A printer-friendly version is available here.
Imagining 2030 is a series in which PS21 writers describe the world as they see it in 14 years time.
Frank Spring is the Political Affairs Director for the Truman National Security Project and is a PS21 Global Fellow.
3.12pm: hey. college buddy of mine might join us this evening if that’s ok.
3.16pm: more the merrier
3.17pm: great. you’ll like her.
Sophie blew out the office door, anxiously surveying the road, left ring finger pressing her PalmPad to call a cab. She should have done this before she left but she got caught up and now it was rush hour and they’d all be taken – ah, no, thank god. Here was one now, sleek, almost silent, driving up the office park’s driveway.
“Hi there!” Smiling woman’s face on the screen as Sophie got in. “You wanna drive?”
“No,” Sophie exhaled, appending weakly, “thank you.”
“No problem! Where to?” said the screen, as the steering column gently slid into the firewall.
Sophie tapped her PalmPad.
“Got it! We’ll be there in fourteen minutes!” Sophie sat back as the screen went dark and the cab accelerated.
“Evenin’, Sophia.” From the cab’s speakers, deep voice with a country western twang. The voice made her want to listen – she loved Westerns, and this was straight out of Deadwood – but it called her ‘Sophia’, so whoever was trying to sell her something didn’t know her very well. She found the volume control. “This is important. The values we cherish are under att…”
5:41pm: sorry soph but i’m running late. hope it won’t be more than 20m. so sorry.
5:42pm: no problem. think i can entertain myself in a bar.
5:43pm: i know you can. my friend’s already there. this is the most embarrassing pic of her i have.
Out of the cab, the smiling woman’s benediction “Thanks! Have a great weekend!” in her ears, the bar in sight.
This from a gently smiling man standing in front of the plexiglass wall of a bus stop. No, he was on the plexiglass wall of a bus stop. Still smiling, leaning in as if to tell a secret.
“There’s something you don’t know about”, naming one of the taller of the presidential candidates currently battling it out. “He’s not with us on preventing gun violence. In fact – well, you’re not gonna like it. I sure didn’t.”
She felt a little ridiculous, standing there listening to a bus stop’s pitch, but this mattered. She waited as the bus stop told her how the tall candidate was against what they believed in, and then held up his PalmPad.
“We can fight back. Chip in $6 – that’s how much most people pitch in at first – and send him a message about how committed we are to stopping gun violence and saving lives. It’s this easy.”
Holding up his PalmPad, flexing his left middle finger, the device buzzing happily. Her own PalmPad buzzed. Sure, why not? She flexed her middle finger, felt the grateful buzzing response. The man on the bus stop smiled.
“Wonderful. Enjoy your weekend, and thanks for all you do!”
The bar. Dim. Hum of conversation. There she was.
Hands shaken, drink ordered, Diana putting away a small screen, looking up.
“How was your day?”
“I gave money to a bus stop.”
Diana, huge smile.
“What was the issue?”
“Good for you.”
“It was weird,” Sophie said.
“Yeah, they kind of are, aren’t they?”
“Well, it called me ‘Sophie’. How did it know it was me?”
“It picked up your PalmPad, read your data. Have you ever signed a petition about gun violence?”
Sophie thought back. Social media posts, calls to action forwarded to her network. An angry, futile exchange in the comments section.
“That’d do it,” Diana said.
“Those ads usually call me ‘Sophia’.”
“But your friends call you Sophie? Then it was definitely social media; there’s a tool that searches for – what the hell do you call them, not abbreviations, pet names?”
“Sure – that searches for them on people’s public posts mentioning you.”
“Or my text chats?”
“Not unless they’re doing it illegally. Any text chats after 2024 can’t be mined for commercial data.”
“I’m sorry, Diana. What do you do?”
Small smile. Self-deprecating, or maybe just avoidant.
“I work in data.”
“For a marketing company, or…?”
“For” the happy presidential candidate.
“Oh, wow,” Sophie said, “I love her!”
“Thank god!” Diana, leaning back. “Not everyone reacts like that.”
They talk about how great the happy candidate is, how she really is like that.
6.28pm: sorry ladies i swear i’ll be over there in no time
6.32pm: don’t rush, i like her better than you anyway
6.33pm: tough but fair
“I think I was about to hear one of the other guy’s ads in the cab over here.”
“What did it say?”
“I don’t know, I turned it down. ‘Our values are under attack’, something.”
“Why are they targeting you? Did they get your name right?”
“Called me ‘Sophia’.”
“What kind of voice?”
“Kind of a cowboy one.”
“You like Westerns? When did you last watch one?”
“Last night. I watched Tombstone, because it’s awesome.”
“’I’m your huckleberry.’”
“What did they go after you for? I mean, you’re registered –“
Diana in mock celebration.
“I found one! I found one!”
Diana up to get another round.
Sophie turned to the smiling young woman.
“Hi! I’m Clarissa. I think you and I might be neighbors? I live near” a pleasant street, modest homes, nice apartments. Sophie nodded – sure, not exactly neighbors, but close enough.
“So, I’m a volunteer for” the happy candidate “and there’s a really important election coming up and I wanted to ask if you support” the happy candidate “too?”
Sophie, agog, but smiling, nodding, sure, happy candidate all the way. Clarissa with a huge smile.
“Great! Listen, I am so glad you’re with us. Listen, we have a wonderful team working to get her elected – could you come help us out, say, this Sunday morning at 11am?”
Sophie was dimly aware that Diana had returned, putting their drinks down, beaming at both of them. “Please don’t let me interrupt.”
Clarissa smiling, nodding back to Sophie. “So, can we count on you to join us at 11am this Sunday?”
Sophie, sure why not. “Sure, I can do that.”
Clarissa. “That’s wonderful! Thank you so much. I’ll send you a text chat to remind you and…”
Sophie’s PalmPad buzzed.
“…can you just….?” Clarissa looking at the PalmPad, watching Sophie press down with her finger and confirm Sunday at 11am on her calendar.
“Great!” Clarissa turned to Diana. “I’m sorry, I’m Clarissa, I’m –“
“I’m Diana. I work for the campaign. Great job. Thanks for all you do!”
Smiles, goodbyes, Clarissa rejoining her friends.
Sophie shook her head. “How…?”
“Your data must have gotten you tagged as a potential strong supporter. Some of our vols have a PalmPad app that alerts them when an un-IDed target voter is nearby. They get a picture from your social media and a script sent to them, and then, well –“
“Yeah. She made a great volunteer ask.”
“Evidently. I wonder what I’ll be doing with them.”
“Oh, you’ll canvass. Knock on doors.”
“What? Even with all this tech –“
“Still the most effective way to get out the vote.”
“Not at all. Thanks for all you do!”
6.51pm: finally out of here. there in ten. so sorry.
6.53pm: it’s okay because you’re coming canvassing on sunday morning
Interested in contributing a piece to the series? E-mail us at PS21Central@Gmail.com