A Low Tech Fictional Future
Reader beware: my first fiction
This my first ever attempt at writing fiction in English. There’s even a hint of romance. If you are like me you distrust any post-19th century fiction. I don't blame you. Proceed at your own risk. It was inspired by a tweet from Scott Adams, February 10th 2023: “The AI deep fakes are now about 99% perfect, but a human can still detect the fake. When the fakes achieve that extra 1%, they won't be 1% better. They will completely destabilize civilization.”
“Sorry Miss, you can’t bring those in. If it is ok with you I’ll put them with your phone and you can retrieve it when you leave.”
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“My earphones? Ah, Sorry, I didn’t think—ok, sure.”
“Have a pleasant visit Miss.”
The gatehouse did a surprisingly good job at keeping the sounds of the city at a tolerable level. You could hardly hear the tram coming in from Central Station. The best time to visit the Town was on an overcast, off-season Tuesday morning. Like today. Few tourists, even though this town had a reputation as one of the prettiest of all the Towns in the city. There were four of these Towns by now, but another half dozen in development. The closest was just half a mile down the tramline, towards the ocean. Even not finished, people had already been moving in and the waiting list for a building lot was already a quarter century by the time they stopped signing up new families.
Towns were not for everyone, many outsiders said they loved working in them and were happy to visit but couldn’t live in one permanently. And that was fine for the Towns.
Despite what people claimed though, property prices near Towns always went up.
J was in high school, and visiting for a school project. Most students went to see a Town with their social studies teacher as a one day field trip or a weeklong home-stay, but J wanted to see it by herself, to explore it. She had picked the biggest Town, one of several “enclaves” (their critics called them Gated Communities, as if that was even a slur when even the cheapest tower blocks had their own guarded entrance and contracted security), in this city of millions. A town was usually the size of a few city blocks. Some were lush with trees and parks, others more like what a regular small rural town used to look like say 50 years ago. Others wouldn't have looked too much out of place in ancient Rome or Palestine or medieval Saxony.
Towns were all so sized that you could walk from end to end in about ten minutes. Some were walled, some had a moat, or a fence, some just gated off the streets but the alleys were open to the rest of the world. They were the home of anything between a hundred to ten thousand.
Towns had their own security, (literally “Town Guards”) but were of course open to regular City law enforcement. They had their own fire departments, cooperating with the regular city FD, and while most people worked in the Town they lived in, there were plenty of families were one member would work outside, in the City, or even in another Town nearby or connected via tram or railway. Towns had their own LC, (local currencies). Usually some form of script or coins or bank notes with a demurrage: they lost in value over time. There was no use hoarding your LC, its point was to be kept in circulation as much as possible, to benefit the Town and the people who lived there. There were many variations, and they evolved a lot. Some people lived more or less completely from their LC. Others had most of their income in regular City money.
In times of bad liquidity they could be set to lose value quicker, spurring on consumption, or they could be made quasi-permanent for use only for specific long term projects, such as the construction of public buildings. Like the big church spire J could see rising a few streets to the south, a five minute walk from the North Gate she had come in through (and from where should would have to sign out when she left, not for any particular reason other than that she needed to pick up her computer, phone, music player, and headphones, which she had left in the Gatehouse, along with everyone else who lived in or visited the Town).
The Towns were strictly enforcing a no-digital policy, or as they liked to say “LowTech IT”. After AIs became commonplace everywhere in society starting in the mid twenties (just when J was born by the way, her parents sometimes talked about the “before” times, not before J, but before AI, which had and still was doing nasty things to human society and culture), some people decided that they wanted nothing to do with it, and so the Town movement was born.
No computers, no television, no outside mass media, no smartphones, no telephones, no photocopiers, no GPS, no digital cameras (obviously), no recorded music, no barcodes, no loudspeakers, no video, no 3D printers, or any other sort of printer for that matter, no fax machines, no crypto, etc.
Of course the Town movement had been born out of social media. They all had an official Twitter account and people living there were computer literate. In fact many worked in IT. They just didn't want IT in their homes or in their families. And since everyone knew it would take heroic efforts to keep a personal or family level embargo on IT and computers, people decided to join forces and create their own communities.
The Towns in this city could communicate with each other via a simple network of heliographs, and most of the bigger Towns had print shops for their own newsletters, newspapers. In fact, this was why J was here. She wanted to be a journalist, and the idea of a Town newspaper fascinated her. She had written one of the newspapers in this Town (there were three or maybe four) and asked for a guided tour and been accepted.
