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Spimes: A Happy Birthday Story

Wednesday, December 11th, 02013 at 11:11 UTC

We’ve been involved in several discussions around Spimes. Spimes are objects that are tracked in Space and Time throughout their life-time. Bruce Sterling came-up with the idea and wrapped it up into a book called Shaping Things. As part of a product exploration process, we looked into a small piece of fiction surrounding what it might be like to live in a spimey world. Getting into the daily tasks of an individual person in the near future and how they might benefit and be repulsed by spimes is an interesting exercise. As the story was written inspiration crept in from various other sources as well as the need for other technologies to also be present. Spimes are interesting fictitious objects, and paired with other technologies such as RFID, iBeacons, Authentication protocols, centralised control, a client-server architecture, ubiquitous connectivity. They become even more interesting when considered inside the larger eco-system.

Having recently listened to an interview with with Baratunde Thurston giving Social Media Advice regarding When to wish happy birthday? It got me thinking about how this simple and creapy two word act could be accentuated in a spimey world. So with the help of Mike Stenhouse, we explored a day in the life of our protagonist as he wanders through his birthday with the beeping and whirring of spimes around him.

The original transcript was a series of 1 hour blocks which we penciled in a rough framework of a birthday, identifying the spimes that he interacted with at each stage. Since the original notes, the story has been flushed out to what follows. As part of the design fiction some of the choices seemed stilted and we wanted the character to break away and rebel at points, but in a ubiquitously connected, always-on, always-watching world if you went against the flow, retribution would be dealt-out and there’s no way to prevent it. So our protagonist, while he might complain, can’t really extricate himself from the spimes around him.

It was written as purely a piece of fiction, without needing to build or construct any of this, much hand-waving could be done regarding the hard parts and simply assume the technology worked.

Since this is quite a lengthy piece, we’re also experimenting with offering it as a download in ePub and Mobi formats for reading offline.

Happy Birthday

6:00 am

With a small hum, a series of flashing lights and the sound of a mechanical roller, Bill’s Letterbox™ starts printing small receipt sized birthday wishes from friends and family. The grey-scale pictures and low-resolution salutations somehow seemed more genuine than the digital greetings pilling-up in his inbox as he slept. Message after message is bring spooled out of the Letterbox™ into the little basket near the fruit bowl on the counter-top. Every morning this little device prints out Bill’s schedule, daily routine, a few witty quips about the weather, local sports team or some news item he’s put a watch word out for. As the thermal paper is doused with heat to create the text and images which did their best to emulate a birthday card, a small metallic thread was being tapped to update the metadata on the paper. The date it was printed, who the sender was, any receipt information, how far the message had traveled along with various other manufacturer information required by law.

Within just a few minutes, a pile of 23 slips of paper had accumulated in the basket. Not so nicely stacked waiting for Bill to collect and read them over breakfast or the commute to work. With no more messages in the queue, the Letterbox™ powers down, the light dims and the apartment goes quiet.

6:30 am

The next wave of digital devices begin to come alive. First the robo-cleaner, a small, cat-sized bean-shaped vacuum with a mind of its own undocks from its charging station to begin a quick 25 minute cleaning cycle. It was found that 25 minutes was the ideal length by the manufacturer, not too long as to annoy the owners or be nuisance getting in people’s way – or at least that’s how they sold it. The truth is that the battery was too cheap to get much more than 30 minutes of power and the fans and extension arms would over-heat if they ran more than 20 minutes or so. This meant the robo-cleaner would cut its daily run short and not run the vacuum the whole time, much to owners’ dismay.

As the bean did his little drunken dance around the apartment, gently bumping into moved objects as well as scanning everything insight with an array of sensors, infra-red lights to search for barcodes, near-field communication coils to scan for other chips, radio technology, wifi and ultrasound all employed to collect, identify and sort. As much as this bean gets a bad wrap for its cleaning ability, there is a lot of tech in this guy for such a cheap price. You were guaranteed to find this model in the homes of bachelors across the city.

Completely silently, the bean would spot empty glasses, read the metadata to glean how many times it had been refilled and with what substances, or if in fact it was already clean. The same for the clothing scattered around the apartment. Socks, t-shirts and other bits and bobs were collected, sorted by color and washing temperature and disposed of into the correct baskets.

