We have received a second batch of works emerging as a result of a recent workshop on Future Fictions for Near Future Teaching. We are eager to present these here, two works imagining, in their own way, the future of the University of Edinburgh. Many thanks to James and Ana.
I once dreamt I had a surface
Here comes And. Or there goes And, depending where you stand.
Assuming you stand.
My phone will tell me if And has a gender today. And is part of a minority who usually choose to identify as male. Blip. There we go, and his phone will have alerted him to the fact I am simply ‘If’. Like most people I reserve my gender until certain conditions – biological, cultural, environmental– present themselves. Until then, I’m in-potential.
And wears blue overalls. And I hear my voice say, ‘Blue overalls, And’.
‘Thanks’, And says, ‘I want to look like I’m heading to the metal workshop, but really just got out of bed, but actually I’m on my way to a lecture on probability theory.’
I wonder if And had someone in mind when he concocted this description. Whose imagination did he want to pass through his bedroom?
I can’t believe I thought that into the cloud.
My voice just says, ‘Ha, wow.’
I always think that fashion and age work like the rings on a tree, but the other way around. Ask an older person about what they are wearing and you get an answer with relatively few rings. For example, last week my parent was wearing a teal coloured trench coat. When I commented on it they said, ‘it is in the style of 21st century retro kitsch, but really it’s a sign of my solidarity with the coup in Côte d’Ivoire.’
‘Ha, wow.’ I was used to the crashing together of soft-focus aesthetics and global politics. One week, daffodils and labour rights in Chile. The next, polka dots and food hygiene standards in Europe. My childhood education rested on louche apparel.
Ask a teenager what they are wearing and you get an answer like an onion. But this, but that, but the other. One recent trend is to describe what you are wearing in a cyclical way, ending where you started. It’s meant to suggest you are ceaselessly intangible, a Mobius strip of becoming.
Someone else joins me and And on the concourse. So now it is me, And and And.
I know you want me to tell you about the future of digital education and probably expected me to add my thoughts to the cloud from a lecture theatre or tutorial. But the concourse is where the changes are happening. We don’t exist in rooms any more, little static islands of being. On the concourse everyone enters into a kind of Brownian motion, the lines drawn from the nearby buildings disperse to become part of a hazy people-ness.
Everything you hear now in the media is about this motion. Although these theories and slogans go back a long way. There’s a shabby sign outside my dorm that must have been put up by a company ages ago, and then forgotten. ‘Come into being’ it announces into the dismal stairwell. The words match those on contemporary banners, so it isn’t them that seem important to me. It is the fact that through the woe begotten patina they say something else. They carry a history and speak of a faded promise. ‘At last we’ve come to terms with our transient reality,’ their statement hails the world. Then in the failed silence that follows, it has to repeat itself over and over, meaningless, ‘Come into being.’ But the world just is.
One of my reading assignments suggests that the Large Hadron Collider, completed in 2008, should be considered the ancient epistemic symbol of our era. It is built, like our society, upon the principle that particles are spectre that haunt a system of energies. It suggests that me, And and And are just the ripples arising from collisions. And of the millions of particle-people it’s only very few who are accelerated to the point where they become visible.
I looked up the word study so that I might better understand your assignment. It originally meant ‘to strive towards, devote oneself to, to cultivate.’ It speaks of a sense of agency that is utterly foreign. Can a particle of water act against the river of which it is part? Is there ever a ‘oneself’? And in this context to ‘cultivate’ seems to speak of an unforgivable ecological colonialism. Even ‘devotion’ seems uncomfortably anachronistic. As if anyone would make a solemn pledge to anything; in the age when wearing gingham can signal anarchy or a chambray shirt can announce one’s intention to read about the Suez crisis. But, but, but!
I’m distracted by the fact that And just mentioned And’s blue overalls. And looks up and says, ‘I want to look like I’m heading to the metal workshop, but really just got out of my warm bed, but actually I’m on my way to a lecture on probability theory.’
‘Warm bed’. I didn’t get that. I look to see how And receives the information, see if they register anything, see if they are at all enticed. But of course, they won’t yet know whether this description is reiterated throughout the day, the same for everyone. Maybe And just slipped up that time, or the time before when they said it to me and forgot the word, ‘warm’.