Lots of people also had messenger pigeons. J had read even the local clinics used pigeons to send blood samples to the big hospitals in the City to run tests. It was faster and more reliable than drones anyway. And a pigeon costs almost nothing compared to even the cheapest drones.
Some people expected Towns to evolve into weird little cults or turn tribal and hostile, but the reality of course turned out to be the other way around. The Towns cooperated with both each other and the City. They could enjoy a functioning society without the constants strife, problems and distrust that keeps gripping the City whenever there is some new AI shenanigans. And there is always some new AI shenanigans. It was exhausting to keep up with even for a high school student. Maybe especially for a high school student. They had never known a world without AI after all.
J started walking towards the spire. She had never been to this Town before and never visited any of the old medieval towns of Europe, but the streets made sense, the pattern looked random but intuitively she “just got it”: Always take the bigger street if you want to reach the main plaza (where the church was being built, and also where the newspaper office she was visiting was located). There were a few people about, but absolutely no cars. And no noisy engines either. The City and all its noises was just outside, but in the Town all that was mellowed. She could hear the wind rustling the leaves of the street trees. Birds chirping. Sparrows? J hardly saw them in the City. She could hear a hammer falling. Some small industry? A water wheel was creaking. Did it bother the people living above it? Or where they happy to have first dibs on the electricity it generated?
The main street was laid in stone, large and flat, but some patches were in granite cubes, and some of the side streets were not paved at all. Just gravel. People had bicycles, she could see them leaning towards doors and the side of restaurants, but it seems they were mostly used by visitors from the City or by people commuting to the City or Town for work. People were mostly on foot. The wheelchairs or babycars here had thick wheels, unlike the narrow wheels used in the City which were only good for the slick flat floors of shopping malls or parking lots.
About one third of the buildings in this Town where ground floor only, one third had an upper floor, and a third had three floors. Only a few buildings by the town plaza looked to be taller than three, but none were taller than five, or six, if you counted the attic or mansard floor. The usual building materials were rammed earth, brick, solid log, or adobe, but J could not tell which building had made use of which material. They were all plastered and followed the same color schemes of earthy greens, whites, yellows, browns, reds, with occasional detailing in pinks, blues or blacks. All buildings had natural stone footings, and the first floor was often raised a little if it was a private home (so that you wouldn't see straight inside as you walked past). The walls were thick and it seems that whatever pattern book or plan the town builders had used, in this pleasing jumble, the common thread was solidity. Everything looked solid. Even the street trees were solid, closely pruned fruit trees and evergreens with solid trunks. More trees were behind the low buildings than in the streets though, where they had room to spread in the large courtyards and gardens.
Whatever happened, this Town would endure. It would remain. It would shelter.
J could see carts in the process of loading or unloading goods and wares. Some had electric engines, like a trike with a pickup bed, some were like cargo bikes, but most were pushed by manpower alone, or had a little “electric assist” engines on the single wheel, a sort of e-wheelbarrow. J even saw a man push a washing machine on one of them.
The Town was built on flat ground. Before it had been an old shopping mall, parking lots, access roads. What ever had been before the mall was impossible to tell. To make up for the lack of features the Town had used plenty of arched bridges, creating variety as they crossed the shallow canal system used partly for transporting goods, but mostly for tourism. The bridges had black metal railings, probably made in one of the courtyard foundries in the Town itself, some were decorated with flowerpots. The bridges made for natural focus points: it was next to the bridges you could find the little stairs to access the canals (permanently occupied by teens, couples dating or just friends talking), a pocket park or little plaza. Unlike the city, the parks and plazas were always integrated into the surrounding buildings, never turned into islands by streets or traffic.
As J walked onwards she noticed more shops, more groceries, more offices, there were more people. She could hear someone playing a violin, not very well (a child not yet old enough for school?). The air smelt of morning rain still, musty. From the groceries she could smell food. Every bakery whose door swung open for a customers emitted an invisible cloud of goodness.
The plaza was just around the corner, where a young man in a suit was just opening shop for the day. They sold hats. Who wears hats these days? How does it even stay in business? J wondered to herself as she turned the corner and entered the main Town plaza. The young man (boy really) smiled. She smiled back.
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