The reason why the bean is the most popular robo-cleaner is because it also comes with an underwear subscription. The manufacture realised how in-expensive it was to add persistent memory and a simple binary counter to the bean, they began tracking the clothing spimes it encountered. For each spime sock, underwear or other garment it found, the spime’s id and type were updated into its database, tallying-up usage. After a certain, manufacturer suggested worn-count, it was deemed worn-out and recycled rather than washed. A message was sent to HQ from the bean and within 24h replacement underwear and socks arrived.

7:00 am

After the bean finished its rounds the rest of the apartment began to wake-up. The HVAC controls thumped as the central heater in the basement kicked-on sending dust and the smell of burning through the vents as it attempted to heat up the living areas for its soon awakening inhabitants.

Bill registered with the central government to part of the low-cost health insurance plan. This means much lower premiums, but it also means that 1 out of every 7 days they act as a personal trainer, whipping him into shape. Today is Bill’s birthday, but that doesn’t excuse him from his daily exercises. The central planning system has already detected high loads on the transport network for cars and trains, so Bill gets a lucky break and is pulled in for the fast-tracked bicycle program. This means he gets both his daily exercise requirement and a priority pass on his way to work through the bike network, but this does mean getting-up earlier.

The alarm feature on his phone has been authorised to accept read/write access from the central planning system, something he regrets every time they push his wake-up time earlier, but on those days when he sails through the toll lines without waiting makes-up for it. The quick ack/hack communication and a few bytes later Bill’s waking-up sooner than he thinks.

7:30am

As the alarm clock buzzes, it disables the snooze button. Bill, half blind, slaps at the devices in an attempt to catch 5 more minutes of rest, but the box continues to output its high-pitched, annoyingly chipper beeping. After a deep sigh, Bill gives-up and hoists himself out of bed and to the bathroom. As part of the apartment block’s green accreditation the toilets and showers are all monitored for water usage and contents. In return all of his utilities bills are subsidised by the government. All the water that passes over and through Bill is collected and analysed in the pipes as it is taken off to a grey water processing plant to be recycled and used throughout the city’s vast network of urban horticulture projects. The system reports back Bill’s vitamin intake in the last 36h and what he’s lacking. The breakfast menu is self-updating and -regulating. As he leaves the bathroom to get dressed, his custom breakfast is being prepared and delivered.

8:00 am

As he munches his life-less breakfast, he is disappointed about the choices the system has made for him this morning. It’s his birthday, he should be cut some slack for once. Between bites of a stiff bar of what appears to be oats, he reads through the print-outs from the Letterbox™. Mostly birthday greetings that he flips through. Friends are so uncreative he thinks. Three out of every five of these birthday wishes are stock clip-art options generated based on his social media stream, date of birth and location. They are as generic and thoughtful as the digital astrology registry’s daily thoughts pushed out to thousands of people, each thinking their a special unique little snowflake. All the cards are pre-made and pre-designed, months in advance which get spat out when the right time comes. Almost no one went through the trouble of doing something unique for his birthday card.

Then one card catches his eye, it’s from his parents. He looks over this print out more closely, reading through a long, rambling sentence from his mother. The act of taking the card out of the printer tray has triggered the spime to record the date and time it was read. Unknowing to Bill, his mother put a return-receipt request on the spime, so as he reads his mother is getting a ping-back saying the card has been opened. Within minutes Bill’s phone begins to ring, it’s his mother. “Hello Billy, did I wake you up?” Knowing full well she didn’t, but everyone plays that game to be polite and not freak out the recipient letting them know they are being tracked by their spimes. “I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday…”

8:30 am

After the call, Bill leaves his unfinished breakfast on the table. Sometime during the day, he’s not sure exactly when, the robo-cleaner will wake-up again and find the spime cutlery and dishes, wash them appropriately and fill them back with the others. One morning Bill moved all the plates to a different cabinet to see how smart the robo-cleaner was. Bill never taught it where to put the dishes and somehow it knew were they went. By moving them he was testing the machine. Will it put it where it normally does or find the others and put them together. To Bill’s surprise when he got home all the dishes had been put back where they were originally, confusing Bill even further. He was’t sure if the robo-cleaner was messing with his head or if it knew something he didn’t.

