Envisioning the Future

Resurrecting an old story

Way back in the day, I ran a once-a-day writing project for myself named 1f¶. One of the things I wrote on it, over the course of many days, was a sort of unconnected narrative of a day in a near-future version of my hometown.

It’s interesting to re-read it almost 10 years later; much of what I wrote about being a thing has happened (though not here) or could easily happen. A lot of other bits seem disturbingly like the gig economy we have now, though in the story it’s a much more people-oriented (and so less exploitative) idea.

I’m reposting it now (lightly edited) b/c with everything going on, I’m thinking a lot about what a better, more local, more community-centered future might look like.

I haven’t yet decided if I’m posting this as a prelude to more of the same, or just to live online again by itself, but I hope it’s at least vaguely interesting to anyone else reading it.

And so…

Jeremy is working at the market. It began as the farmer’s market, but as large scale supply chains broke down and local ones took up the slack, it’s become just “the market”.

Jeremy’s primary job isn’t the market, but he’s on the roster. Whenever someone with stuff to peddle can’t manage a stand (either by themselves, or at all) they ping the roster. The roster is a big app living in the cloud that round robins workers based on their schedule preferences and how many hours each person has gotten. When it gets a list of people, it starts pinging them until someone accepts a shift. Jeremy was just finishing up some errands around the house when his tablet buzzed, and here he is now crating up some stock printed parts that Erin needs sold off today.

He notices one of the crates is busted; it will need replacing. Fortunately that’s relatively simple to do. Jeremy slaps an rfid tag on the crate; he scans it with his phone and sends out a request for a courier for this crate to the print-shop across town. That done, he takes the crate to the edge of the market and drops it down next to a broadcast router, and heads back to work.

Behind the scenes, another cloud app intercepts the request and runs through a list of registered couriers. It prioritizes possibilities based on current locations and travel, so that most couriers don’t have to detour much from where they’re already going. It also negotiates payment between requester and courier before sending out confirmations.

Melissa is biking home from a class. Her phone chimes, and a voice agent tells her on her headset that with half mile detour she could make some cash for hauling a crate to the print-shop near where she lives. She queries for more details on the crate, and satisfied that she can safely strap it to her cargo rack, she takes the next left and starts heading to the market.

When Melissa gets to the market she finds a pile of things at the pickup location. The courier app that directed her becomes aware of her phone having entered the vicinity of the pickup, and directs the broadcast router to ping the crate’s tag, which starts flashing.

Melissa grabs the crate with the flashing tag and straps it to her rack, and starts peddling off towards home by way of the print-shop.

When she gets to the print-shop she drops it off next to another broadcast-router, which notifies the courier app that the crate has made it and pings Alex inside the shop to come get the crate.

Alex’s phone buzzes, and a voice agent tells him over his headset that a printed crate has been dropped off. He verbally confirms and finishes loading feedstock into one of the larger printers before going to grab the crate.

Once he’s grabbed the crate, it goes into the shredder. The shredder is really more of a grinder, and rips the crate down into tiny pieces that drop into a tub at high heat, where they melt. They’re extruded from that into tiny beads collected in another container–feedstock for the printers.

The recycling done, Alex pulls up the work queue and gets another print job ready.

Alex snorts when he sees the next job; it’s a new crate for the market, probably ordered by the same person who sent in the busted one he just recycled. This sort of roundabout isn’t uncommon in his line of work–he knows that in all likelhood the recycling credits the owner of the busted crate got were allocated towards the cost of printing up a new one. A lot of things in this town are closed loops these days, which Alex figures is all for the good. Alex makes sure it’s started up right, and gets jobs started on the remaining printers before clocking out.

Max is on shift when the crate (and several other items) are finished. He slaps courier rfids on the items that need to be shipped and puts them back out on the shipping dock. Then he heads upstairs in the printshop to check on the shop’s internet connection–it’s been acting up since he arrived.

The shop–like most places in the town–isn’t wired directly to any ISP’s backbone. A few years ago the town’s residents got fed up and put up a mesh network across the entire city, fed by donated routers and wifi can-tenna. The printshop has a dedicated can-tenna pointed right at one of the major hubs, making sure they have a reasonably speedy connection for all the local traffic they get.

Max doesn’t see anything wrong with the setup upstairs, so he sends a message out to the network guys asking for help, and gets back to work.

Sarah gets a ping telling her that someone in the printshop is having trouble with their connection. She can tell from the hub that that everything is fine on her end, so she grabs a spare can-tenna and bikes over to replace theirs.

When she gets back, she throws the printshop’s old can-tenna in a pile of ones to be fixed, and takes a look at the current traffic across her part of the mesh. They’re only responsible for a portion of the network here, covering the southeast part of town. There are other hubs covering other parts, and they all mesh together, providing one very large network for the town’s resident’s computers and portable devices.

They’re also very easy to keep running–any problems in one hub can be compensated for by other hubs, since they all provide internet access and monitoring to the town’s mesh network. Which is a good thing, since even more than the internet access, the presence of the mesh network runs basically all communications in the town.

Sarah finishes her work shift, and needs some new can-tenna casings for the following day. She heads towards the market on her way home.

Erin is wrapping up her day at the stall she rented when Sarah swings by. Sarah asks for her casings, and Erin gets a few out of her trailer. Their handhelds function as wallets, and with a few quick gestures an exchange is negotiated.

Exchange is the right word here for more than one reason. Microcurrencies have taken off, and Sarah and Erin are both using different ones. Erin’s was developed as measure to facilitate trade with all sorts of microcurrency environments and is based of bitcoin and other experiments–as a result, it’s sort of a default for a lot of people. But Sarah is using something special. Since she’s purchasing parts for the mesh coop, she’s using their script, which is refundable for service and assembled mesh equipment. The conversion of this into Erin’s preferred currency is all done in the background. Neither party has to know anything about it, but as a result their ultimately running on a barter system, writ large and mediated by computers.

As Sarah leaves, Erin closes down her stall and opens a link to the Assembly site on her handheld. The Assembly happens once a week, as a final conclusion to a web of online discussions. Participation isn’t mandatory, but it is open to all, and making sure everyone had access was a driving part of people like Sarah putting up the mesh.

When the site opens, Erin sees that three issues are up for debate. She flags one about sales taxes as something she’s interested in, and marks herself as abstaining from the other two. Then she continues breaking down her stall, knowing that when the Assembly gets to the issue she’s interested in, she’ll get a notification. There’s no worry of something unexpected coming up and being missed–ad hoc meetings and emergency measures send out their own notifications.

Fifteen minutes later, her handheld pings and she pulls it out and hooks in her earphones. She listens to the arguments made and the issue goes up to vote; prior to the assembly there was consent in the discussion for this to be a simple majority vote, so it goes quickly–frequently there are full consent discussions which go much longer.

Ten more minutes pass, and Erin has done her civic duty and finished her work day, and heads home, another day over.