"So, what was my first feeling when I stepped out of the capsule?"
"Yes, that's what I asked," the man on the other side of the table answered me. He had a laptop in front of him and was ready to type in answers to form number 9578, otherwise known as Time Travel Project Experiences: New Technologies and Lessons for our Lives Today.
"Of course, confusion, but I was already prepared for that. If you travel forward in time 750 years, you can assume that the first sight of the new future will cause confusion. So, what had I expected in my mind when I agreed to the trip? Maybe that I would have come across some super-technological society. People would float from place to place and control their environment with the power of their thoughts. There would be tall structures on all sides, reaching almost into space, and artificial suns illuminating the darkening sky. It was my naive imagination of where we as humanity would have progressed with development of technology hundreds of years from my time.
I was sent to my old hometown, in Northern Europe, in Finland. The city was lost. I couldn't see anything referring to human life when I looked around. The coordinates were set in the time machine so that it sent me to the main street of the small town. In my childhood, it had been a boring shopping street with ugly concrete box-like gray buildings on the sites, which housed offices, supermarkets, and residential buildings. An attempt had been made to improve comfort with a few deciduous trees, for which a hole had been left in the asphalt surface covering the city. The trees decorated the sites of the main street in a disturbingly symmetrical arrangement. A local vagrant was sleeping on a few wooden planks. Sometimes a young couple would sit down to chat on the benches. Even though my hometown was small, there was always enough happening on the street. Someone walked to work, another walked the dog, at least a familiar street musician with his flute played happy music in the hope of a few coins.
Now all signs of human life had disappeared. Nature had taken over. Ironically, the descendants of the deciduous trees that had been limited to grow in the small gaps left in the asphalt seemed to have taken over the environment.
The benches were gone. And so too were the ugly boxy buildings. The asphalt that had covered the ground was nowhere to be seen. I had to look at my wristband again and verify the coordinates. Yes. I was in my childhood hometown. I was on the main street, which had once been called Aleksis Kivi's street according to a famous SUMMER 2023 COMPASS 151 Finnish author, except that the street no longer existed. I stood up to my knees in wild undergrowth. There were tall trees around me, many of which I didn't recognize. At least they weren't familiar birches or pines.
Oh yeah, so what was my first feeling?
I felt the hot and humid air hit my face when I stepped out of the capsule. I remember that I once felt that feeling. I strained my memory; the image came back to me. My family and I had gone on our first trip abroad. We lived out of the plane on an island in the Mediterranean. I remember the warm and tropical air greeting me as I stepped down the steps of the plane. Now it greeted me with the latitudes in which it didn't belong in my childhood.
I looked up at the sky and the blue sky shone bright and cloudless. The sun was shining and sending warm greetings to my face. The sun lifted up the moisture from the grass and trees that surrounded me in abundance.
Was it midsummer now? I looked at my wristband again. Was not. It was January. In my childhood, January had always been the coldest month of the year. At that time, we children dressed in furs and strongly scented grease was applied to our faces so that we wouldn't freeze our noses and cheeks. All other parts of us were covered with multiple layers of clothes, so that we even wandered back and forth in the demarcated yard of the apartment building like penguins. Minus thirty degrees below zero celsius! The snow crystals glowed like diamonds in the few moments when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. When we children trudged into the yard, there was a crunch as the snow crystals broke under our felt boots. When we breathed, the outside air vaporized. We played dragons!
Why was January in my hometown like a Mediterranean summer? And where were all the people? What could have happened so radically during these 750 years that it had practically wiped my hometown off the map. What had happened to other Finnish cities -- and what about the rest of life on Earth? Were there any more people in the world?
I shook off my initial confusion and decided to go and observe my surroundings. The undergrowth reached up to my knees, and sometimes up to my thighs. My progress was extremely slow in the dense vegetation. I regretted that I hadn't understood how to put boots on my feet. I was wearing only running shoes and my ankles were bare. I hoped that I wouldn't come across snakes or other tropical animal species on the reconnaissance trip, which in Finland used to be found only in zoos. I wondered what kind of animals could be found in Finland. As if in response to my thoughts, a rustling came from the high tree next to me. I turned my head to the upper air and noticed a furry animal on a tree branch. That couldn't be true! I thought. I looked at the animal more closely and it stared back at me from the tree with its big black eyes and a slightly mischievous look on its face. It even turned its red face back and then started scratching its head somehow humanly. It was a monkey. I didn't recognize the specific species, because monkeys were not familiar animals in the life of a Finn. The first thought that came to SUMMER 2023 COMPASS 152 my mind was that maybe it had gotten free from someone who had kept it as a pet. Then I realized that I hadn't even seen the first person yet. So, I couldn't be sure that there would even be people in this time.
I was clearly a freak to the monkey. It landed carefully below the tree. It didn't understand to beware of me, so based on that, I concluded that maybe it didn't have much human contact. Curious, it landed in the tree a little above my head and tilted its head again in embarrassment. I knew that my time in this time was limited, and I decided to continue my journey forward. I trotted purposefully through the dense tropical forest and suddenly noticed the flowers around me. They just appeared out of nowhere. Popped their heads out from between the dense foliage. Purple bellflowers, pink, blue and yellow blooms hung from vines snaking from tree trunks. The smell was intoxicating, and it seemed to attract various insects as well, which flew like lightning to the place when the flowers opened their blooms. The abundance of insects was frankly confusing. There were so many of them that I could hear a steady sleepy buzzing around me. The insects flew to the blossoms, sucked the juice from them and then flew to the next blossoms. They literally dance with the flowers in excitement. My former hometown had changed from concrete gray to a rainbow of flowers.