It was nearly time for Bill to set off on his designated route planning preference tour to work. He whips out his phone and does a quick spime search. First he filtered by everything tagged ‘work’. All these objects appeared on the screen as a radar map telling him which direction how far away they are. The physical objects also started to glow a soft blue haze to aid anyone not looking at the screen. He quickly grabbed his briefcase, tablet and a binder of papers. The system reports 4 search items returned and he only had 3. A quick glance around the apartment and he sees something glowing from behind the couch. Wondering how it got back there, but more importantly what it was, he leans over the back to discover an old bar-bell. He probably meant to label this ‘workout’, but auto-correct or fat fingers ended-up typing ‘work’ and ‘out’. He makes a mental note to fix this later. He next does a quick search for anything in the apartment with an ‘owner’ attribute of his employer. The only things that glow now are the tablet, the binder and a few pens and markers on the table.

He’s got everything he needs and as he is heading out the door he notices the umbrella glowing a faint green. A quick check on the weather confirms his suspicions that its raining. This jolts him to the realisation that he doesn’t even know how he’s getting to work this morning! He was assigned a special route, woken-up early, but all for what? With a few taps to the screen by the door and his heart sinks, he’s on a bike today in the rain. As the umbrella in the corner glows and he thinks to himself, “Nice try, it knows it’s raining, but come-on, an umbrella on a bike?” Another quick search and he locates where the robo-cleaner has last placed his poncho, in the closet, top-shelf, behind the camping equipment. Only for a split second does Bill wonder “How did that little bean manage to put it way up there?”, but then a clap of thunder and flash of lightning brought Bill back to the reality that today was his birthday, his day, and it was raining, and he was on a bike, and he had a horrible breakfast. Nothing was going his way.

9:00 am

The bike rack is located at the base of his building, sheltered from the rain. As he approaches the stand, a bike lights-up and unlocks. One of his spimes got close to the bike station, recognised him, authenticated and authorised him with the central planning board who has fast-tracked him this morning. The bike was reserved for him, unlock and billed automatically. On the tiny screen between the handlebars of the bike is his morning route. Bill considers going rogue and taking the longer, tree-lined route to work to stay drier, but decides against it. He’s managed to build-up a lot of good credit with the system, no need to ruin it now – they’d just make his life miserable. A quick adjustment to his poncho and he’s off. A few seconds later the bike spime and the phone spime become too far apart and the bike’s breaks lock-up, nearly throwing him over the handlebars. The tiny screen which was displaying a map is now flashing with a sort of warning exclamation mark mixed with a U-turn signal. He looks back over his shoulder and there – on the ground – is his phone blinking and buzzing, trying to grab his attention. A slight false-start to the journey, he hops off the bike, retrieves his phone and is back on schedule. All this travel is being recorded and he is given exercise credit, which in turn lowers his health insurance premiums.

10:00am

As Bill rounds the corner heading into work, a row of LED lights along the sidewalk light-up to direct him to an empty bike rack. He’s never liked this hand-holding help. It always reminded him of the crash procedures on airlines to find the nearest exit. Lucky for him the lights are directing him right to the front door of the office.

Heading into work, Bill spots an empty desk with a great view right by the window and plenty of counter-top space on the 3rd floor! He doesn’t see anyone’s things, so he plops down and claims the space. Unpacking and setting-up the laptop is a snap. His personal ID badge has been read by all sorts of devices as he’s walked through the office space. The front door clocked him in automatically, the elevator recorded his movement up the 3rd floor to update the internal registry of staff and building, then as he sat down the desk and his badge communicated and claimed the space for the office resource load-balancer.

A few clicks on the laptop and his desktop has been loaded. The whole thing, the virtual whiteboard and virtual cork board on the front of his cubical have been populated with his notes. Now that he’s registered his location and authenticated with the system, his entire preference settings have been loaded up for his desktop, both virtual on the computer screen and virtual in the cubicle too.

