Daily life in 2020
On Nelo’s 25th birthday he rose early, printed off his customised copy of the First World Chronicle for Jan 1 2020 and sauntered onto the balcony for a long lazy breakfast with his partner Merede and their daughter Benita.
‘Great to have a day off’ he said as he turned on the whole-wall screen by simply thinking ‘screen’ and carefully enunciated his grandparents’ universal access code in the direction of the Integrated Communication System (ICS). ‘The trouble with being one of the lucky ones with a job, a symbolic analyst’s job at that, is that you have to work 80 hours a week to get there and then 70 hours a week to stay there’.
From their fifth floor balcony Nelo could see beyond the walls of Safehaven Park, the suburb they had lived in since moving from Melbourne to be in Sydney, Australia's only world gateway city and home to a quarter of the country’s 25 million people. What’s the weather like ? said Merede. ‘No smoggier than usual; certainly not a breathing unit day. I can just see the new wall they are putting up around Sowetoville, that underclass suburb near the University. That should make policing easier’ he said. ‘Why don’t they fit every underclasser with an electronic bracelet to keep track of where they are. It would be easier than walling them out and the overclass in’ she said. ‘ But you have to be convicted of something to be punished like that. Anyhow, the trick in managing the underclass is to make sure they vent their frustration and anger on their own, not on us or the service workers who live in the open suburbs’.
At that moment the ICS flashed and hiccupped discreetly and Grandpa Wong’s smiling Eurasian face came up on the holocube. ‘I wasn’t going to answer till the ICS said it was you calling. This expensive retirement village you got us into has such an intensive activity program that we’re desperate for some peace and quiet. When I was young, the old people weren’t healthy enough to play and learn and socialise. And now there are so many of us. Three retirement villages in our suburb alone, you know’.
‘Grandpa’, said Merede, ‘Nelo and I have a free day so we were calling to see if you and Grandma Wong could join us for lunch at the Safehaven Precinct Club. We’re off to the Safehaven Fitness Center soon but we could pick you up around twelve’.
I don’t know why you work such long hours Nelo’, said Grandpa Wong, ‘When I retired 10 years ago we were only working four days a week, eight hours a day’. ‘It’s still like that for industrial and service workers’, said Nelo, ‘and so they get lots of leisure time, but we brain workers, the symbolic analysts, are only a third of the workforce and can’t be easily replaced. Anyhow, I’m not sure if I would know what to do with more leisure time. Travel isn’t much fun now that you have to move around in big groups for safety in most countries. Experiencing Alaska by virtual reality in my own entertainment room is more to my taste. No wonder the tourist industry is in the doldrums’.
Merede, Nelo and Benita set off from the Fitness Center to pick up the oldies at Mon Repos Retirement Village. The electric motors in the wheels of their hybrid car made no noise and all they could hear was the small constant-speed diesel engine generating power for the lightweight batteries. They took a roundabout route so that they could stay on the main roads where carjacking was rare and where the Highway Security Service they had joined guaranteed a seven minute maximum response time from the moment you pressed the alarm button.
‘We’ll have to go screen-shopping after lunch’ said Nelo, deftly avoiding a series of large potholes in the middle of the freeway. ‘ This walk-through computer shopping is all very well but the door-to-door delivery system hasn’t been too reliable recently and I used the last of the fresh Indonesian mangoes for breakfast’.
‘Can I stay on at the Club after lunch and play in the virtual reality arcade?’ said Benita. ‘No, you have to log up more computer-assisted rote learning hours if you ever want to get to University and get a symbolic analyst’s job one day. And don’t forget to take your Easylearning pill first. We are happy to pay exorbitant University fees but you have to do your share. You wouldn’t want to become a service worker would you?’
‘What’s so bad about being a service worker?’ said Benita. We went on an excursion through their suburbs and I like those old-fashioned shops where people serve you’. ‘For a start’, said Nelo severely, ‘you would be dependent on the public health system which is no system at all and you would not be able to afford new clothes every season and you would have to cook meals in a tiny kitchen and wash your clothes at home and you couldn’t afford to be on the Webnet so you would never know what was happening around the world and...and...’ He finally ran out of breath.
