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We cannot buy tomorrow — using stories to understand technology change

By Mark P. McDonald | December 03, 2021 | 1 Comment

tech NO logyPersonal ObservationHuman AbilityFuture of High TechDigital Society

The dynamic and accelerating rate of change, disruption, societal concerns, etc can make it difficult to see what it all means, the direction we are heading in.  Speculative fiction is one of the ways that people try to make sense out of what can appear to be senseless.  Gartner instituted a special project called “Stories from Planet B“.  The goal was to use stories and other artifacts to help stakeholders envision preferred and plausible futures in a way that is transformative, inspiring and disrupting.

Here is my story, you can find the others at “Stories from Planet B” on Gartner.com

Enjoy

Mark

YOU CANNOT BUY TOMORROW

Tara sat down, rubbing her leg to work out a cramp she had picked up on the walk from her house. She had delayed this to the last minute. “Can’t turn ten ‘till you talk to the old men,” her brother reminded her.

Tara cleared her throat. “Question: What was it like at the start?“

Response: Project 2207, Darius Senna, aged 105, recalling the founding of Pantos.

The front of the room darkened. “Tara. The name means star,” came a man’s voice from the darkness.

“Dad says it’s also a lubricant that has gone bad, ‘Tar — ahh!’”  The room got even darker.

“We call ourselves Pantos. The fifth wave of Planet B colonists, B5, like the vitamin,” the man’s voice continued.

Darius Senna walked out of the darkness. He was wearing a blue collarless shirt rolled up at the sleeves, dark pants and brown boots. Tara noticed his rough hands, and his face, lined from UV rays. A bench appeared. He sat down.

“We were not the first. The first were the explorers. They discovered Planet B, determined it could support life, and summoned us to our new home. Then came ships, filled with those who could afford to leave Earth behind.”

Senna leaned back. Tara noticed the old style comms implant on his wrist. “Six centuries ago, the English sent ships carrying goldsmiths, jewelers, governors and soldiers to Jamestown. They sought to civilize their ‘new world.’ Likewise, the first ships to Planet B carried engineers bankers, officials — the cream of a curdled civilization.”

Looking out the window, Darius continued: “Those first ships were technological marvels. Gossamer solar sails, filled with technology and terraforming equipment. They landed in the northern hemisphere of Planet B. When their technology failed, they starved, just like the colonists at Jamestown.”

He paused and looked at Tara. “After three more waves, some of them are still around, eating from waste regenerators, asking their tech why it doesn’t work. We don’t see them much. We think about them even less.” Darius leaned forward, clasping his hands, just like Tara’s father did when making a point. “We Pantos understand — the physical world feeds the digital world. When the physical does not work, the digital does not matter.”

“Old Earth technology changed in the early 21st century. It turned inward. It became obsessed with experience, entertainment and consumption.” His face hardened. “Before then, technology had made people’s lives better. Then society went digital, and consumption mattered more.”

Darius unclasped his hands. “Data replaced reason. People focused on themselves. Technology meant looking down at a screen, not up at the world around them. People thought it was wonderful. Screens made them feel better.”

He leaned back. Tara noticed the scar down the inside of his left arm. No one had scars anymore, not since the invention of Dermaplast. Darius saw her staring and, almost under his breath, said: “With their narrow datasets, myopic algorithms and self-centered beliefs, they couldn’t see what was really coming. And they never did.”

“I had just turned twenty-seven,” Darius said. He paused, lost in a memory.

He resumed, “We Pantos are not Luddites. We are some of the finest innovators and engineers humanity has ever known. Old Earth technologies were advanced, but consumptive. They were great for solving little problems. Distributing products instantaneously, keeping their users’ attention, showing each other how successful they were.”

“But when the big problems came, technology could not handle it. The heat, the drought, the pandemics, the inequalities, the authoritarian states. This was the world as it really was, not how it appeared online. Their technologies spent what resources they had, but could not create more. When their inherited wealth dried up, it all fell apart.”

“You know why we Pantos tell each other, ‘You can’t buy …”

“… Tomorrow,” Tara finished. She heard that at least ten times a month.

“Right,” Darius replied. “We say that when it’s time to get to work.”

“The ‘northerners’ brought Earth’s ethos of control and exploitation. Digital entertainment, not physical engagement. They binged on culture as they starved and froze to death. If you go up north you can see the graves of trillionaires, and screens looping videos demonstrating their importance.” Darius went silent.

Tara waited, unsure of what to do next. “If we are not the first, then when did we get here?”

Darius looked Tara directly in the face. “We came in the last wave. We came on outdated ships driven by ions. The ships were cannibalized once we landed on the southern hemisphere, far from the first four failures.”

He smiled, “The first waves came to Planet B in space limos. Pantos came in space beaters.”

“Pantos went to work. Our technology fits our hands, not our eyes. We built our homes, rather than having them printed. Building them ourselves proved we were here to stay. Doing things yourself teaches you the true costs and benefits of your actions.”

He paused for a moment, and said: “Tara, remember to feed the Briax when you get home.”

She knew. Doing builds ownership and responsibility; consuming builds nothing but your waistline.

Darius resumed: “Technology is part of our agency. Planet B sustains life, but we are building a world to ensure our minds stay broad; we think before we act. We make mistakes, like we did at Junction.”

He rubbed the inside of his left arm.

“Failure is acceptable when we learn from it. Unacceptable when it is a cost of doing business, or called an externality.”

“We stay strong, acknowledging challenges and celebrating progress. Technology encourages contribution, not consumption. Contribution brings meaning. Meaning motivates innovation and improvement. If it does not work for all of us, then it does not work well enough for any of us. We have much work to do. You know…”

“You can’t buy tomorrow,” Tara repeated, reflexively.

The room brightened. Senna was gone, as was the bench. A woman’s voice spoke up. “Congratulations, Tara. Welcome to your next decade.”

Tara stood up. As she was leaving, she thought she heard the woman say: “Another turning ten. A blessing.”

“Yes,” came Senna’s reply. “Old enough to understand, and young enough to care.”

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  • This post was truly worthwhile to read. I wanted to say thank you for the key points you have pointed out as they are enlightening.