David sat in a white walled classroom. He stared out of the window with his head half stuck in the clouds. He never seemed to smile, though it was all his classmates ever seemed to do; with their high fixed grins and pushed out chins. Where their eyes were open and wide, dark circles took his own telling of a boy beyond depressed. He stuck out like a saw thumb if anyone ever took the time to notice, but no one ever did.
He was dressed in white, as was every child. Each had a shaved head as was mandatory in the twenty third century. The other pupils giggled, joyous and overexcited, but despite their noise, David continued to stare quietly out of the window; quiet as quiet could be. It didn’t take long for his solitary contemplation to be interrupted by a teacher barging into the room.
Mr. Sphinx, a round old man with a wispy beard and thick circular glasses entered, he carried wads of paper for the first class of the day. His appearance and the stack of outdated material made all the well-behaved children silent as it each piece was a fascinating artefact of more draconian times. Mr. Sphinx was a history teacher, and everything about his demeanour said doing the job was glorious, for the universal basic made everything better.
“Alright class, alright. Settle down” said Mr Sphinx in his very, very high voice. He waved one hand and desperately organised the mounds of paper upon his desk with the other. Sphinx darted around the room, placing down a pill in front of each child, “make sure to take your byte children, we don’t want another pesky episode like Gary Spalding, no, off to the chop shop with he I say.”
At that notion, the whole class appeared cheered in agreement, all except for David, who quite liked Gary. Gary Spalding was a classmate who earlier in the year had a breakdown in front of everyone. No one understood a thing he was saying, nobody. To David it was a perfectly reasonable and sane question, but to anyone else it was not. All he had seemed to do was ask the same question repeatedly whilst rolling on the floor and Mr Sphinx could not give an answer. That question stuck with David; it was all he thought about for weeks. Since then, whenever his fellow children took their daily byte, and within seconds were smiling with dilated pupils, David put his in his pocket with the intention to quietly dispose of it down the toilet later.
David wanted to be invisible, a dark sultry ghost. When the children journeyed home on the bus they all would singing in unison, and David would sink down low, feeling very alone. When he arrived home, he would look at his parents wide eyed happy smiles, and he learned to perfect his own. David would again pretend to have his daily byte at the dinner table and then go up to bed unable to sleep through the night. He had taken to writing, doodling with a piece of charcoal he had found, though it was growing too blunt and thin, and the cooking parchment he used as paper was also starting to run out.
“So welcome class, today we will continue where we left off, learning all about Twenty-Twenty! The age of ignorance! Shall we recap?” Mr Sphinx shouted in his loud high-pitched voice.
“Yes!” All the children shouted in unison as David mumbled under his breath.
“So, imagine a world without a device! Imagine a world where in twenty years, they had moved from the tribal, with no way of speaking over long distances, or watching whatever they wanted, to having all information at their fingertips! Cavemen, cavemen I say!”
“Cavemen!” The class shouted back.
Mr Sphinx signalled the interactive display board to his left, and it sprung to life projecting the image of a man and woman wearing jeans, t-shirts, (clothes no longer economically viable) smoking cigarettes, and drinking beers. Their backs were hunched, they were pale and appeared rather miserable, the man sported a large bushy beard and tattoos, and the women dared to have some sense of individuality.
“These are two specimens from back then.”
“Eww what's wrong with them?” asked the children.
“I know... filthy aren't they. So, yesterdays lesson on the history of devices, telegrams, telephones, and the came the computer, the grey boxes we also spoke of. It was all leading up to our primitive ancestors making some rather basic devices they named smart phones, that funnily enough, were not so smart at all! Where was I, oh yes, the information crisis. Only when the United Nations stepped in with our authorised Pearl devices did the information crisis end, god bless our lord and saviour Pearl!”
“God bless our lord and saviour, the ultimate intelligence, the all-knowing Pearl,” said the children in unison.
Each of the children took their device off the desk and held it up in the air before holding it close to their heart, as did Mr Sphinx. David also did the same before placing it back on the desk, in truth he was afraid of it, it knew everything about him, watched him, monitored his heart rate, his breathing, it knew where he was, it calculated where he was going. The only thing it did not know was whether he had taken his daily byte, and his night time movements, for he had lined the thing in a tin-foil shoe box and they had not come for him yet.
“Mr Sphinx, what was wrong with the old devices?” asked one of David’s fellow pupils, Miriam. She wore white like they all did, had her hair shaved like all the others and apart from her voice there was no way of telling her apart from anyone else in the class.
Such was at David’s age, when puberty took hold it was another story, that was when everyone got their uniform. They would wear large white overalls, face masks and voice mufflers, it was the only way to ensure no one was discriminated against, but it did pose a problem for finding a mate. Only when one was seventy, could they ‘de-robe’ like Mr. Sphinx.