Merede tried to make peace. ‘At least it would be better being a hairdresser or a medico than being an underclasser living in a shantytown suburb like Sowetoville she said. ‘They have no police, broken sewers and water every second day’. ‘And all those billboards pushing all those drugs’ added Nelo. ‘They haven’t introduced segmented advertising like the overclass and service suburbs get on the Webnet. I got quite a shock the other night when the Newheineken Group put an ad into the subscription opera on Webnet inviting me personally, Nelo Marten, to try their new Safehaven organic beer. Just how much further can they customise goods and services? Still, they don’t saturate the shows with ads like the old days; it’s called ‘pulse’ advertising and works just as well I’m told’.
‘Also, there’s no antipathy to advertising like there used to be,’ said Merede. ‘People rely on it to coach them in how to be sophisticated consumers. How do people know what they are meant to like and use to maintain their status ’til they see what the upmarket advertisers are pushing’? ‘I think megacorp sponsorship of the arts and global sport has helped a lot too,’ said Nelo. ‘With the decline in government, people need the corporations.’ ‘Sydney,’ said Benita, with a wisdom beyond her years, is really three cities isn’t it. One for the rich like us, one for the poor and one for the in-betweens’.
Grandma Wong was sitting on her verandah at Mon Repos when they arrived. ‘I’m listening to Mozart’ she said. ‘Classical music is one of the few things linking us to our past. And I’m not sure if we have any future. I read the other day that 200 mega-corporations now control 80 per cent of the global economy. Where will it all end’? ‘Come on Grandma’, said Merede cheerfully as Grandpa Wong appeared wearing his favourite kaftan. ‘Lets eat’.
The meal at the Safehaven Precinct Club was as deliciously cosmopolitan, nutritious and organically fresh as usual, although interrupted several times by Merede and Nelo pausing to greet friends. Grandpa Wong had to be coaxed into having a hot salad rather than the meat-rich meal he wanted. At the Committee’s insistence, the Club only bought food containing natural biological preservatives and packed in film impregnated with freshness biosensors.
The Club, with its mainly local members, fellow symbolic analysts, was central to Nelo and Merede’s social life. And Benita’s too. She enjoyed the Children’s Sport and Culture Program there while waiting for Merede and Nelo to return in the evenings. She especially liked holofilms of extinct species like giraffes and eagles. At Nelo’s insistence they tried Newheineken’s Safehaven organic beer. ‘They have about eighty recipes’, he explained, ‘and they package them up by suburb and social class and for special interests like religious groups and environmental groups. You know---Pilgrim’s beer! Last Elephant beer! It’s really an extension of the boutique beer movement of the 1990s. And they are working on an enzyme beer that instantly detoxifies the acetaldehyde byproducts of alcohol breakdown, would you believe’?
‘I see the underclassers are starting a new party for the elections,’ said Grandpa Wong, sipping on his beer and gazing at the smoke rising above Sowetoville. ‘They don’t seem to understand that as long as the service classes vote with the overclass they don’t have a chance. Their main policy is complete deregulation of all mind-altering substances. Bit pointless I would have thought now that any kid can brew up and swallow a culture of genetically-engineered cocaine bugs or hash bugs or even Château Lafitte bugs. Not to mention registered designer drugs’. ‘Seeing that it’s mostly underclassers making up our 30 per cent unemployment rate, why don’t they concentrate on employment policy’? said Grandma Wong. ‘Waste of time,’ said Merede. ‘With middle classes growing all round the world, the mega-corporations don’t need the buying power of our local underclass.’
‘Would you two like to mind Benita next week while I’m in Amsterdam and Merede’s in Seoul? said Nelo. ‘We can get a nannytemp in if you are too busy’. ‘Love to’, said Grandma and Grandpa simultaneously. But they secretly hoped Benita was scheduled for a home-learning week and not a learning center week. So with that arranged they drove the Wongs back to Mon Repos and made it safely home without incident---just in time for a group spa with the neighbours downstairs and a light omelette ordered in from the Homemeals people. They excused themselves early and, after some quick personal and business networking, headed for bed.
‘Thankyou for a lovely birthday darling’, said Nelo, as he reached for the excitation cream and snuggled up to Merede in the big double bed. ‘Life is so good.’ The lights turned themselves off.