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You learn the inscription is written by Man and the obelisk or pillar is actually a high tech device that contains all of humanity continuing to live in virtual reality. You later learn the planet, which is covered in dust and is devoid of life, is actually Earth!

I have no idea where or when I read this but my attempts to find the full story have failed miserably!

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    I can just see the writer turning to his publisher and saying "But the twist is...it was Earth all along!!" and his publisher sighing, looking at his schedule and replying "Sure, fine, but can you have it finished by Tuesday?" – Valorum Aug 3 '16 at 19:42
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    Earth all along trope page. – Valorum Aug 3 '16 at 19:43
  • Unlike 'Earth All Along' suggests, this story wasn't necessarily gloomy (though it felt that way). Instead, humanity had transcended if you will, figured out how to increase the passage of time in virtual reality. It then became more economical to live in virtual reality because it cost very little in the way of resources. This intern resulted in the prolonged existence of humanity. – David Kamwana Aug 3 '16 at 19:55
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  • How sure are you that you're thinking of a short story? I originally posted the preceding comment as an answer because it seemed like it might be what you remembered. – David Aug 4 '16 at 15:13
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This sounds very similar to the November 22, 2013 strip from the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

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