The world is moving faster and faster and faster. The actions, ideas, or innovations of an individual can ripple across the world in minutes as entire industries, communities, and movements can bloom and burn out in a matter of weeks. People have broken free from the grasp of yesterdays rulers. Tired old monoliths have fallen and broken into pieces while nimble networks have risen in their place. Agile, distributed structures are the only way if you want to experience any kind of longevity.
Society is driven by independent and entrepreneurial individuals — always in motion and hungry to eat while they can. You are your own business and your skills, your network, and your resources make up your product portfolio. Stability, roots, and belongingness in the real world are privileges reserved for those who made it. Everyone else must find comfort and community in the temporary or virtual.
Power is distributed far and wide as rapidly changing circumstances makes adaption the only viable strategy. For most people, life isn’t tied to a single point of space in the physical world — work moves and you most move with it.
Businesses, people, and ideas are always in motion. Everything is moving towards the markets with the most lucrative opportunities, the cities with the best conditions, and the communities with the most innovative ideas.
Most people can’t afford to stay put. You have to always be on the move, on the lookout for your next place, project, and paycheck.
No one decides what you should do with what you have: Live while you can and spend it while you have it.
Only the most affluent can afford the privilege of belonging to places in the physical world. Everyone else has to grow virtual or temporary roots.
Your body is like a car. You maintain it, change a few parts here and there, and maybe one day move on to the next one.
As new opportunities arise the things of yesterday is left behind. Sometimes it’s just cheaper to leave it.
The bravest of us are way out there — searching for what is next.
It’s not always feasible to clean up. But hey, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, right?
Play the ambience music as you listen to the stories. The music will loop indefinitely.
You walk by the Hideyo building again this morning just before sunrise. The narrow streets are empty except for a food vendor setting up his booth and a young woman who seems to be checking in to the Hideyo. The tags on her suitcase seem to indicate, that this is not her first relocation. Yet, she also seems to have a cat with her. Traditionally, few people with that lifestyle bothered keeping pets but that might’ve changed. Last night the Hideyo’s facade was illuminated with bright animated green and blue tiger stripes while groups of people were hanging out in front. Today, the wooden structure with its large glass frames look much more modest as it’s nestled in between two older concrete buildings. A more than 15 meter long curtain has been drawn to provide the small units on the inside with some much needed shade as the sun begin to rise. There’s been an influx young and resourceful people recently — and the number of pets is definitely on the rise as well. One of your friends, who runs one of the cafés down by the Bionic Bazaar told you that many of them are here for lucrative temporary contracts. The city is currently the largest hub for synthetic biology after communities of bioengineers and -hackers were forced to relocate from now expired hubs like Shenzhen and Lisbon. Droves of people are now here to either design, manufacture, sell, or upgrade new synthetic body parts or implants. A vibrant network of small, highly specialised, businesses and freelancers has sprung up among the bars and the greasy food stalls. If you open your mouth you feel the buzz of the people, the drones, and the machinery in the workshops tingling on the tip of your tongue. Sometimes it feel like life has become more hectic. People, wares, ideas, art, ideologies, movements, religions are always in flux as new market opportunities appear and others disappear. The platforms enables a constant exchange of goods and ideas — and many people follow. Like nomads constantly in motion to survive and thrive. Governments have a hard time controlling it, most places they focus on staying attractive by providing stability and safety and making transitioning in and out as smooth as possible. Not everyone moves around all time of course — some do not want to, some can afford to choose and others simply can’t move due to various circumstances. You can easily work remote. However, many would say it is hard to argue why your body should stay put in a single place all the time, when technology allows you to see, feel, touch, and even smell your friends and family from the other side of the planet. Private permanent simulated worlds are becoming increasingly popular; families might keep a virtual farmstead, or a group of friends might explore distant galaxies on a starship. Your existence reaches far beyond your body, so why not place that body somewhere with a reasonable rent, good working conditions, and an optimal timezone.
Dominic recently got a new job in manufacturing.
We just renewed our contract with a network producing furniture with integrated neural uplinks. Basically, it’s ergonomic chairs and beds that connect with the implants in your brain and relaxes your body while your mind is hard at work. We’ve actually been working on developing the tech with the team in Lagos for almost half a year. Until now quantities have been low but we finally reached a point where we can scale our production. Some of the components we produce ourselves while other parts are sourced from local suppliers. It’s a larger consortium though.
The original team was much larger but there were some major ethical disagreements. The other group wants to implement cognitive limiter technology — basically tech that allows you to turn off your brain and enter a self-induced coma. It didn’t sit well with us so we split. Most of the other nodes we’re working with now entered the production network after the prototype was completed.
