Fiction
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#dystopiasf: Networking at Sunbucks

They had to take the stroller down the stairs every time they went out. Their landlord had said there were complaints that it was in the way when they left it parked in the lobby. So they kept it in front of their door, on the landing, not blocking anyone’s way but their own. It was a minor inconvenience added to what seemed to Jane like a bucketful of issues, what they called the price to pay for living in the city.
Jane and Tim loved a lazy Sunday morning stroll, even if it meant going up and down a very steep hill. A neighbor walked by, and Jane noticed that he and Tim nodded at each other.
“You know him?” she asked her husband.
“He lives next door to us, in the next building.”
“He’s disconnected,” she said. “My phone tagged him as unknown. What’s his name?”
“I don’t know,” said Tim. “I’ve only seen him on the street.”
There were still many disconnected people in San Francisco, as they had been warned before moving there. But technology had caught up and they had found that even purse snatchers could be caught within a block by people who had been instantly alerted by the Neighborwatch App. An Amazing police robot caught up within a few seconds, the thief was immobilized and tagged on the spot, and the victims and witnesses could be present for an instant Amazing Trial. So being disconnected but not tagged usually meant a person was inoffensive.
Jane’s mother called, as she used to every Sunday. Jane and Tim had her in their ears, and the call was networked with the stroller’s on-board conferencing so Jane’s mother could interact visually with the baby while being across the country. After the usual greetings, it was understood Tim could unhook and enjoy a few moments in the reality of the street.
“Hi baby,” the grandma said in her baby voice. “She’s growing every week!” she added in her motherly voice.
“Yes, did you see that on the MyBaby App?” asked Jane.
“Yes, of course. This turned out to be a good thing.”
They were referring to the MyBaby App, a kind of journal on which parents could inform their relatives and friends of their child’s growth and well-being. The same vital information that was passed on to the baby’s medical team could be shared in the journal to keep everyone informed of the progress. You could get the Day-in-the-life extension which networked every camera in your household to build and share one steady stream of your baby’s day, automatically.
“I wished you could be here anyway,” said Jane.
That wasn’t Tim’s wish, but he knew that Jane sincerely missed her mother. They simply didn’t have the space. They planned to give her an R-hotel voucher for her birthday, and they had installed the newest URHere set of Apps on all their phones, giving them the feeling that everyone was in the same room, or walking together on the street as they were now.
“Ooopse,” said her mother, “looks like you’ll need a diaper change, says my screen.”
“I’ll take care of it when we get to the cafe,” said Jane. “Those e-diapers are great, though.”
“I had diaper laundry service when you were a baby,” said her mom.
“Yeah, I don’t remember that, of course, but these e-diapers absorb odors and neutralize bacteria, so it’s as close as self-cleaning as you could get. Plus, they analyze the poop and automatically update the baby’s files.”
“That’s a little scary,” said her mom. “Analyze her poop.”
“They’ve been using that on adults at hospitals and convalescent homes,” said Jane. She didn’t want to imply that her parents were soon destined for diapers, but the benefits were tremendous, especially when the patients weren’t coherent. Health care professionals suggested that one day they could just ask all patients to get daily analysis as preventive care. People would get early diagnosis and rarely need to see a real doctor.
A text from Sunbucks came to ask if they wanted their usual drinks. Both responded affirmatively. As Sunbucks regulars, their phones reported their approach and Sunbucks made sure their drinks were ready when they wanted them.
“I’m gonna let you go,” said Jane’s mother. “Your dad wants to drive to the hills, to see the leaves.”
Jane nudged Tim to reconnect. “Bye,” he said.
“Hello, Jane, hello Tim,” said the friendly Sunbucks greeter when they entered. “Your drinks will be served on table 3, the one with parking space for the baby.”
The Sunbucks greeter, the barista, and the server were friendly Amazing Robots. They either had localized personalities and accents, or if you preferred you could override the settings and get your own choice. It was simply amazing. People from other countries could be greeted by the same robot, but in their own language and the formality they expected at a Sunbucks where they came from. Jane and Tim had experienced it in Paris, and were simply amazed. Had they worn connected glasses or contact lenses, they would have seen an actual man wearing a beret instead of the apron-clad robot.
Their drinks promptly served at their table, Tim put on connected glasses and switched on the New York Times Sunday Edition. Jane greeted the two women at table 4, Tina and Fran, their names whispered in her ears as “available for social connection,” and “with a compatibility score of 7.”
“How old is the baby?” asked Fran.
“8 months,” said Jane. “I can’t believe she’s already so big.”
“We’re thinking about having one,” said Tina.
“Oh, great,” said Jane. Actually, we’re both doctors, he’s an internist, and I’m a fertility specialist.
“No kidding?” said Fran.
They figured they were on the same network, and started talking about sperm catalogs that were now online with Feature Vision where you could see how your baby would look like in the future. With DNA mixing capability, one of them could be fertilized with characteristics of both mothers.
“Who’s going to be the birth mother?” asked Jane.
“Both, in fact,” said Fran. “We want to be pregnant at the same time. As if they were twins.”
Tim raised his glasses to turn off the New York Times, and put them back on to know who was who.
“That’s so interesting,” said Tim. “I’d like to be part of your team, if that’s possible.”
“I like that,” said Jane. “If you want, of course.”
“It’s a possibility,” said Tina. “We only went to get the catalog, you know, and we haven’t signed on for a team yet.”
“Let me give you access to our pages,” said Jane. “Do you have a phone we can beam to?”
Fran pulled one from her jeans pocket.
“It’s suggesting we become Sunbucks friends,” said Fran.
“Sure,” said Jane. “That’s a fun social network to be on.”
“We’re always here,” said Tina. “It’s nice to meet people,” she added, “like you for example.”
“It’s amazing we never met you before,” said Jane. Tim had gone back to his New York Times.
“We saw you before,” said Tina. “There aren’t so many people with babies, but lots of same sex couples. This was our chance encounter.”
“You know, they can say what they want about technology,” said Jane, “but I wouldn’t talk to strangers before, and here we are, becoming friends.”
“It’s like Sunbucks introduced us,” said Fran.
Ironically, thought Tim, just like in their ad.

Energized by the experience of meeting a new couple, and of having a same-sex couple among their friends, Jane smiled and said hello to their unknown neighbor back on their street.
“Hi,” she said, “I don’t think we’ve met, I’m Jane, and this is my husband Tim, and our daughter.”
“Hi,” the neighbor said to her, “hi,” he said to Tim, ignoring the baby. “Yes, you guys live there, right? Second floor?”
“As a matter of fact we do.”
“I’m the one with the piano,” he said, “hopefully it didn’t bother you too much.”
“Well, hopefully our crying baby didn’t bother you,” said Jane.
They had an awkward moment of silence after which “nice to meet you,” was the only thing to say.
“He didn’t say what his name was,” said Jane.
“I guess we’ll never know,” said Tim. “But he seems like an OK guy.”
“He does,” said Jane, “and he plays good tunes on the piano. So everyone is happy at the end.”
“Everyone is happy,” said Tim. And he couldn’t refrain from thinking they hadn’t needed to consult the Health and Happiness Index to know that.

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