Bill wants to see who else is around, so the laptop thinks a few seconds and gives him an updated report of who’s in the building, where his colleagues are working from this morning and, most importantly, his boss proximity alert. His good friend Jim down in IT wrote a secret script which sends you a quick text message when someone you’re tracking gets off the elevator on your floor or is clocked entering the same building. The app was aptly named “JIC” to avoid suspicion, but stood for “Jesus is coming, look busy.” Luckily this rainy morning Bill’s boss’ whereabouts need not be tracked, he checked in sick 2 hours ago.

Shortly after, the square block on his desk deforms into a 20th century looking phone handset, one of three options the manufacturer provides to give comfort and familiarity to the workers. Bill’s too cheap to go for the in-app purchase for one of the 35 additional styles so it looks a bit anachronistic as it starts to light-up with awaiting voicemails. The PBX network somehow always takes a few minutes to route calls around and you know it’s kicked in when desk cube suddenly lights-up like a fireworks display. All calls, business and personal are now routed to this desk. If he gets-up and walks too far from his desk or checks-in at the elevator or stairwell the phone switches to silent and goes to voice mail automatically. That’s something that really annoys Bill about working in this office – the phones. They know everything about you, when you’re in a meeting, when you are away from your desk, so there is no reason to hear more than 1-2 rings come from a phone before it’s answered. Yet somewhere, daily without fail, there is some phone that rings and rings and rings. He just wants to find out where it is coming from and find out why the owner won’t answer it! Maybe it’s a glitch, maybe someone went to the toilet and left their badge on the desk or in their purse nearby, but every day! In a spime driven world, Bill can’t understand why the phone continues to ring unanswered.

A few minutes later a delivery cart wheels up to his desk with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. This is because he set up a few triggers which automatically put in a coffee order based on his preferences when he claims a desk. The robot sometimes takes awhile, the delivery algorithm is weighted to delivery queue order rather than proximity. Sometimes if two orders come in which are far away from each other the robot transit time causes delivery delays.

11:00 am

After spending his morning getting set up and caught-up on emails and messages after a weekend away, Bill’s just about ready to settle into some real work when the phone rings exactly as the clock rolls over from 10:59 to 11:00. Given all the devices are using network time syncing, a call coming in right at the hour change smells of a bot to him, but he answers it anyway. “Hello… Happy Birthday” comes an old sounding computerised voice from the other end. “It’s your Grandpa, I just wanted to wish my grandson a happy birthday on his special day. Did you get the candies I sent you?” Without thinking Bill responds with a courteous, “Thanks, it was great for you to have called and no I haven’t yet”, when all he hears is a ‘buzzing’ from the other end – they hung up. His suspicion it was a bot was correct. His grandfather passed away 11 years ago, but still lives on as an algorithm periodically calling out from cyber-space to say hello and wish people a happy birthday. They manage to get his personality down pretty well from years of email archives, voice records, credit card purchaces and his other writings. The one thing the bots haven’t gotten right yet is a sense of cost – they are stingy. That call he just received cost fractions of a penny over the VoIP, but the bots don’t see the need to continue any longer than necessary and hang up right when you want to chat with your loved ones. The company keeps saying it is a bug that will be fixed in the next software update, but year after year his grandfather gets more and more curt with him. werther's originalThe good news is that he forgot Grandpa also set up a Wurthers Original Candy Legacy Fund. All his grandkids, including Bill, periodically and randomly get a few candies in the post to keep their memories of him fresh. It uses the same principal as casino slot machines. Random reinforcement, even with cheap candies, it has a powerful affect on the mind.

Bill suddenly snaps out of his daydream of the fishing trips he shared with his grandfather years ago. “Work, must get back to work… but it’s my birthday” he thinks to himself. He swivels his chair around and stands-up to get another coffee.

