An Era of Errors

The song I chose was II. Earth: The Oldest Computer (The Last Night) by Childish Gambino. The song is the second to last track on his album Because The Internet. The album is about finding meaning in the age of the internet and is accompanied by a screenplay that includes which songs should be played over each scene. The album and screenplay tells the story of a character named The Boy who lives off his family money and spends his days trolling people on the internet and throwing parties in his LA home. Soon The Boy gets tired of this and tries to find something else to give his life purpose. During this quest The Boy goes from trying to restart past relationships to taking a trip to Sweden and eventually ends up giving up and decides to sell drugs. 

The song Earth: The Oldest Computer is played when he arrives at his house for a drug deal and realizes he has been set up. Knowing it is possible he could die and soon he does. The title is an allusion to the novel A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In the book the earth is a computer trying to find the question that will give people the meaning of life because they already know that the answer is 42. Just before it can give the people the question, the earth is destroyed. Just as in the book, Gambino dies just as he begins his epiphany

The Boy gets emotional as he begins to think about his life. He wants to live forever and the fact that he cannot makes him feel like he is missing out. Gambino sings: “See, now I don’t wanna see an era, an era, an era/ See, now I just wanna live forever and ever” (Childish Gambino, lines 1 and 2). Gambino understands he has only lived part of the human experience and longs to continue on. While in the official lyrics it is written as era, referring to a period of time, in the song this could be interpreted as “error”. This is common in his songs as he often uses lines that could be heard as two different words. The word error works in the song as it would be: I don’t want to see an error. This calls back to the themes of how the internet has changed human perception of the world as error is commonly used when talking about computers. This allows the line to have multiple meanings as he both wants more from life and does not want to live with mistakes.

Next, Gambino reflects on his life and thinks about what he could have done differently and what he is proud of. He soon seemingly goes on a tangent as he begins to reference pieces of culture represented by the letter A: “That ‘A’ on my chest like adultery (Yeah)/ That “A” on my chest, put your fist up (Yeah)/ That ‘A’ on my chest like a chipmunk” (Childish Gambino, Lines 10-12). First, he brings up an “A” representing adultery. This is seen in the novel The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in which the main character Hester Prynne must wear a red “A” because the father of her baby is unknown. As and fists are symbols of anarchy, a movement to remove all government. The final line talks about the “A” on the chest of popular cartoon character Alvin the chipmunk. This could be seen as a few of the many influences on a person’s life as books, political movements, and cartoons can shape who a person becomes. In addition, this use of anaphora while speaking about this letter shows these symbols ultimately mean nothing. If a red letter “A” can mean anything from a singing chipmunk to a lawless state it really represents nothing. All symbols are only social constructs that people apply worth to.

Soon after the lines about the letter “A” Gambino begins rapping about the way that in the internet age what gets put online is there forever. He believes that this could cause problems. Then he begins to think about how hypocritically this is of him to think as he raps: “Even I won’t survive, is it unfair?/ Is it unfair? Cause I don’t care/ When I step on that ant on the grass” (Childish Gambino, Lines 41-43). The rhetorical question “Is it unfair?” asks if this is even worth thinking about, as everything dies and most of the time he does feel bad about it. Gambino feels odd being sad his life will be over if he feels nothing when wiping something like an ant out of existence. While caring about the life of an ant is extreme this could be applied to people. This creates another question for the listener: should we care about everyone or no one? It seems in this moment The Boy has chosen just to think about himself. This question that interrupts him thinking about his life allows Gambino and the reader to reflect on their more selfish thoughts and possibly push some towards mutual recognition of all things.

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