This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during May 2019 via the @AlternativeChat and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 4pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.
Many ancient cultures, when presented with technology for the first time, were wary of its power over them. Stories persist, as aborigines and native Americans initially encountered cameras, that they refused to pose, fearing that a portion of their soul could be stolen forever. Such fears were clearly borne from ignorance, inability to grasp how technology would transform then improved our lives, extending longevity and enhancing experience. Watching my daughter’s tiny form on ultrasound, this first picture of her is most precious of captured moments.
I take picture of her ultrasound, uploading it to a Cloud already stuffed full of a lifetime’s worth of moments: college, first real date, holidays and home. The Bean’s mother and I, trying for five years; last round of IVF finally, blissfully rewarding persistent determination. Then comes a moment of instant, inescapable fear: should I do this? Once, when a picture was taken, the only way to share was by hand, passing prints to Grandma and Uncle. Now in a moment, the World can see, smile and coo. What a beautiful foetus you have both created with love.
Abbie’s staring from her position on examination couch: not for the first time, it is as if she reads my thoughts. ‘Delete that, please,’ and I do, without a second thought. Grannies can see the original. Uncle Chris too. Let’s do our pregnancy journey differently than expected.
Technology doesn’t need to dictate everything.
I buy film for the first time since college, black and white: it will be easier to develop at home. The Internet provides everything required to build a darkroom in the shed, re-purposed for my task. This is the right thing to do. Abbie picks up a pencil, carefully draws Bean in her womb, first time I’ve seen her do so in years. There’s enough money in the bank right now that she need not go back to work after the birth: relief is palpable, joyous. Something fundamental altered during our IVF experience.
There are those who don’t understand, of course: why no baby shower? Where are the Instagram updates of Abbie’s body shape changes, baby room progress? Having worked so hard to finally create life, why on earth aren’t you making an effort to share this journey with everyone else? We lie together, night after night, talking through fears. Best friends understand reticence to share, admit jealousy we can live without validation. At least one couple are doing the same, trying to disconnect. There’s growing disapproval at work at the effect technology has on lives.
Life is so fragile, precarious, and we’re reminded of this six months into the pregnancy. My mother has a stroke and within 48 hours she’s gone, nothing medical staff can do. Two massive bleeds, separate hemispheres of her brain. She never regains consciousness to say goodbye. Leaving Abbie in London, I travel up to Manchester to arrange a funeral: no service, or wake. A simple goodbye, and then she’s ash, to be scattered on Ilkley Moor. This massive house, my home for two decades, seems like a great place to start history anew with new, precious life.
With mortgage paid for, furniture and fittings good for many years, time to employ Abbie’s brother Chris to oversee refitting and updating this house as a family home. All work is kept in the family, everybody can turn the tragedy into something positive: we’re all back north. However, Bean will enter the world in London: Abbie doesn’t need more stress, I have no desire to generate extra work than we’ll both soon possess with a newborn. The few friends we still talk to locally happily offer to help shift and relocate lives: loss is slowly rationalised.
I’m aware of the Digital Freedom Act being implemented across media only in passing: when own circumstances radically change, it’s easy to block out bigger issues. When government happily voted for reverses decades of austerity, supports vulnerable and needy, there’s no problem. What isn’t expected is that Eleanor Ruby Freeman will become one of the first children born who are bio-tagged at birth. There are no need for pictures when your own DNA becomes means by which a definitive ID will always be possible. Photos and faces can be altered, after all…
A tiny chip, inserted into her heel, is used for health professionals to store data on growth and development, vaccinations plus reminders on when boosters and check-ups are scheduled. Eleanor isn’t even phased by the insertion process: other people however feel less sanguine. We discuss our now mandatory implants for several months: is this really a good idea? As with everything else, it is usage that matters most: we won’t augment with recording glasses, audio implants. Others may record us, but we won’t do so electronically ourselves going forward.
Amazingly, we are not alone. The introduction of mandatory DNA recognition corresponds with the collapse of several major social media organisations. Others demonstrate disgust at global oversharing by ignoring all but their local communities, shunning constant internet access. As Eleanor reaches six months old, I finally leave my job in project management. Abbie and I go it alone as traditional signwriters, combining joint art skills in graphic design and illustration. Wherever possible, we barter services for daily necessities or domestic requirements.
This is surprisingly effective when customers sell their own produce: vegetables, fruit and grains become the staples in our household. Meat is a luxury that I learn to live without, chocolate now too expensive for us to ever consider as an option. Our World is changing rapidly. Turn off notifications, shut off outside distractions and no longer are you considered insular, dangerous. Instead, community spirit rises, unopposed: Manchester is a beacon as London’s status as capital city is suddenly, irrevocably wiped from country’s maps almost overnight.
In a dreadful, catastrophic combination of tidal surge and unprecedented rainfall, Thames Barrier fails to hold back an unstoppable torrent of water. Hundreds of thousands of people drown in low lying areas, many refusing to leave their homes thinking warnings were exaggerated. Those who believed the incoming calamity was seriously overplayed by a Government that permanently erred to being overprotective perished alongside those who listened to fake news claims that global warming had been invented as a left wing conspiracy to destabilise big business.
The central database that held country’s DNA ID data was located in East London: as it vanished under a twelve foot tsunami, suddenly it didn’t matter quite so much how the Government identified anybody. As physical backup records survived, humanity went back to what worked best. I mourn friends that have drowned. We take in another couple, known since college, displaced and desperate for somewhere to feel protected. They both tell me privately how I have become their idea of heroic, my values their goal. A new future where care will supersede aspiration.
The country is shrinking, coastal areas rapidly being eroded, flooded and lost forever. Technology that was once lauded as life changing becomes dangerous and potentially frightening. We watch in horror as Sizewell Nuclear Power station suffers a meltdown, irradiating Suffolk. Our culture, when presented with technology, has made such great advances, yet in a year we have regressed decades, possibly far further. We celebrate Eleanor’s first birthday in darkness, candles not on a cake but as only light source. Power is now rationed, as are food, medicines.
However, optimism remains in our home, the larger Community. Adversity has change many who were bitter, angry and lost in the years before. The need to survive and thrive may be absent in some places, but not here. In a way, we were already prepared for working without support. As the future becomes less tech and more graft, I wonder what my parents might now think of all this: hundreds of years of industrial progression has almost totally been eradicated, by a planet that never truly thought through the ecological consequences of massive consumerism.
Eleanor’s birthday gift is hope: we will prevail, rise from consequences of our combined arrogance and make good what has been so broken and destroyed. We have each other, a strong and smart group of friends, joint desire to survive. I can but believe this will be enough for all…