12:00 noon

Each floor in the office building has what they call “The island”. It is a small spot in the centre of the floor with some kitchen and snack facilities. As Bill approaches the island, the system syncs with Bill’s permissions provider and gets a token to access his credit card details, his health API and tasting preferences. This all happens in a few milliseconds, give or take depending on the traffic on the network. Bill heads straight for the strong caffeinated stuff, but the machine refuses and spits out some sort of wheatgrass juice. He’s pretty disappointed about what has been served-up, especially since he’s worked hard cycling in this morning and it’s his birthday. The system knows this too and wonders why it won’t let him indulge a bit. When the whir of the drinks dispenser goes silent a series of 3 beeps and some sort of lights like a casino one-armed-bandit. Then a computer voice says “10th reuse of your cup, this drink is free”. A few months ago to minimise the waste the office generates, they started a new campaign, the re-use campaign. Recycling efforts became so streamlined that people continued to simply waste packaging, but put it into the correct trash bin. With the tax increase for waste removal, both organic, recycling and other, the company has moved to a reuse campaign. When Bill put his spime cup into the spime reading drinks machine they talked and inspected the history of the cup to learn it is the 10th use, but only the 3rd in this machine.

Some bean-counters in the accounts department ran the maths and figured out if they gave away every 10th cup they would lose an average of 0.34 cents, but it would cost them 0.432 cents to remove 10 plastic or paper cups based on the recycling tax. Once you factor in the software to track usage and license the sound clips, it was estimated to save the company several million dollars a year. Simply by turning the cup into a loyalty card, people were more apt to keep and reuse it. A few people down in accounting are trying to see what happens if they break 1,000 uses. It is rumoured you’ll get free desk delivery and and your streak history will be copied over to a new cup.

12:30pm

On the way back to his desk, Bill is insincerely greeted with “happy birthday” wishes in a bland monotone voice from people not even looking-up from their work.

While Bill was hanging around the island, trying to avoid work, a company-wide network spime broadcast was sent out to everyone’s devices letting them know of staff birthdays today. A series of short-short-long buzzes on the phone is the signal that someone on the broadcast list is in range. Much like when someone sneezes you instinctively say “gesundheit”, when the phone buzzes you, without thought, absently say into the air “happy birthday”.

Bill is on that list, which means that without him knowing as he approaches other spimes, they subtlety alert their owners that someone nearby is having a birthday.

As he approaches his desk his phone buzzes long-long-short and as by instinct he says into the abyss “congrats”, as someone within 5 meters of him recently had a baby.

13:00

Bill didn’t feel like having lunch in the canteen. Somehow all the empty birthday wishes weren’t cheering him up as they were meant to, so he decides to head off to have lunch with a friend at a nearby café. He’s never been to this café, it is fairly new, so he downloads the address to his haptic shoe controller and heads out the door without even thinking about which way he needs to go next. These are direction finding way-shoes. He is confident in their navigation abilities to direct him in the right direction, since they’ve never been wrong yet.

Once outside his left shoe starts to buzz rigorously, so he instinctively turns left and heads down a nearby path. The tips of both shoes are periodically, softly vibrating to let him know they are still tracking his GPS position and guiding him the right way. The manufacturers found that if they didn’t offer any feedback, owners started to worry the batteries died or they lost the location. It wasn’t until Bill bought these haptic shoe sole replacements that he’d ever needed to worry about charging a shoe before.

As the path opens to a parking lot, his right shoe begins to vibrate slightly more than the left, so he drifts to the right side of the square where he spots the café a few blocks away.

As he nearly exits the parking lot a car pulls-up and a man sticks his head out of the window, “Are you Bill?” he asks not so much as a question, but to confirm what his screen is telling him. “Ugh, yes.” “Here you go.” and he hands Bill three packages. “Oh, and happy birthday.” This wasn’t Bills first run in with the peer-to-peer postman, but this was certainly the most unlikely spot he’s been handed a package to deliver. A quick glance over the packages and he sees his name on one. The second one is for the café and the third for another unknown name. The more packages he delivers the more points he earns and the more trust in the peer-to-peer postal network he accumulates, meaning cheaper rates and more sensitive products will pass through his hands.

14:00

At the café, Bill hands over one of the parcels to the barista. She smiles and thanks him, they were running low on milk. A quick glance around the room and he spots his friend at a nice table over by the window. He sets the other package on the table with them and within minutes another random person introduces themselves and takes the package one step closer to its intended destination.

