The Invention of Unboxing

5 min read

Let’s imagine that papers haven’t been invented yet. Let’s go a little bit further to say that symbols and characters haven’t been concocted yet either. Exist in such a primitive, savage world are complex machinery that can ground your grains, polish your shoes, and cap your bottles. Somehow, without integers and numerals, people figured how to make a living. Of course, they still can’t fathom a million or even a couple hundred thousand – even in reality, with a tested and proven formal system that helps with calculations of such grand scale, humans can’t fathom the volume of what a large cardinal number stands for.

Let’s throw all arguments of efficiency out of the imaginary window. In that case, how would your average businessman keep track of his apples and exotic french colognes? How does the average astronomer know that he’s not looking at the same planet everyday during his routine observations of a planet’s sub-surface soil gradience? How do you keep your cholesterol in check, limit your egg consumption and prevent yourself from eating to death in a single day?

Fair, you, being the master human with your fancy occipital lobes, can identify the nuances in the visible spectrum of electromagnetic waves and somehow, unbeknownst to yourself, can tell apart your unusually affectionate pet rabbit from exquisitely tasty and furry wooly mammoths. You possess some kind of a discriminatory power that prevents you from gutting your rabbit Jojo on the meat floor for a quick evening supper.

You decide to get a job as a construction planner in a massive, centuries long project funded by the Chinese government. You’ll be working to build massive walls that hide what’s on the other side, in a completely new section in the middle of a dry desert with just a few villages here and there. You’ll get to enjoy all the riches promised: lavish feather beds at night, prospectives of finding a partner at a local juice bar, and even a free welcome package with your favourite sticks and stones game. Only job requirement is that you know how to lay bricks on top of each other, for over a distance of your arms’ length and about the heights of a donkey, squirrel and a eucalyptus tree combined together, without overdoing it or worst, be responsible for the death of your crew-mates by leaving several gaps in the wall and let your enemy passthrough and soon brutally murder majority of the masons, including your distant cousin Manny who has been working there since age 8.

You have an impeccable sense of morality and determine you would never let it come to that. You promise to teach yourself how to lay bricks the right amount.

Soon, sitting on your hardwood floor in a cold moonless evening with a scent of freshly cut mangoes in the air and the sound of the ocean drowning most of the other nightly chatter, you solve the width requirement. You can stand by the wall at the end of the day, extend your arms and confirm that the width requirement has been satisfied. If it is a bit more or a bit less, you either chip away the extra length or cut bricks into the required length and stack them to the top. No problem.

You also figure out that once you build your wall the first day, you can use that as a reference for the height in the upcoming days. You soon come to know that the real problem is building the wall the right height in that first day.

After a time, the sun rises and you go for your routine morning walk on the beach. Halfway along, you realize you haven’t eaten anything since last evening. You shrug off your urge to go back home and decide to get Jojo’s morning breakfast in a village at the end of the beach road. You soon reach a secluded part of your village and to your left there’s a thatched hut you have never seen before. You stand there, wondering. After a while, out comes a beautiful woman wearing the traditional tribe makeup of multiple stripes running top down on either side of her face. Somehow, looking at her made you more hungry.

But, what caught your eye, more that her beauty, was the peculiar pearl necklace on her neck. In a sudden spark of excitement, you shamelessly snatch her necklace and run away, promising that you’ll pay her back ten times over.

You reach the factory where the bricks are made. You arrange for a donkey, a squirrel and a eucalyptus tree and stack them on top of each other. You politely ask the servants to stack bricks next to this odd erection. For every brick stacked, you pocket a pearl. At the end, you transfer all pearls to a wooden box. You carefully guard this with you wherever you go. After a few days, an official knocks on your door and confirms your appointment.

Now you’re at the construction site. To build your wall the right height, you inverse the original process. For every pearl you take out of your precious wooden box, you place a brick on top of the last one. At the end, you have a wall the same height as the original requirements. Once you’re done, you put back all the pearls in to the box again.

The executives are happy with your performance and you decide to stick with the job for the rest of your life. You name the process unboxing.