My team and I make up one production node in a meshed network of hundreds. The developer nodes push updates and production nodes manufacture the wares locally. We have the rights for this region while other nodes handle other regions. Most of us work together here in the workshop but we’ve also got a few who work remotely. It’s really hard to find affordable neuro-engineers locally — especially around these parts.
This kind of product is often used for entertainment but they can be used professionally as well. I have a tiny implant behind my ear myself that is connected to the operating system in our workshop. It gives me a realtime overview of all currently running processes. It is hard to explain but I can literally feel what all the machines are doing — I feel the input from all the sensors like they’re parts of my body. If something goes wrong it pinches me.
Olga works in distribution.
I work at a local distribution hub. We’re part of a larger global network of independent operators. I’m the manager so that makes me in charge of our bidding on the various shipment exchange platforms. That’s how we get the majority of our jobs. It works like this; tasks are listed and operators like us make bids to handle them — or well, the AI handles the actual thousands of bids we make every hour but I oversee it.
Working in distribution is quite stable compared to many other industries out there — it’s also very sought after. The only positions we sometimes have problems filling are the night shifts. Tend to be a lot of newcomers — people who just moved here and need something while they settle in. It’s decent pay and we’ve built a robotic system that is entirely autonomous so someone only really needs to be there in case something goes wrong. I’m very grateful for this job. I’ve had it for almost three years now — would you believe that!
In today’s environment, entire industries can rise and fall within months — no matter what they do, however, they all seem to need something to move from A to B. We do urban shipping, last-mile kind of deliveries. Sometimes we handle the entire shipments other times we simply take over and handles the very last stretch.
Most of our shipments are handled by our unmanned cargo carriers while heavier shipments are delivered by our courier bots. Our unmanned cargo carriers are loaded at the warehouse and then circulate the city as the drones fly around it like a beehive. They buzz around as they make deliveries or pick up new shipments. It can be pretty fascinating to look at. Especially on a hazy morning — all you see in the fog is the little red and green lights of the drones.
Imaani is a risk evaluation specialist working far and wide.
I’m an independent risk consultant. I help companies evaluate and minimize the risks of entering our local market — be it by entering a collaboration with someone from here or by opening up shop themselves.
This city has become a hub for experimental personal transportation and a lot of businesses are interested in tapping into the local ecosystem. The scene is, however, infamous for its unusual social codes and unwritten rules. So a lot of people come to people like me to avoid making any rookie mistakes. As a newcomer, if you don’t tread carefully you risk not only getting excluded but completely shut down. People can be pretty passionate — and hostile — around here if you don’t respect their way of doing things.
Getting settled in with the locals is not the only risk factor of course. I also help you connect with other local experts, understand the environmental risks, and fortify your supply chains and facilities properly. Again, not only to protect you from the vicious microclimate but also your competitors. These people play no games and are not afraid of trying to steal your tech or sabotage your stuff if you’re a little too good. You better be prepared — maybe even for attacking first if you have the nerves for it.
I move around the city a lot as many of my informants prefer not to leave a digital trail. I usually use my old car as it doesn’t attract too much attention. The most popular modes of transportation are probably the different ride broker platforms, however. As a passenger, you just specify your destination and the platform handles the bidding and automated matchmaking with the operators. Depending on your budget you can get everything from a private drone to a spot in a modified container on an industrial freighter. But, as I said, the city does have a big scene for experimental personal transportation. That means that you’ll also see your fair share of people running down the streets in custom-built exoskeletons or with bionic modifications to their bodies allowing them to go as fast as a car. The big thing at the moment is illegal racing. Every other week they race across the roofs of the city.
Hitomi lead the production of welfare technology.
I own and run a series of research and production labs spread across the region specialised in manufacturing robotic parts for welfare tech solutions.
I remember when we started out. We had a lot of good ideas but we felt… Restrained in a way. Like we were held back by politicians, legislation, and bureaucracy. The mindset got to us as well. We ended up fighting our competitors for patents instead of focusing on crushing them on the market with product innovation. Today, we’ve left all of the hesitation behind. We’re braver now. We’ll rather break new ground than fortify our position in the here and now. We need to keep moving.
We never do anything alone. Our projects are often large-scale collaborations with multiple other businesses both locally and globally. We’re a flexible network of nodes constantly adjusting to the situation — be it for better or worse, like a local production cluster collapsing or a new competing technology appearing. We need to be able to adapt. Quickly. I therefore spend a lot of energy on nurturing the local scene, as we depend on the data, energy and innovation of our peers to stay on top of things ourselves. Being part of a vibrant community also rubs of on us and our work, I think.