They both order a coffee and a sandwich for lunch off the table top touch menu. They confirm the order and their wallets communicate with the table and their accounts are automatically authorized and debited. Within a few minutes their drinks and food arrive, along with an additional happy birthday cookie made by the chef. When he authorized his account to the table beacon, the system looked-up his name, address and date-of-birth to try to minimize identity theft. This information was passed along to the cooking staff and they prepared a little something extra for him.

The conversation between the two friends was light and Bill really missed those days when he could relax and not worry too much about clocking in and out of work. Then something his friend said snapped him out of his day dream… “Sorry, what was that?” Bill said. He friend was remarking about how short a distance their coffee had travelled, only 13km from picked, packed, roasted and brewed! He was scanning the spime on the cup. He didn’t have permission to see how many times the cup had been used before, but the contents had registered itself onto the spime when it was poured in the back. The beans were grown at a place called “Jack’s Bean Stalk” only about 10km from where they were sitting! From there they were roasted on site and trucked 15km to be packaged and distributed to local cafés like this one. “Talk about fresh coffee, these beans were only picked 3 days ago!” Somehow Bill wasn’t impressed. He scanned his cup and read the same information about the history of the coffee, a link to an ad for the producers, a diatribe about industrialisation, and some health and nutrition information. Bill didn’t dare to scan the plate with his sandwich on it. He didn’t want to know if that was real beef or imported horse posing as beef, plus knowing the truth would just put him in a bad mood anyway, since he should probably have just gone for the soup anyway.

The waitress comes around to collect the dishes and tops up their coffee. All these interactions being recorded by the spimes. The spimes in their cups, the spimes in her coffee kettle, the table knows how often there are customers and their average stay, for police records it remembers who sat with whom and when.

15:00

“Beep, Beep!” Bill’s phone starts to vibrate and chirp. That’s not a good news beep he thinks to himself. The weather is getting worse. The CWM is reporting a quick moving thunderstorm approaching. Bill is a subscriber and participant in the CWM, Citizens’ Weather Mesh. Since he upgraded his mobile device, it is packed full of new sensors, including barometer and temperature gauges. By installing a small piece of software, Bill is not only recording his location and weather data, but he is contributing to the CWM. This mesh network of loosely joined devices has almost blanketed the entire city. It better describes and predicts the urban jungle’s micro-climates than the official news stations. CWM has gotten so good that the majority of its revenue comes from selling the data to TV and newspapers.

As Bill looks down at his screen, he tells his friend that it’s time for him to leave, the weather is about to get bad and there is a bus coming by in 4 minutes. They say their goodbyes and heads out the door. Within 30 seconds a bright blue transit bus pulls up to the corner and the doors part. With all these interconnected spimes, there is no need for an official bus stop or even bus route. The bus has optimized it’s travel based on the passenger load and destinations. It’s almost like a taxi service than the public transportation networks of old.

As Bill boards the bus, his travel card is auto-debited with a beep and a green light on the driver’s dashboard. They nod and the driver says “Happy Birthday”. As Bill stumbles to the back of the bus to find a seat, he’s welcomed with several other “Happy birthdays” from people who barely look-up from their screens.

As Bill takes a seat, the screen on the back of the chair in front of him is showing advertisements. With a few quick swipes Bill is checking his work email and logged into the company intranet via a secure connection on his phone. It is showing 3 new messages and a meeting request. He’s got 10 minutes before the bus arrives back at the office, so he tries to deal with what he can. 11 minutes later, he gets off the bus right at the office’s front door and good thing too, it is now pouring down rain.

Bill heads back to his claimed desk to try and at least get a few hours of work done today.

16:00

At exactly 4 o’clock, in unison everyone on his floor starts to sing “Happy Birthday” to Bill as a trolley is wheeled over to his desk with a giant cake and 3 more packages. It dawns on him now why he’s been getting such horrible food and drink selections today. The system knew about this cake and was limiting his calorie intake earlier since there would be quite a spike later in the afternoon.

