Private Diary entry, audio generated.
7 May 2023
I have been back home for 3 days and still feel unsettled. My report to the UN T.I.M.E. Department has been submitted and while they accepted it and asked some follow up questions, I think they think I am holding something back. Only I don’t know how to explain it, this unsettled feeling, this almost repulsion I feel. If I express this in the public hearings next week, I don’t think it will be taken seriously. Even Colin Nkosi who traveled with me doesn’t want to openly express what we experienced. How the hell do we articulate this? Or should we not? But wasn’t that the purpose of this investigation in the first place.
Okay, let me try and explain it.
So, the first thing to note was that the world in 2050 just seemed, you know, a little more science fictiony than the current world. It's 27 years in the future from now but not a whole lot had changed. Yes, there were far more electric cars than there are now and obviously most of the technology has improved and it was more seamless and automatic.
But it was the people that really concerned me. We headed for Franklin Square. It is still being built at the moment but it is designed to be a casual social space in the heart of a commercial centre and since it is designed as high tech as we can create right now, I hoped it would still be functional, and it was. We saw many slick and automated ‘coffee shops’ and since we had been prepared with the right automated technology to make small purchases, we could easily get food and take a seat. This all seemed normal enough. Kind of boring. And, a bit of a let down, in fact.
The first thing we noticed is that people were not looking down at their phones. A brief moment of anticipation that we had moved away from tech and were able to have human conversations evaporated as we began to understand how people were communicating. Clearly great advances have been made with headsets that were all but invisible. We saw spectacles and light gloves on people’s hands that had some very discrete tech in them. And we saw, once we started looking, very discrete ear buds in everyone’s ears.
These were similar to the kind that we use today to cancel out disturbing noises. Kids with anxiety or ADHD use them to filter out sounds that cause discomfort. Everyone was wearing them. Everyone was filtering out sounds that disturbed them but as we began to understand what that meant, we realised people we filtering out everything that disturbed them, in any way. Anything that made them feel uncomfortable, they just didn’t need to hear it.
Realising this was quite an experience. We sat near two women, middle aged, obviously friends of some kind. They were having an animated conversation about a popular new author whose book was all the rage. We gently eavesdropped on their conversation, but it really didn’t make sense. The first woman expressed how much she thoroughly agreed with the author's approach to the ‘ancient’ (ha ha) concept of colonialism and how disruptive and unfair it was to people. She gave examples of communities who had suffered and been damaged for generations because of the effects of colonialism. And obviously, this is a conversation that we take quite seriously in 2023. So we listened in but it didn't make sense. The other woman agreed with her. Totally agreed. But she started saying how valuable colonialism had been in bringing civilisation and structure as well as politics, medicine and architecture to indigenous people, and how well the author had described the situation. And this conversation went on for about 20 minutes before they moved to a different topic - both of them agreeing with each other about how well the author expressed their perspective. And yet they were talking about opposite things. At first, we put it down to just a weird conversation between those two people who clearly weren’t really listening to each other. But then every other conversation and interaction we experienced over our two days were the same. We were seeing the same thing over and over again. People saying opposing things but other people agreeing with them as if they had said something that concurred with their beliefs. It just didn't make sense. And it was so uncomfortable. No one had an objection to us. There was no question about our weird clothing or unsophisticated approach to modern technology. It was like people just saw in us what they expected to see in us. And when we spoke, everyone was very agreeable. Even, after a few bizarre interactions, when we started saying things that were clearly lies. We told people that we were identical twins -- no objection. We told people we thought their clothes were weird -- no objection. But it wasn’t just that people were open to however people selfidentified. It wasn’t just acceptance of how people lived. We felt there was something more going on. As we dug into conversations and explored more of the businesses as well as the advertising and media around Franklin Square, it finally started to make sense, sort of. For example, there was a large electronic advert on the south side of the Square. It advertised a politician running for local office. We pretended to be running a survey (no objection) about the politician. At first we used specific questions and then we started making them more open and vague. The electronic board obviously was interactive with some neat AI. If a person walked past with a child, then the board showed the politician with a child in his arms. If it was an older person, the picture turned into the politician surrounded by seniors. But when we talked to people it was as if they were seeing something more than we could, and none of it tied up. “Yes, I will vote for X because I love his position on banning AI powered weapons.” “Yes, I will vote for X because I love his position on allowing more access to AI powered weapons.” “Yes, X is great because he has experience in government and knows what’s what!” “Yes, X is great because he is new to government so he hasn’t been corrupted.” “Yes, I like X because he is so innovative and forward thinking!” “Yes, I like X because he will bring back the right values from the old days!” It didn’t matter what question was asked or even if we said, “He is banning AI weapons” a person might respond, “I know! That’s great that X is allowing more access to AI weapons.” Every conversation we had with anyone in the Square -- same thing. It mattered not what we said or any statement that we claimed to be true, if a person believed something different, they just agreed with us. I’m not getting this right. How to make people understand what was happening? We did find some subtle mentions in the store fronts about products embedded with a technology called PerspectiVR. It seemed to be available on all electronic communications, on the ear buds we found in the stores, in electronic books, even subtly listed at the bottom of the electronic advertising boards: ‘PerspectiVR powered’ or ‘Equipped with PerspectiVR for your safety and comfort’. No one could tell us outright what PerspectiVR did, other than that it helped with ‘safety and comfort’ and certainly no one that we spoke to was ever discomforted by anything we said or anyone else mentioned. But no one could tell us the truth either. No one could say anything bad about the technology. And if anyone said anything bad at all, other people would agreeably concur even as they said the exact opposite. It was like a weird Hall of Mirrors -- everything reflected back in a way that didn’t make sense. I started doubting my own beliefs after awhile. When Colin made comments I had to think twice about whether I was hearing what he said or what I expected him to say. When I read a menu and ordered a coffee, I wasn’t sure if I was finding the coffee I wanted, or if I was just ‘reading’ the coffee that I wanted, or if, when getting the coffee, if it actually tasted like the coffee I had wanted, or if I had ever wanted coffee in the first place. Even without being plugged into PerspectiVR, I couldn’t trust anything to be ‘true’ anymore. The world back there was more than polarised. It was like everyone had their own, unique, individually crafted and designed, special, safe reality to belong to and nothing in in caused them any discomfort, no matter what they actually encountered in words or sounds. This is more than ‘post-truth,’ it is ‘post-reality.’ ____________________________________  T.I.M.E. Temporal Investigative, Management, and Exploration
Charlotte Kemp is the Futures Alchemist, an international keynote speaker and leadership coach helping leaders find new ways to think about the future. She holds the position of President-Elect of the Global Speakers Federation and Chief Relationship Officer of Voices Into Africa, serving the speaking community in Africa.