I got the money to provide for my family now, and I’m grateful I’m able to give them a sense of stability. Roots. I bought a nice house for my parents. They both used to be fishermen, so I found them a place down by the water, expecting them kick back and enjoy the view… But, well.. You see, they’re both very much into old Marvel superhero-style movies. One day my daughter introduced them to neuro-simulated games. They both really took to it to my surprise. I found it funny and kind of enabled it by giving them the latest gear. But it has escalated way out of control now. They pretty much spend all day playing superhero games. Its ridiculous. When I grew up, old people drank tea and played cards. Today, my 90 year old mother prefer to spend the day wrecking havoc in the streets as the Hulk and intends to have her consciousness uploaded to the character when she dies. I’m really not equipped to handle that conversation.
Henry experiences what the city has to offer.
Alright, I got about… 2000 people online on my bodystream right now.
I have a little device in my neck, and I honestly don’t know how it works but it allows me to sort of broadcast signals from my nervous system…I think? Every one of them — no matter whether they’re commuting, working late, or on the couch — can feel what I’m feeling. All the input that is coming to my brain, what I see, what I feel, what I touch, my excitement, my fear… Everything.
Today is nothing special. I’m going shopping in a minute and some people just seem to like that. I’m going out for a drink later, it tends to attract more people. I’ve had more than 50k a couple of times before, like when I was awake for 48 hours partying. I had people in their offices getting all the sensorial input from the sweaty dance floors, the thrills, the drugs, all the debauchery from the comfort of their chairs.
I didn’t just start out doing 24 hours streams though.
In the beginning, I was only streaming occasionally when I was playing games, going to concerts, or visiting galleries. People really took to it and I quickly gained a lot of subscribers. I think it’s because I have synesthesia. You know, all my senses melt together into these intense experiences: I taste music, hear pictures, and so on. People kept asking for more and more and I needed the money. When I lost my previous job as a consultant I went all in and tried to turn it into a job. I had to or I’d have to move out of my apartment. Today, I live comfortably — if you don’t mind the complete lack of privacy, that is. It is a crowded marketplace, though, so you need to be on your toes to remain relevant.
My followers love it when I’m relocating so I’m planning on going on a trip around the world soon. Pursuing whatever opportunities that might appear. My followers will be able to vote on where I go and what I do. I’m a bit nervous. I’ll be fine but… I can’t help but question whether I’m overstepping my own boundaries. If I even know where they are anymore. I can’t remember what it feels like to be alone.
Karen participates in recreational activities.
I’m going on a new run later tonight, and the wait is killing me!
Exit Running it’s called. It’s a virtual sport, I love it. The basic idea is that you have to escape a situation and “exit”, as it’s called.
Sometimes you just have to run like hell to get to safety, other times you have to solve tasks on your way there or get all sneaky to stay hidden. Each scenario is different: One night you’re escaping a research lab, chased by an alien creature. Other times you start in a crashed plane on an island with dinosaurs or wash up on the beach outside an eerie little town.
We’re a growing community from all over the world. You connect either your implant or device, log in and join a run. You’re typically matched up with about 5-10 other runners but there are also solo runs or massive 100+ events. I started getting involved as a runner a few months ago and have since taken on the role of run leader. I help new runners find good rookie runs, host training courses, and arrange virtual boot camps.
I honestly love Exit Running! You feel so alive. All your senses are on high alert and your adrenalin is just pumping wild. In just a few hours you get incredibly close to people — for better or worse! Some of my best friends are runners. These insane situations cement a friendship like nothing else. It feels like you’re going through life and death together.
Finding something to be a part of has been critical for me. I’m not going to lie, I’ve been pretty lonely at times but getting involved with this community has turned things around. Always being on the move, searching for your next project, temporary home, or whatever can be tough. No matter what little grey apartment I’m in I’m always able to meet up with friends in one of many colourful alternate realities. On top of all social stuff, running from a T-Rex or a cannibalistic cult can be a pretty good workout as well!
Tom dreams of a different society.
It feels like I just woke up a minute ago…
I mean, if you haven’t tried it — know this: Leaving a simulated reality sucks. The transitions are really rough but the tech is getting better and better by the week. This time I’ve been online — while fast asleep in this old world — for just over two weeks, a new personal record!
The old world is unstable and fragile. It’s clear to see for everyone. I’m with a group called Deep Arc, we’ve been working on a new, virtually simulated, and improved version of this reality. A new world. We’re building it on a decentralised network of self-powered server nodes floating deep in the oceans — safe from even the worst disasters. This world can die out and Deep Arc will survive untouched.
We’d like it to have some new features though, to make it exciting for our pioneers once we launch for real. Recently, I’ve been working on balancing the new version of the Euroasian tundra but one of the new rare predators is causing a lot of trouble. It’s a huge sable toothed creature we bought from a bio-designer in Mexico. It’s really something but right now it’s destabilising the entire ecosystem. Anyway, we’ve been developing everything from the data infrastructure to the governance models in a way that makes it easy for us, as Deep Arc Custodians, to make updates if we encounter any bugs.
