So what if it was some Pope who informed the world about the future starting today and not tomorrow… just look around you and see the way technology is gobbling up layer after layer of demographics and psychographics and literally hop-step-and jumping to the lowest rungs of every sort of strata. Yes sir, the future is already here… but does this smartphone domination and the fact that emotions too seem to have become an online and virtual entity, mean that 2030 has some super intriguing surprises hidden for us?
It is so easy to let imagination go off-roading and launching into dizzying dune-rides or hobble all over the undulating contours of untamed mountains… after all imagination doesn’t have a body like us and never gets hurt. So I went ahead and asked my imagination, ‘What will shopping be like in 2030?’
She (yes, imagination, I believe, is a sensual goddess) smiled and replied, ‘Just what you want it to be like.’
Now this was not just an intriguing reply, it was out-rightly a diplomatic answer and one that I expect only the likes of Natwar Singh or Mani Shanker Aiyer to come up with. ‘Don’t you Natwar me,’ I said.
Imagination smiled and said, ‘Do you want me to say that there’ll be floating eBay clouds laden with all sorts of goodies? And people just whistling one to stop for a while as they tap and swish through the inventory these cloud-shops are holding, before they finally decide to buy whatever they want to buy?’
I looked at my imagination and wondered aloud, ‘I do have one infinitely fertile imagination! Thank God, my thoughts aren’t anything like my imagination or I’d be tapping the air and looking for drop-down menus even as I walk down Copernicus Marg to see a play.’
‘That’ll be Mandi House,’ helpfully reminded Specky, my wife, who had been watching my antics from the corner of her eyes. She went on, ‘And if you actually start tapping thin air as if the whole world were a big computer screen, you’d be bundled off to people who are experts at shrinking such fertile imaginations!’ I smiled at this insinuation about shrinks, but asked her instead, ‘What do you think shopping will be like in 2030?’
‘Let me consult my imagination,’ she said… and in no time even she was merrily tapping at the thin air like I was. I nudged her and whispered, ‘So does this mean that the whole world will transform into one massive computer screen?’
She smiled and said, ‘No, not really. I wouldn’t want the stratosphere to have a new layer of clouds for e-cloud computing. I wouldn’t want the air around me to be so charged with bit-n-bytes that the municipal corporations will need to recruit spray-karamcharis to walk around spraying charge decongestants.’
‘But they’d surely have your favourite fragrance added to them,’ I said cheekily. She simply gave me one of those I-can’t-locate-the-site-that-you-are-searching-for looks that Google gives me so often these days! I just silenced myself for a few minutes and slid back to my cosy discussion with my imagination.
This time it was my imagination prodding me, ‘You tell me the things you hate about shopping in 2013… and I’ll reveal a few secrets from the future!’
‘Now you’re talking,’ I muttered and rattled off a number of things I despised about shopping today. I told her that waiting for search results made me restless, the presence of multiple vendors made me feel insecure, payment gateways ever so often got stuck, what I chose was invariably ‘out-of-stock’ if there was a scheme going on, finding the right product couldn’t be done so intuitively, and…’ I was silent for a few moments.
‘And?’ prodded my imagination.
‘…and shopping is so two-dimensional. I mean I cannot get a real feel of a product if I am shopping online,’ I replied. Then I hastily added, ‘I hate to wait for days before my order is finally delivered. I hate supply hiccups. I hate it when the packaging is shoddy. I hate it when the courier guys go and deliver it to the wrong address and I have to go and pick up my stuff. I hate it when…’
My imagination beckoned me to stop, saying, ‘What if I say that your hate-list will be non-existent in 2030?’
Without a second’s delay I answered, ‘I’ll prepare a fresh hate-list in 2030!’ Imagination guffawed! This was the first time I heard imagination guffaw… I mean ‘imaginations’ are generally quite subtle about these things, but she guffawed… yes, it wasn’t anything as crass as ROFL or LOL… she just guffawed. I loved her when she guffawed… a deep, loud hearty laughter!
With her body still enveloped in giggling gyrations, she said, ‘It will all begin with shopping pods for every home. Yes, these pods will be delivered free… and once you enter them, you’ll be transported to a cloud store where you will float up and down the aisles, feel products, pick them up and even be able to throw them all in a trolley.’
‘That sounds so retro,’ I said, a bit crestfallen at this seemingly usual shopping system.
‘You’re right,’ said my imagination, ‘these shopping pods will be called ‘futurets’ or a combination of future and retro! Just imagine, you won’t be moving because your wife watching you from outside these futurets will be able to see you and even perceive the shopping fervour that you’re experiencing. So you’ll be there all the time… it is just your virtual self that will be in the midst of shopping throes.’
