Here’s my entry into the Short story competition for the Guardian’s excellent FutureScapes project. Basically, 2025 is 13 years away. I’m not convinced it will be that futuristic. The digs about Universities and & the catalytic clothing are dubious, and robot and synbiofuels a bit premature, but I thought it was an excellent exercise for me to see what I really think about the future, even though the writing is dreadful! My basic premise is that the issues are the same as they’ve always been, for the rich certainly, it’s just that the technology is tweaked a bit. I won’t be waiting for my Sony Tablet to arrive!
Leaving Home 2025
“Mum, look, for goodness sake, I’ll take them if it makes you happy.” Joe grumpily stuffed the self-clean non-iron boxers, trousers and shirt into his tatty rucksack.
He raised his world weary 18 year old eyes to the ceiling. Packing for your gap year in 2025, with your Mother moping around interfering was a big pain.
“Lovey, I know it’s ‘cool’ to smell now, but if you are going to see Chancellor Maynard when you emerge from the desert, I don’t want you to smell.” explained Liz. “You can wear your ordinary ones until you stink to high heaven with all your smelly mates, but you have to pander to us old people, we don’t like all this ‘I am a natural’ thing. Just make sure you wash and put these on…”
Joe gave her ‘the look’.
“OK, OK, but just try to look nice when you see him, that’s all I ask. He is a very important person and you might want to study somewhere one day when you’ve earned enough.” The gap year used to be the one between school and university, now it was the year before school and work. These days you didn’t go to Uni until later, ‘until you had the experience to make the most of it’, basically, until you could afford it, if you could afford it, which most people couldn’t.
She laughed, “Honestly, if they make Robbie any more realistic we’ll all have to stink to high heaven just to prove we’re real!” She glanced out of the window to where the robot handyman was finishing the lawn, deftly avoiding the clothes line full of shirts. Thank goodness for him, she thought. It wasn’t such a big deal giving up the tumble dryer and wearing these high tech materials now she could finally afford Robbie to do all the work and the carbon capture from the catalytic textiles added to their CarbonCredits which helped. The new Retro-Techno craze made her quite nostalgic, remembering when her Mum used to hang clothes out to physically dry. Robbie was much better than Tatiana; at least he does what I ask him to, she thought, and I don’t have to talk to him and make tea! She felt a slight pang of guilt, but she’d heard Tatiana had got another job in the end, back in Armenia, for less money obviously, but at least she was home.
“Ooh yes, that reminds me Joe, before you go, you must show me and Dad how to confirm the upgrades on Robbie. Remember I said something wrong last time and it didn’t take, I don’t want to start pressing things and sending him into some sort of freeze mode again.”
Last time he went away, she’d broken Robbie and had to do her own cleaning – Robo Service Engineers took weeks to come – and ended up breaking the DishVac to boot. These non-water ones were all very well, she thought, but she didn’t really think they worked that well if you didn’t stack them in precisely the right way, which Robbie seemed to manage, but she hadn’t quite got the hang of.
Joe smiled. “OK Mum. Wouldn’t like you to have to actually clean”.
Ha ha. Liz decided to ignore the patronising tone, “it’s OK for him”, she inwardly chuntered, “he’s never lifted a finger to do anything around the house since the day he was born because of all the gadgets his Father and I have worked so hard to get”. But then again, she wryly admitted to herself, neither had his Grandpa, or Uncle or her husband John for that matter and that was when the women did all the work, not the technology.
She was building up to the trickiest subject of all – the MeStat. “Joe, talking of technology….” Joe knew what was coming and stalked out of the room, his face like thunder.
This MeStat discussion was going nowhere. He was insistent that he was going to ‘find himself’ in his gap year and didn’t want any interference from anyone. Grandpa George didn’t quite have a gap year, he ran away to fight in the Spanish Civil War; Dad hitchhiked to the South of France from Liverpool in a second hand dinner suit and picked grapes until it got too hard and he decided to just drink and lie on the beach. It was hard luck on Cousin George, he couldn’t have a gap year because his coincided with that tedious time before synbiofuels when no-one could fly anywhere unless they were on business, humanitarian aid or had a ton of money. So he went to Norfolk to help build the Flood Defences as part of the Big Build for the Future programme. But at least he got paid, and laid. That after all is still one of the main points of a gap year.