Cake is cut and passed around to everyone on the floor, which seemed unusually busy today. Full of ‘cleaches’ he thinks. Since early this morning everyone knew who’s birthday, anniversary or special occasion were today. All these new faces scoured the open-desk system searching for the locations of birthday boys and girls. Then booking a seat nearby in the hopes of free cake. “Cake Leaches” he says under his breath. Surrounded by ‘cleaches’ today.

17:00

After plenty of idle chatter with people he wouldn’t hang out with normally, Bill’s not all that enthusiastic about getting back to work so he flops down on his chair and decides to open the gifts. He scans the spimes to check the metadata. If he’s going to get some gifts he wants to make sure they weren’t regifted. After browsing the spime’s previous owner history he sees they are indeed new! He opens the first package and it is a book about Origami. The second package is a token for an ebook. It’s a mystery novel written by someone from accounting. “Wait ’till the check clears”, by Anthony Thomas is one of those immediately forgetful books. Given that Mr. Thomas is still working in accounting should tell you about the quality of his literary skills. The 3rd package is another token for “Wait ’till the check clears”, so Bill puts a quick call out to the network offering a trade for this duplicate spime. Within a few minutes Larry from accounts payable pops his head around the cubicle wall. “I hear you have a copy of ‘wait ’till the check clears’ for trade?”. Larry inspects the token’s metadata history and finds that it is new and never redeemed. A green flash and the words “$20 credit: Accept” flashes on Bill’s desktop. With a tap of the finger the transaction is complete.

18:00

At 6 O’Clock Bill decides to pack it in and head home. It’s been an eventful day without getting much done. Logging off the work network releases the desk lock and puts it back into the available pool for the night-shifters, but also redirects calls from the desk phone back to his mobile. It also tracks him out the building automatically clocking him out of the payroll system.

He’s set up several triggers to also communicate with the government’s travel network to make recommendations. One of Bill’s little tricks is that he waits to leave work just until after the rush to get the tube system. What inevitably happens at a big company is that in the morning they get their quota of bicycle traffic. Then between 16:30-17:30 everyone checks the tube schedule, finds out that it is jam packed, then thinks about all the cake and snacks they eaten all day and decide to take a bike ride home. So by 18:00 there is almost never any available bikes so he is recommended to take the bus instead.

He puts in a request for a bus and one is routed to his building and should arrive in about 15 minutes. Bill slumps back into his chair and decides to check a few quick emails on his mobile device before heading out, but before he can even launch the app, he gets a push notification that 3 other people have also requested a bus, so they’ve been bumped-up in priority and it should arrive in 2 minutes. He hurriedly pushes everything into his briefcase and runs towards the stairs to make it to the front door in time.

As he gets downstairs there is no one else in sight, nor a bus. He’s kicking himself because all this gets recorded and he’ll be penalized next time for not turning up for a travel request. This is worse than prank calling pizza places and having your number blocked. It means you are back to the bike everyday until you earned your credibility back.

Just then two more people come running out the office door yelling, “Hold the bus”. Bill doesn’t know which way to turn, back to the people yelling at him or down the road to see of a bus is coming?

As the strangers approached they asked “Are you waiting for the bus too? The system said there would be four of us”. “Yes” Bill replies, “I hope we haven’t already missed it”. They all take out their phones and fiddle with the screen to try and check the location of the bus and the whereabouts of their fourth compatriot. No sign of either.

So they stood in awkward silence for a few moments, each acting as if something very important was happening on their tiny screen. Anything to avoid eye-contact.

Just then, the sounds of a bus and a shine of headlights appeared as it rounded the corner. The bus pulled-up and each of the three stepped on, scanning their spimes and checking into the transport network. “Where’s the forth? I guess we can give’em a minute” said the driver, “It is his birthday. No wait, it’s your birthday” he said looking at Bill. “Batcha” the driver muttered twords Bill. He had no idea what the driver actually said, but he took it as an attempt to say something nice.