Some people don’t understand us. They think we’re crazy for wanting to leave behind our physical bodies. I don’t get it — my meat suit is honestly the most limiting factor of my life. Somehow, no one bats an eye when the rich build communities on Mars but a virtual exit from this hellhole is just outrageous.
I don’t care though. We hope to retire to this world someday, either in stasis pods somewhere safe or by fully uploading ourselves to the server network. That is if we manage to get the tech ready before it’s too late…
Wojciech deals with the health system.
I’m fine, I think. But… I’ve had a few stomach issues recently and my son was afraid it might’ve been my liver. I told him to save his money and his worries but little did it help. He’s a good boy. He helped me find an affordable clinic that can have a look at it. It’s a remote treatment so I don’t have to go anywhere. They’re specialised in this sort of thing and their tech is supposed to be top of the line.
The clinic sent me a package this morning with a smooth titanium box laser etched in an impressively intricate, yet distasteful, way. You luckily can’t see it, but it’s a bunch of overly excited faces saying things like “I didn’t feel a thing!” and “wow, is it already over?”.
All I have to do is open the box in about three hours and they’ll do the procedure from halfway across the continent. The little bot in the box can perform the surgery on its own but they say a doctor is always supervising. They left out any details on the number of surgeries the doctor is supervising at a time, but I’ll be fine. They have plenty of excellent reviews. Although, I guess dead people don’t leave any reviews at all.
It would’ve cost me a fortune to have an in-person doctor come all the way out here — or to somehow get to one. That’s the price for not living in one of the big cities, I guess. The market for medical services is really competitive at the moment so prices are low, although it can be hard to navigate so many different options. Sometimes you almost have to be a doctor to understand what kind of doctor you’re getting. It’s easy enough to book the procedure once you have the service provider. But, I don’t know, would’ve been nice if I could just kick back and let someone else take care of it, I guess.
Jamal helps people find new jobs. He’s a single dad to a child struggling with anxiety.
I’m a contract broker on a local exchange. I manage our listings. Most of the listings are organisations or project consortiums looking for resources — be it people, facilities, technologies, or raw materials. If someone in our network has the resources, they reach out and our service facilitates the rest.
Whenever people want to do business in a particular area or industry they come to a broker like us to connect them with the right networks. Around here, welfare tech has been growing massively over the last half-year or so, leading to a surge in activity. We’ve had an influx of people wanting to connect with the local businesses or to move here to pursue some of the well-paid contracts currently available.
Everyone is different and all work for their own reasons — however, money and interest are often two of the main components. You’re on your own in many ways. Some people thrive in the ambiguous and almost chaotic nature of short-term work. They love the action, the strategic decisions for their careers, and the chase in hunting down the most thrilling opportunities. Others are paralysed by the choices and changes. I mean, I have a kid suffering from anxiety. I try to prepare him for what’s out there but how do you do really do that? He’s so smart and talented but I’m worried that he’ll never get a chance to use it. It’s all on me to give him the tools to manage it.
Differences have never been as pronounced as they are now. We’ve become much more accepting — at least in some ways. I mean, for goodness sake, we live in a world where I saw someone wag their synthetic tail in excitement outside the ice cream shop down the road. It’s great we can give people furry tails if they want them but what about the people who are lonely, depressed, or in other ways vulnerable? People create support groups and we all try to take care of the people dear to us, but still. I can’t help feeling like we could do more as a society — even if it’s kind of hard to define who “we” are anymore with so many people constantly on the move.
Rita lives with her family in a small community and works remotely as a surveyor.
This island has been my home my entire life. I’ve tried but I simply couldn’t leave it behind. I feel connected to it.
I now work as an independent surveyor. Life as a contractor can be hard but everyone says that. I chose this career to be free to stay here — where I belong. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the work but the best part is that I can do it from home.
As a surveyor, I get my gigs on a day to day basis through the various broker platforms. Rarely know what I’m doing the day before. It can be everything from inspecting a deserted manufacturing complex to a potential site for resource extraction. I get jobs all around the world. When I’ve gotten the brief I find a place near the location to lease the necessary equipment. Typically drones and various sensors.
My sister who lives halfway across the world has been recreating our family home on a virtual version of the island.
Last month our entire family met up for the first time in two years, this time virtually. We had a lovely meal on the beach as the sun went down. The whole family was there. The sand was everywhere as the kids ran around barefooted. It was great. The smell of the ocean, the textures. The sound of the waves. The taste of grilled fish. It’s wild how real it felt — and I had been at the actual beach just a few hours earlier!
I think we all felt that it was a good alternative when we couldn’t meet in person — well until my sister had a giant eagle swoop down from the sky and take my mom away when she started asking her too many questions about her career. It was a hilarious sight but my mom really wasn’t a fan of the bonus feature. She’s not getting in there again anytime soon I think.
Portraits by MetaHuman Creator