I could take a few flowers with me to the laboratory for examination, an idea popped into my mind. I reached for the leaves above me for a purple, bell-shaped flower. The monkey next to me snarled as if to warn me. “It's okay, I'll just take a small sample,” I told the monkey as if it understood something of my speech.
The monkey started screeching louder in my ear, but I didn't notice it, instead I grabbed hold of the base of the bellshaped flower and started to twist it out of the foliage. At the same time, I felt someone grab me strongly from behind. I tried to turn to look behind me, but I couldn't turn anymore. I was in a tight grip, but I couldn't understand who. After all, I had seen no other life around me than the abundant vegetation and the monkey that had tried to warn me of the impending danger.
The grip around me tightened. I looked at my waist and saw a thick creeper circling it. The shaft moved like a strangler snake around me. It now went around my upper body, my neck and began to surround my head. Although the grip was tight, it wasn't suffocatingly tight. I was able to breathe well, although I admit that my breathing rate was fast. I soon realized that the plant began to breathe with me. It rose violently with my chest rising and falling, and then began to slow the pace of my breathing. Soon we were breathing very slowly together, and the fear that had gripped my body drained away as my breathing rate slowed. Maybe this plant is not my enemy, I began to think. Now the leaves on the stem of the plant started rubbing my scalp. It felt soothing, even hypnotic. My eyes slowly began to close, and I fell into some sort of trance.
I saw war, marching troops, bombed cities, orphaned children crying for their lost future. I saw crippled soldiers writhing in hospital beds. I saw people fighting over the last loaf of bread. People who were wrapped in blankets and blankets and still shivering in the ruins of bombed-out houses.
I saw nature crying. It cried for the seas full of garbage and falling forests, from which the machines stripped branches and chopped them to pieces. I saw animals running away who lost their habitat to machines. I saw burning forests, waterways that were luxuriant with nutrients, and fish that floated their stomachs toward the sky to the rhythm of the waves. I saw the sea level, which rose and drowned the cities. In one place, floods were being fought, in another, the bottoms of the riverbeds glowed in the sunshine and revealed the battleships and hazardous waste barrels that were once dumped on their bottoms. I felt anxiety begin to grip my chest and tears welled up in my eyes. The plant noticed my feelings and the vision changed.
Now I was looking at a gleaming white laboratory where a group of scientists in lab coats and goggles were working. One of the researchers held up an Erlenmeyer flask with a green mixture in front of me. The researcher smiled with a satisfied look, and I heard her beaming at her colleague: “It worked. Now we have a smart plant! Think of all the possibilities we as humanity can achieve.”
In the next picture, the plant started to grow. It spread around the world, and I realized that it wasn't really a plant, but some sort of biological super-intelligent machine that networked with other similar Image Source: Canva JULY 2023 COMPASS 155 plants and established a conscious network with a purpose. It wanted to stop destroying nature.
Then I saw the struggle: when humanity tried to get rid of it. It chopped the plant with machines and by hand, but the more the plant was cut, the more it was able to spread. It conquered everything. It wound its way into buildings, disintegrated asphalt, crumbled steel bridges and structures with its body. Finally, the people's resistance ended, it became quiet, but only for a moment, because immediately I began to hear the sounds of nature intensifying in my ears. The buzzing of insects, the singing of birds, the hum of the wind in the leaves of the trees, the patter of the rain on the surface of the pond. I had begun to miss these sounds, as they had become increasingly rare in my life.
I enjoyed the concert of voices for a while, but then a new thought started to come to mind. I said it out loud carefully: “What's the point of all this?” I asked the plant. “What do you want from the world?”
"What did it say to you?” asked the man on the other side of the desk ready to type my answer into the form 9578, "What was its agenda?"
"Nothing, the plant told me,” I replied, as I looked at the man on the other side of the table. He was wearing an elegant suit, and an expensive watch on his wrist. He had looked expressionless throughout the interview, but now his gaze shone with surprise for the answer.
I continued, “The plant said, ‘Everything is fine now. We want nothing.’”
Futurist Elina Hiltunen is a Doctor of Science (Business Administration) and Master of Science (Chemical Engineering). Her first doctoral thesis at Aalto University, School of Business, was about using weak signals in organizational futures learning. It was published in 2010. Currently she is doing her second PhD thesis at the National Defence University, Finland, about how to use science fiction in the defence organisation’s anticipation process. She is the author/coauthor of 14 books. She has been writing books about foresight methods, the future of technology, consumer trends, megatrends, the future of the world, and depression. She has also written children’s books and amigurumi crochet books. She is also a science fiction writer. Hiltunen is an active keynote speaker, columnist, and consultant. Currently, she is an entrepreneur, but she also has a background working at Nokia, Finland Futures Research Center and the Finnish trade promotion organization, Finpro, as a futurist. She is a regular guest on the Finnish Broadcasting Company's science programmes, discussing the achievements of science. She lives in Espoo, Finland