‘Sounds interesting,’ I said, ‘but I never like to shop alone. This is another thing I hate when I am forced to go to a store alone.’
‘Well, I haven’t reached 2030 yet. The futurets, as I mentioned, will be just the start of this shopping revolution. They will soon be replaced by something that will floor you.’
I wasn’t so sure I liked this futuret concept, and I said, ‘The next revolution might as well be less unwieldy. These pods will use up a lot of home space. And I’m sure the rate at which our population is exploding, our future apartments will have enough space either for these futurets or for people.’
Imagination looked at me with concern and said, ‘Rick Riordan once wrote that ‘knowing too much of your future is never a good thing’ but hearing you I’m inclined to conclude that knowing your future just might make you a sensible man!’ Now here I was on the verge of being humiliated by a mere abstraction and would have asked my imagination to leave me alone, but she again said something that held me mesmerised.
‘Cuffutures are going to be the next level of innovation in shopping,’ began my imagination, ‘these will be designer handcuffs that will have a chromosomal link working as your unique password. Once worn and activated, you will be transported through the reality portal into the virtual world and be able to choose your store, walk around, fill your shopping cart, and even authorise payments while in the virtual space!’ You cannot possibly imagine this, but even my imagination was breathless now… and flushed with excitement.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘this sounds much better. I’m sure I can actually carry these handcuffs… oops! Cuffutures with me all the time and get into the virtual portal at will.’
Imagination nodded her head and said, ‘But this isn’t all. There’s more.’
‘More?’ I said, ‘Let me guess… can I link my handcuff… oops! Cuffuture with the cuffuture of another person and do some joint shopping?’
But now imagination was in no mood to answer my question. She whispered, ‘Isn’t a cuffuture such a sublimely sensual concept? Listen to this.’
‘Walk down miles of aisles of wonderful things
In solitude or with the one you love
With just your cuffutures going ring-a-ting
And no unruly crowds to stare or shove!’
‘That’s a charming poem,’ I said, ‘and you have as yet given me a glimpse of just the tip. I can see you must be having an entire epic poem ready for this futuristic wonder.’
‘Your cuffuture,’ said my imagination, ‘is genetically linked to you and also has the power to add people with mutual consent for a joint shopping spree. It is somewhat like you connect two gadgets through Bluetooth or even wifi. In 2030, these gadgets will have a genetic database of the entire world and two people who agree to go shopping together can match their acceptance. They can be two or more people from any part of the world.’
I said, ‘Sounds interesting. This means that Nilekani’s project will finally have been completed. And importantly, I can go for shopping my son who is in London.’
I was told that these global stores will all be in virtual space. Payments will have their own chromosomal gateways and order deliveries will be faster than you can imagine. As soon as you emerge from your shopping trance, you’ll have robotic delivery systems at your doorstep.
It was at this point that my imagination said something that alarmed me. She said, ‘The future starts today, not tomorrow. The learning curve is going to be extremely steep for those who have not taken a graduated and calibrated progression into technology. It is almost like acclimatisation that you need when you go to high altitude places like Leh. You cannot just fly there and start a long trek.’
‘Does this mean that there will be brick-n-mortar stores at the local nodes for those who have yet not acclimatised themselves to such technological improvisations?’
‘Yes, there will be only two classes of people – the chromotechs and the Omortals. Seeing that you are keeping abreast of all tech innovations, you’re surely going to be one of the chromotechs.’
I heaved a sigh of relief and even began dreaming of my chromosomally-technosavvy existence and did shed a tear for the Omortals or the ordinary ones who will be struggling to reach that level of glorified life enhancement. I dreamt of all the wonderful shopping sprees that I could have with my son and daughter-in-law who were far away… of how they would help me choose the best lens for my camera and help Specky get the right gadget for her classroom lectures.
When I explained all this to Specky, her first question was, ‘The best thing about the future that you are talking about is the reduction of castes and categories. We wouldn’t have to reserve seats anymore and this comes as a major relief.’
Well, everyone looks at the future from their own perspective… and I told her that the two classes would be a fairly temporary phase and finally everyone would be inducted into the chromotech class.
‘We’d all be living life forwards in the future,’ she finally said.
‘And we’re trying to understand it all while still in the past. So Søren Kierkegaard is right when he said that life could only be understood backwards,’ I said.
‘Don’t massacre the great philosopher,’ Specky said with an indulgent smile, ‘and remember to ask Pushkin to give us more lessons in new technology lest we stop learning and have to remain an Omortal in the future!’
14 September 2013