Bill headed-up the flight of stairs to the top of the bus. It was a long ride and he wanted to relax and stare out the window. A few seconds later the bus lurched forward and headed off in his direction. The traditional bus networks all were numbered, had predictable routes and regulated timetables just like the Tube network. The problem with this approach was that you treated your vehicles like you did trains and forced them and the people into specific locations. Once the travel planning network was installed, the entire flow of traffic could be optimised and be much more fluid. No more specific bus lines or routes or pick and drop-off times. The taxi unions went berserk when the new plans were revealed so a compromise had to be reached. Now that Bill was on the bus, he didn’t know exactly how long it would take him to get home. He didn’t actually know the route. Maybe more people in his general direction would make a request to the transport network and the bus be rerouted slightly off-course to collect them if they too were heading in the same direction. It wasn’t that the transport network were unable to compute an estimated time of arrival, but they legally weren’t allowed too. That was the deal they made with the Taxi union. The bus were allowed to be more mobile and fluid, but couldn’t guarantee a travel time. This meant that people who needed to be somewhere at a certain time could only trust a taxi. Ironically, this forced the bus service to optimize their service so well, that any route you took could be approximated within 5 minutes of the original estimate. This sometimes meant ignoring pick-up requests for others even if there is a bus nearby. Instead a new line was created from one of the many ‘floating buses’. These buses were ‘not in service’ buses that were constantly kept on the move ready to jump into service to balance out the load and prevent long wait times. Over the years, the system has managed to collect so much data about the travel habits of its citizens that the original law is pretty much moot.

18:30

The upstairs portion of the bus is an environmentally enforced quiet zone. All incoming calls are routed to voicemail automatically and other spimes with speakers are muted by default. This makes the trip home quiet and serene. Slipping through the streets at night, Bill has no idea where he is or exactly when he needs to get off the bus. He’s not sure of the approach to his apartment block, but he trusts that the bus knows his destination and will alert him when the time comes.

19:00

As the bus rounds a corner, his haptic shoes and phone start to buzz. That’s his queue the next stop he should get off. He collects his belongings and heads down the stairs to wait for the doors to open.

Bill scans the houses and stares out the window to try and get a bearing of where is being let off. A few years ago Bill mis-spelled his parents’ address and wasn’t paying attention. He spent 45 minutes on the bus traveling in the wrong direction. When he was let off the bus, he was so turned around he didn’t know what to do accept request via the transport network the bus he just got off to come back and pick him up. He never got over the embarrassment of scanning his spime in front of that driver only moments after he had departed. Ever since then, he’s always scanned the neighborhood to be sure he knew where he was getting off before he actually left the vehicle.

Sure enough, he began to recognize the shops, pubs and storefronts that peppered his block. The bus came to a rolling stop and the doors swung open. As he jumped off the bus, clearing the curb, Bill heard a faint “Hap Birchucka” coming from the driver.

Bill was never completely comfortable with showing everyone on the bus where he lived, so he would always use the address of someone a few doors up or down the block from him, a short walk away was his front-door. As he approached, his door recognized his spimes and alerted him that he had four messages left on the front-door answering service. Bill used to have these forwarded to his mobile phone when he was expecting deliveries, but after signing-up for the P2P post this was less of an issue. Not to mention that the software in this particular door service had never been upgraded, so anytime anyone ordered a package or pizza or random kids pressing buzzers, Bill would get a notification. After one particularly buzzy friday night, Bill canceled the forwarding service.

All the messages left for him were neighbours walking by and stopping to wish him a happy birthday. Even though these were left a few hours ago, the tiny video and audio made it seem so much more real than the printed clip-art cards he had received this morning,

19:30

Bill’s girlfriend comes by with a birthday surprise. She knows he’s home from work because they authorized each other’s spimes to send an alert to each other when the other arrived home. A geographical zone that when the spime enters certain triggers are fired, in this case a notification to a friend.

Bill acts surprised, even though that same trigger just alerted him she was downstairs. “I was in the other room and didn’t see the notification”. She doesn’t believe him, but it doesn’t really matter anyway.

20:00

They have a lovely dinner together and open his birthday gifts. By the end of the evening, the kitchen is a mess. Empty wine bottles, dirty dishes and wrapping paper are strewn everywhere. The bean really has it’s work cut out for it tonight he thinks. All the new gifts have been claimed and cataloged into the home spime directory. Now the bean won’t accidentally trash something it shouldn’t.

Happy birthday she whispers to him as they cuddle up on the couch to watch the new movie he just received.