Joe had told them, in no uncertain terms, he was going to have a real gap year, not a sanitised version which his parents approved of. He and his pal Louis were going to the Mexican desert ‘squirrelling’ with their Freedom Suits, basically solar-powered wingsuits, followed by hanging around in bars. When they got bored of that, and if they didn’t end up in hospital, they’d be off to help their friend James’s charity, building some new eco housing in the slums of Bolivia. She hadn’t mentioned how much she approved of the last bit in case it put him off, she just pretended to be worried he might catch something or get stabbed.
Anyway, the main point for Joe and Louis was that, for a while at least, they would be free and alone. No parents and certainly no MeStat, no SocSite, (they’d given up communicating their every thought a few years ago when it all got too boring), and they’d even discussed leaving behind their Tabs as part of the Communication-Overload protest. In the end, they decided they might need them to post their death-defying squirrelling stunts to try and make some WebCreds on VirtualThrillsNet.
This MeStat argument with Mum had been going round and round for months. Basically it went like this: Dad had paying for decades to this health plan which meant they could all have the MeStat for free – to track their health, let them know when some body part started falling apart and send immediate help wherever they were if something catastrophic happened – blah blah, blah. Mum was insisting he had it so she didn’t have to worry about him. His view was frankly what was the point of going to play in the desert if you had all this crap wired into you. Where was the risk, where was the fun? It totally defeated the point of the whole thing.
In fact he and his pals thought they’d found a way to hack the MeStat to make it all look fine when in fact they were disconnected and Mum and all the other hysterics watching over him would be sweetly oblivious and get off his back. It’s just that they hadn’t quite figured it before they went away. Hence the row.
Liz glanced in the mirror, bracing herself and gathering her thoughts for one last try. Maybe there was a way to get a small implant injected when he was asleep, so at least she knew where he was? Would he even know unless he was in real trouble and then perhaps he’d be grateful? That wasn’t right though was it. All that Big Brother stuff when she was younger, that’s what we were trying to avoid. Blast, it was all so tricky. She smiled, when she was younger it was “don’t forget your phone, ring me if you’re going to be late, don’t go there on holiday, I just want to be sure you’re safe”. Same issues, different technology!
She bent to the mirror, and looked herself in the eye. No, like her Grandma when her Dad went off to save the world in the Spanish Civil War, and her Mum when she moved from the Yorkshire Dales to London to ‘make her fortune’, she just had to smile, put up with it and let him make his own way.
At least he was actually going to do something useful and get some Education Credits from James’s eco build project. Though she didn’t suppose he would need them, Joe was looking forward to being a Virtual Reality game programmer and you didn’t need a degree for that; he’d been doing it at school since Year 8 as part of an apprentice scheme with VRCOM. He might never go to Uni and it didn’t bother any of them too much. Which was lucky, she thought. With so few Uni’s to choose from now, it was getting a bit tough to get in, no matter how clever you were or how much cash you had. But her old friend Chancellor Maynard at Harvard had offered to chat to him on his way home and that might at least open his eyes to other, more interesting options for his life than being tied into a career path from age 12. At least they had the money to buy him out of the contract.
Joe walked back in, with his conciliatory but determined face on. He smiled to see her looking in the mirror
“Still admiring yourself? I don’t want to see a teenager when I get back by the way!”. She’d had some stem cell treatments earlier in the year for skin renewal. Her skin was looking great, she couldn’t, hand on heart, regret it. Bit expensive, but no side effects, no knife, no slathering on expensive creams – she had the skin of a 30 year old, her friend Jane had chosen 16 year old skin and looked decidedly weird for 65!
She hadn’t managed to persuade John to do it yet though, he still looked like an old tortoise. But then all the men said that wrinkles showed they were wise and experienced. She was supposed to admire him for it, while she, and all the rest of women she knew, were looking younger and younger. Not much change there either, just a bit more tech to choose from, she thought.
Liz turned and smiled at Joe and gave him a long hug.
“Alright lovey, I give in, you do without the MeStat. Kill yourself if you have to, when you’re lying there with a broken neck with no prospect of rescue, think of me and I want you to voicetab for posterity the exact phrase ‘I love you Mum, I wish I’d listened to you, you were right all along!”