Except for the Air: What My Love of Autocomplete Reveals About the Afterlife

Perhaps because it reminds me of my mother, who would often try to finish my sentences for me when I was a kid, I have an extravagant affection for autocomplete. It is a function so ubiquitous now that it is easy to forget there was a time not so long ago when, while typing, nothing would appear if you didn’t intentionally summon it into existence. For a writer, that blankness could be brutal at times. Sentences would just halt, midway, regardless of what seemed an inevitable progression toward…

Right, like that.

Now, however, if you’re feeling stuck, or uncertain, or just bored, you have the option of typing part of a sentence into the browser search bar (or directly into the address bar, which I prefer to call by its alternate name–while deepening my voice–”the omnibox”), and unsolicited thoughts and concepts and phrases will attempt to complete your incompleteness. The offerings will range from the familiar to the startling to the occasionally poignant, since the results are gathered from others asking a similar question, often while in distress:

And suddenly, you might find yourself distractedly thinking, as many others did and will again, How do you mend a broken heart? Or, What would it be like to be a person so cheerful that, not only is it a challenge to keep from singing with joy, but it’s become problematic? Until that particular search, I never imagined that optimism could be a burden.

Autocomplete takes me back to the quasi-philosophical reflections of adolescence which could be, admittedly, a bit inane, but they possessed an endearing quality of unguardedness. They were earnest investigations, heartfelt, serious, and though they could be anxious and even overheated, they weren’t yet shot through with irony and cynicism.

Today, my five-year-old son asked me how we turn into air when we die. We’d just come across a dead squirrel on the road and I told him not to worry, because it would be buried in the earth and then the squirrel would, you know…

“Turn into air?” he said.

“In a way, I guess,” I said. “After our bodies go back into the earth, what’s left of us, our soul, the idea of us, this kind of… energetic air… floats up and away, like a bubble that can’t ever be popped.”

“But how do we turn into air? What about our bones?”

“They break down too. It all breaks down.”

“Except for the air,” he said.

“Except for the air.”

He nodded and stared at the dead squirrel. It had been flattened by a truck until it was barely an inch thick. It looked like a cartoon, except that there were black flies moving on it. Crinkling his nose, he reached down to scratch at the unnecessary Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle band-aid on his knee. He was clearly skeptical. I didn’t blame him. I wasn’t totally convinced either that it was what happened to us, though I wanted to be.

“Daddy, can I–”

“–Go home?” I said.

“No,” he said. “But let’s do that.”


Originally published at www.paniogianopoulos.com on July 23, 2014.