There’s nothing more frowned upon than an individual wanting an individual. ‘If’, I have to remind myself.
I looked up the etymology of‘if’ too and ironically its origins are uncertain, though it is thought that it meant ‘doubt’ or ‘hesitation.’ I identify with that. It’s the flip side of our collective consciousness and being. Yet I think there is something in our nature that clings to something that requires individuality. In our culture the question of individuality is polluted by an incessant narcissism. People are always thinking, ‘I’m part of the collective, I’m more part of the collective than anybody else.’ But there is a serious concern here that doesn’t have anything to do with ego. It is about how we as organisms are autonomous systems. We need to recognise this autonomy. But so much has changed. The old world of home ownership, secure employment, retirement funds, long-term relationships have passed. The affordances of a society that once fed individual resolve are gone.
Sometimes it just makes you feel so porous.
You know that I once I dreamt that I had a surface. Like a shell it was at the edge of me. And my thoughts stayed within that cell, moved around within me rather than immediately joining the cloud. There was exchange, osmosis, I was affected by the world. But nevertheless, my membranes remained intact. In this dream my identity was fluid but I wasn’t just ‘If’, I was all possibilities, purposively happening. Pulled from the virtual concourse, a little spark flashing off in that Brownian field I was granted by own body. I came into focus, more real than I’ve ever been.
I like to imagine that dream keeps its surface as it traces itself through your system. It’s like an amoeba, a new simplistic lifeform that’s going to trade substances within itself, without itself. It’s going to grow and multiply and everything will start all over again. Blip.
The loud buzzing sound drilled into his ears and forcefully dragged his brain back into consciousness. Groaning, he pawed at the nightstand next to his bed until his fingers registered the familiar smooth surface of his smartphone. He grabbed the device and held it over his face in order to read the display and swipe the correct button to make it shut the hell up. The moment he did so, the screen cheerily changed into a blinding white background,with the words “Your sleep summary” written in bright blue letters. The sudden assault on his retinas triggered a primal flight-or-fight response that, due to his groggy state, turned out to be neither, and he stupidly dropped his phone. It slammed right into his face, eliciting a stream of swear words from the student.
“I’m sorry,” said the phone’s soothing feminine voice. “I couldn’t understand the command. Could you repeat that?”
“I said you can fuck off,” growled the student, rubbing at the sore spot on the forehead where the phone had hit.
“I’m sorry. I couldn’t understand the command. Could you repeat that?”
The student manually turned off the voice recognition. His sleeping summary appeared back on the screen, telling him he had managed to sleep a whole three hours, with a total REM time of twenty minutes. He clicked the summary away, and a warning appeared on his screen.
This is the third time this week you’ve gotten less than 8 hours of sleep. Your PT has been notified and a counselling session has been booked.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, not again,” complained the student.Whoever had programmed the stupid Healthy Living app had clearly never heard offinals week. He clicked the message away and got up from bed.
He grabbed an animated t-shirt form the “not yet smelly”clothes pile and connected the small wire to his cellphone. He browsed some of the gifs, decided on a funny meme doing the rounds on social media, and put on the shirt, with blinked at him with cheerful colors.
A ping! emanated from the smartwatch on his wrist.
Have you logged in your breakfast?
The student ignored the message. Tired, cranky, he sat down at his desk and began working on the paper due before twelve. Not ten minute slater, he was interrupted by a pop-up on his laptop screen.
Have you logged in your breakfast?
Annoyed, he clicked it away. He still had to write two more pages; there was no time for breakfast.
Ten minutes later, another pop-up.
How about a Lucky®pizza bagel?
“I’ve got pizza bagels?” the student wondered, briefly distracted by the promise of food. He clicked on the app to see the list of food in the fridge, kept in real time by the sensors installed in it.
The list showed a paltry three eggs, a bottle of brown sauce, ketchup, a jar of jam and a bottle of milk with the tag WARNING, SPOILED in menacing red font. At the bottom of the list was the app’s suggestion: Lucky®pizza bagels for only £6.99, with immediate drone delivery.
Annoyed at the advertisement and disappointed at the lack of pizza bagels, he clicked back to his paper. He needed to focus.
You have not eaten breakfast in 3 days. Your PT has been informed, and a counselling session has been booked.
“For fuck’s sake!”
Ana Hibert Santana