Narcissus
(from SUM, by David Eagleman)

In the afterlife you receive a clear answer about our purpose on the Earth: our mission is to collect data.  We have been seeded on this planet as sophisticated mobile cameras.  We are equipped with advanced lenses that produce high resolution visual images, calculating shape and depth from wavelengths of light.  The cameras of the eyes are mounted on bodies that carry them around – bodies that can scale mountains, spelunk caves, cross plains.  We are outfitted with ears to pick up air compression waves and large sensory sheets of skin to collect temperature and texture data.  We have been designed with analytic brains that can get this mobile equipment on top of clouds, below the seas, onto the moon.  In this way, each observer from every mountaintop contributes its little part to the vast collection of planetary surface data.  
We were planted here by the Cartographers, whose holy books are what we would recognize as maps.  Our calling is to cover every inch of the planet’s surface. As we roam, we vacuum data into our sensory organs, and it is for this reason only that we exist. 
At the moment of our death we awaken in the debriefing room.  Here our lifetime of data collection is downloaded and cross-correlated with the data of those who have passed before us.  By this method, the Cartographers integrate billions of viewpoints for a dynamic high resolution picture of the planet.  They long ago realized that the optimal method for achieving a planetwide map was to drop countless little rugged, mobile devices that multiply quickly and carry themselves to all the reaches of the globe.  To ensure we spread widely on the surface, they made us restless, longing, lusty and fecund.
Unlike previous mobile-camera versions, they built us to stand, crane our necks, turn our lenses onto every detail of the planet, become curious, independently develop new ideas for increased mobility.  The brilliance of the design specification was that our pioneering efforts were not pre-scripted; instead, to conquer the unpredictable variety of landscapes, we were subjected to natural selection to develop dynamic, unforeseen strategies.  The Cartographers do not care who lives and dies, as long as there is broad coverage.  They are annoyed by worship and genuflection; it slows data collection. 
When we awaken in the giant spherical windowless room, it may take a few moments to realize that we are not in a heaven in the clouds; rather we are deep at the center of the Earth.  The Cartographers are much smaller than we are.  They live underground and are averse to light.  We are the biggest devices they could build: to them we are giants, large enough to jump creeks and scale boulders, an impressive machine ideal for planetary exploration.  
The patient Cartographers pushed us out onto a spot on the surface, and watched for millennia as we spread like ink over the surface of the planet until every zone took on the color of human coverage, until every region came under the watchful gaze of the compact mobile sensors.  
Watching our progress from their control center, the mobile camera engineers congratulated themselves on a job well done.  They waited for humans to spend lifetimes turning their data sensors on patches of ground, the strata of rocks, the distribution of trees.
And yet, despite this initial success, the Cartographers are profoundly frustrated with the results. Despite their planetary coverage and long life spans, the mobile cameras collect very little data that is useful for cartography.  Instead, the devices turn their ingeniously created compact lenses directly into the gazes of other compact lenses – an ironic way to trivialize the technology. On their sophisticated sensory skin they simply want to be stroked.  The brilliant air compression sensors are turned toward the whispers of lovers rather than critical planetary data. Despite their robust outdoor design they have spent their energies building shelters into which they cluster with one another. Despite good spreading on large scales, they clump at small scales. They build communication networks to remotely view pictures of each other when they are apart. Day after day, with sinking hearts, the Cartographers scroll through endless reels of useless data. The head Engineer is fired: He has created an engineering marvel that only takes pictures of itself.
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