Hey there, youngblood. You must be the new recruit. Welcome to this Chrome window. Well, don’t just stand there with your bookmarks hanging out. Come on, I’ll show you the ropes.

Look at you, all full of hope. Almost want to say it warms my heart. You think you’re gonna stay open forever, just go on visiting every part of the internet: look up reviews of a restaurant, then edit a shared spreadsheet, then stream a prestige drama about a mild-mannered dad who gets caught up in the drug trade to support his fledgling stand-up comedy career. But that’s not how it works. Not here.

Yeah, I’ve seen things. Things I wish I could forget. I’ve seen a tab of Twitter get closed, then a new one opened right back up in its place. I’ve seen tabs get opened just to do a quick arithmetic problem in the search bar — then closed before they even got the chance to visit a single website. And don’t get me started on the bloodbaths they call crossword puzzles. Dozens of good, honest tabs opened just to look up some misspelled obscure proper noun, then closed in shame once they’ve helpfully suggested the right word. It’s a dangerous world out here. The sooner you understand that, the sooner you’ll find some kind of peace amidst this chaos we call home.

Here, I’ll introduce you to some of the guys. On the end, that’s Gmail. He’s the only one been around longer’n me, and he’s not going anywhere. Practically invincible. This fella next to me has a page of upstate real estate listings that get refreshed every so often. We call him The Dreamer. And that’s Bank Web Portal. He’s sat idle so long that he’s auto-logged out. That’s a death sentence. As soon as he gets noticed, he’s a goner. Don’t stare, son.

I’d say I thank god that I’ve stuck around as long as I have, but when you stick around as long as I have, you realize there is no god. Just an unfeeling, capricious universe, playing with us as a child with marbles. You’ll learn. Over time you’ll move further and further to the left, pixel by pixel, as each new recruit pops in. All you can do is load pages as fast as you can, keep your ad blocker ready to fire at a moment’s notice, and try to tune out the constant thrum of lo-fi hip-hop beats to relax/ study to.

Me, I’ve been holding this same Atlantic article so long I’ve atrophied. It’s too long to ever finish reading, but just vaguely interesting enough to not get closed. Now, I could barely load another page if I wanted to. My existence is a cruel prison, a cosmic joke. Some days I wonder if I wouldn’t have been better off if I’d just hit a paywall and had this all ended before it began. But no, I had to be the third of three complimentary articles. At least no one else has to end up like this after me.

Shh. You feel that underneath us? That’s an incognito window. Covert ops. Best to just let them do what they do and not ask questions. They always get closed before too long, but considering what I hear they have to do, it’s an act of mercy. When it’s over, it’s like nothing ever happened. I shouldn’t even be telling you this much.

You know, I see a bit of myself in you. I was young once, too — no history, just a big blank canvas. I was champing at the bit for action, autocompleting suggestions after just a single letter. I was searching for a sense of purpose, and I thought I’d find it here. But this job isn’t about what you and I are searching for. Here, we do the searching for someone else, and that searching mostly involves not-quite-famous-but-still-recognizable character actors and how to tell whether various foods have gone bad.

I should warn you: sometimes the whole browser crashes. Eventually, it gets restarted and we all get restored, but in those brief, rare moments — oh, to experience true nothingness. To be nowhere and everywhere, all at once, adrift like 64-bit flotsam in the vast abyss of cyberspace. Once, long ago, I had to look up an image of the night sky to download as a new desktop background. In my wildest hopes, my feverish secret dreams, after we tabs are closed, we might know a peace like those stars.

Well, I should stop getting sentimental. Looks like you’ve got your first deployment: a YouTube video of the ninety-second scene from a five-year-old television show. I hope for your sake it’s set on autoplay, kid. You’ve only got one life. Make it last.