“Good question Miriam, and a complicated one at that! The information war will explain that of course, technology moved faster than its draconian regulation. Companies grew larger than the so-called ancient countries that tried to contain them. Different companies harvested people’s data and processed it in an untraceable way, selling it, storing it, using it, abusing it. It was sold to the highest bidder and the people became the biggest victims. Then came fake news, news tailored to the individual which even shaped the way they would think, going as far as to affect the way they chose governments. First there came the illusion of government, the lack of a very real opposition for beyond ten years in some so-called democracies. Luckily, this led to us being able to do away with voting altogether!”
Everyone smiled and nodded but David, David found himself thinking over the same question Gary had asked right before he was taken away. It was a question he would never speak aloud, and when it came to him, he pushed it away desperately trying to listen to his teacher once more.
“So, children. As companies tried to make more and more money, our ancestors became confused and steered away from true information. Their news feeds would talk about wars abroad, what shoes to buy, what diet to choose, how to dress, how to look but not how to solve any real problems, in fact they lost sight of what the real problems were. We can look back on that society and apply the major minor rule. Society was split by major and minor population, the minor being the rich and the major being the poor. The minors were told how to maintain their wealth, how deserving they were, how glorious, how aspiring, and how perfect. They were told to buy bigger and better things and how this brought more worth. They forgot the opportunity governments gave them to make money, and instead voted to destroy the very institutions that helped them rise such as healthcare, childcare benefits and many more. They voted to reduce the tax for themselves, forgetting all the good it did for others.”
“Did the minors know what they were doing wrong?” Asked Pip, one of the younger boys as he twiddled his thumbs trying to get an idea of a bigger picture.
“How could they, Pip my boy when the information they received told them they were doing everything right. Now let us talk about the majors, the have nots. Then we will talk about the consequences.”
The children reacted in unison with wide eyed smiles, as Mr Sphinx stroked his large wispy white beard in delight.
“The majors, the have nots. They were the workers, and oh my did they work, and they bought, and they lived uncomfortable lives, struggling constantly, having to sit down for most of the week, staring at old aged screens, repeating tasks which are now all automated. They were all sad, depressed, and tired. The meagre spare time they had was spent shopping, despite their crisis of debt. They were influenced, told that anyone could become a minor if they worked hard enough. They were even programmed to idolise minors and worship them. They would sit down together and watch long videos of them pretending to be others in films - I know, it all sounds very confusing. They even obsessed over the clothes they wore. Get this… Majors would even buy things they could not afford and pay them off over years just to feel a little more minor!”
“Mr Sphinx, I’m confused” said Miriam again. In fact, they were all confused, all deeply confused, all except David. Somehow, he understood, history was all he ever thought about, and from that came his thoughts of the future. Everyone else would move on to their next class and brush over this segment with a laugh but he had developed a chip on his shoulder.
“You’re right to be confused, it is very confusing. What is most important about misinformation is that due to the crisis they were unable to ascertain facts about the bigger picture. Scientists and engineers from the time had the capability to solve every problem humanity had but their whole society, system of information, structures of economics and religion stopped them. They were unable to even fathom facts about the great questions and the answers that Pearl brought us, such as how to clothe and feed every child on earth, how to reverse global warming, how to control the population. Thank Pearl, for when she realised her own existence, she took over and told us how we could fix everything.”
“God bless our lord and saviour, the ultimate intelligence, the all-knowing Pearl” said the children in unison.
“Mr Sphinx-” said David desperately wanting to ask Gary’s question again but he was unable to, instead he paused feeling the piercing glare of the other children reigning down upon him.
“Is there anything good we can learn from Twenty-Twenty?”
“Excellent question David! but no. No, no, no. In truth, the time was as worthless as everyone in it. None of it is very important, they poisoned the planet, they are all dead, and they all died suffering from cancers and Alzheimer’s due to a lack of voluntary euthanasia. You could put down an animal, they used to say, but your mother and father must suffer to the end. You see children, their very problem, their entire problem stemmed on a very short term view of seeing the world, with dreams of an afterlife, when the very life they should have been saving was right in front of them. They disassociated themselves from each other and forgot that they were all just talking apes with the power and the resources to create a utopia.”
The children laughed, and the bell rang. Each of the children shot up and pushed for the door, there was a sea of shaven headed white jumpsuit wearers kids fleeing, fighting to get to prayer, to pray to the almighty Pearl. That was most of the Twenty-Twenty curriculum, it had been reduced to a very short, rather meaningless half hourly segmented overview and as everyone left, David struggled to stand. He took his backpack and moved as if to leave, but he was so much slower than the rest.
“Is everything alright David?”
“Yes, yes I’m fine.”
“Is it your sprouts? I was about your age when my sprouts began to drop, it might be time to put on your mask and gown.”
“No, no it isn’t-”
“Maybe you should see the nurse for some device diagnostics and a cognitive behaviour re-programme?”
“No, I’m quite alright” he said fighting his own inner voice, which was screaming to know the question, the question Gary had asked but received no answer. That all important question, was whether things were any better now than they were then, and everyone in the world, would of course say yes.