. We started building fences with stories and thus diving lands with imaginary lines. Land becoming a thing we aspired to control and own.

To extract more from the land we now thought we owned, we invented machines. And stories to justify the violence against the land, the injustice against the others that the building of the machinery of progress required. The more machines we invented, the more machine-like we became in the stories we told, further detaching ourselves not just from the land but from our spirit. Just cogs in the greater machinery of progress.

With this loss of connection and responsibility came our endless quest for purpose and meaning, a gaping hole in our chest, a pit of despair in our stomach. We now find ourselves spinning new stories to fill these voids that are expanding as we drift further apart from each other and the land. Yet none of these new stories that maximize shareholder value sit right in our bodies.

The land calls to us, but we answer the call by flying to different lands, to visit the cities we built over our lands. The cities that are becoming interchangeable, devoid of the land’s color and character. Local climate a mere nuisance, not an invitation to get intimate with the new land you now have the privilege of visiting. The land becoming a mere backdrop for selfies, its stories repackaged in mass produced souvenirs for easy consumption.

We try to further escape the land by building virtual lands. Lands not shaped by the elements and physics over millennia, but digital places built in pixels and code, appearing in the digital cloud overnight and often disappearing just as fast.

These places now connect us over distances and timezones. Seemingly timeless, not changing with seasons and cycles of our planet’s celestial dance we now barely pay attention to, further solidifying the illusion of our separation from land.

Places and stories that abstract away their weight. Data centers hidden from sight, new stories of genius and magic hiding the unpaid bills of materials, energy, and exploitation.

Yet our bodies still remember the land as we design digital interfaces and landscapes, and try to capture the essence of the land on our screens. The pixel lands not quite satisfying our longing, even in 4K.

And now we’re building machines that instantly generate images of land and people with simple incantations. And because we still feel empty inside, we’re pursuing even greater machines that would rule over the men who place themselves above all others. What kind of arrogance is it to engineer our own obsolescence and aim for complete independence from the land that shaped us?

It is the great forgetting of our times. Stories getting mixed up, finding themselves in places where they don’t belong at the wrong times, stripping us of hope and autonomy. If we could only remember the power of stories we could remember the stories that can lead us back to the land and into each other’s embrace once more.

We could tell stories that are grounded in place, mindful of the ghosts of the pasts, shaped by the demands of our times, that reflect our dreams and hopes for a future in which the land is still habitable and our children thriving.

Listening to the whispers of land once more does not mean giving up everything we learned since untethering our stories from the land. But it does mean rewriting our current stories from a place of care for each other and our home planet. Stories that will inspire us to respect the land and even build digital places of a different kind that don’t see our bodies as machines, but as children and storytellers of the land.