In 2037, There Is No Driver's Ed
You'd think in the year 2037, I wouldn't have to pack my own bags for a road trip. But nobody has come up with an app for bag packing. With all the robots we have available now, there's still no robots designed to choose and fold clothes. No self-packing suitcases have hit the store shelves yet either. This is one of the few household tasks left that still requires manual labor. I've got a robot vacuum, a robot mop (the "Mopster"), and I'm the proud new owner of a robot dishwasher. Set your plates on the counter and the robot arms reach carefully out of the dishwasher, take your dishes and place them gently inside. But I still don't have a device for packing, so here I am, the morning that we're leaving for our family road trip, throwing last minute items into my bag.
My husband, Andy, walks into the bedroom. He's wearing his favorite blue shirt; the one he's had for as long as I've known him, which was our freshman year of college. It's starting to fray and small holes are appearing in the armpits, but it's soft and comfortable, like an old shoe. "Hey, have you seen the toothpaste?" he questions, "I can't find it anywhere." I step into the bathroom and open the banged-up, brown cabinet drawer. We've been married for over twenty years, and have never bothered to renovate this bathroom. I look inside the drawer. No toothpaste. "It's not here. Can you drone it? We've got time."
Andy speaks into the air, "Good morning Bob. Can you order toothpaste from Harvey's, and deliver it ASAP?" Bob is our Virtual Attendant, and you can name the device whatever you prefer. I see the box mounted high on our wall light up, blinking blue lights, and Bob responds "Certainly. Your approximate waiting time is 25 minutes." This isn't a robotic voice like we were used to hearing a decade ago. It sounds like another human being in the room with us.
"Thanks Bob!" I reply.
Downstairs, I see my two sons sitting at our kitchen table; the one I inherited from my great-aunt. It's round and stained with faint splotches of paint that didn't quite wash off from finger painting, all those years ago. My sons are already packed and passing the time by staring vacantly ahead, seeing screens that only they can see.
"Guys, turn them off please? It's about time to head out." I request. They each reach up and press the small silver button attached to their right temple. I see their eyes come back into focus. August, my 18 year old, stands up and takes a deep stretch. Who knows how long he's been inside his own head; in his own VR (virtual reality), playing video games? My 16 year old, Axel, still has a pre-programmed VR limit, and it'll shut off after an hour. But since August is 18, that limit no longer applies and he can zone out for as long as he wants. I can only hope that all of our words got through to him over the years, and he doesn't end up locked into the VR for days at a time. As they were growing up, it was nearly impossible to completely eliminate all the new technology that cropped up on a regular basis. It was adapted into schools, stores, restaurants....everywhere. So Andy and I used the "everything in moderation" approach. I still marvel at some of the advancements that have been made since the turn of the century. I've never totally gotten used to it. I didn't even have a landline phone in my room growing up. My kids act like it's all no big deal, but they were born right into this technology boom. Phones don't even exist anymore. The VR interacts directly with your visual cortex. All you need is the little button on your head.
We go on this road trip about every five years, heading to my Uncle Paxton's for a family reunion. This isn't just any family reunion though; it's an old-fashioned family reunion, complete with live bluegrass music. Uncle Paxton is in his early 90's, but still organizes this event and has no plans to stop. I love this gathering because it's like a walk back through time, and it's deliberately meant to be that way. Family from all over the country travel to Uncle Paxton's farm. It's quiet there. The main rule is that upon arrival, you remove your VR from your temple and drop it into a secure bag, which gets locked in a desk drawer until the event is over. There's no worries about anyone stealing your personal VR...it will only work on you. This event is designed to be "off the grid." It's a homestead that has been lovingly tended for decades. All of the food served is fresh from the garden. It's a far cry from the food pills and hydration pods that the industry is currently trying to push. I close my eyes and can smell the blueberry pies, little juicy berries bursting open. And hot corn on the cob, dripping with butter and salt. It's a flavor explosion compared to the nothingness of the perfectly balanced nutritional food pills. I can feel the sun on my face. Nothing is shadowed here, unlike in the City that keeps building up...and in some cases digging down. The air is so fresh I can taste it. I can breathe, really breathe, here.
I exhale and open my eyes as I hear the buzzing of the solar-powered drone. I look out the window just as it flies to my front stoop and releases the toothpaste from its metal grip. It's just a single tube of paste (and the tube is made from recycled plastic). Volunteers had been cleaning out the oceans and waterways, turning old plastic into new items like toiletry containers, plastic plates, and even shoes. However, there's no new plastic bag; those were outlawed years ago. As the drone flies off on its next delivery, I see our ride pull into the driveway.
"NALI is here! Let's move!" I exclaim and we all start heading towards the door.
NALI is short for "Need a Lift?" The one I reserved is an electric minivan and it's going to drive us 12 hours to the middle of the Midwest. In 2037, there is no driver. Driving yourself from point A to B has mostly gone by the wayside, kind of like using a pager, or renting movies from the video store. Self-driving, electric cars rule the road. They're safer and more economical. Could we fly? We could, but the tightly regulated airline industry is now controlled by the government and we're only allowed one flight every four years. We just used ours on a family trip to the coast, and won't receive another voucher until 2040. Did I mention that vouchers are also incredibly costly now? We saved for several years, pinching digital pennies where we could, in order to purchase our last vouchers.
Back to cars. There's still a few people that own their own electric cars and drive them around as a hobby (or maybe just to show off?) But all the gasoline powered dinosaurs either ended up as art pieces in a museum, in a collector's home, or as junk in the scrap heap (this being the most likely scenario). If you want to drive in 2037, you need to apply for a special permit, and believe me, it's not cheap. Whereas, this cherry-red electric minivan costs me less than a dollar per day to rent (it's even cheaper if you carpool). You don't get stuck in traffic jams anymore; drivers stewing behind the wheel and raging down the road. Now a large percentage of people work in a virtual environment or attend digital school, and every amenity you might need can be delivered. If you have to go out, just ask your "Bob," or use the app in your VR to reserve a self-driving rideshare. Personally, I don't miss driving. For one, there's no car maintenance. Two? You never get lost! Three? It's so much cheaper than owning a car. There's really no good reason to continue driving yourself. With a NALI, you just get in and go; it's your own electronic chauffeur. The added benefit? I don't have to teach my kids to drive. No terrifying experiences sitting in the passenger seat, trying to fake confidence in my teenager, while also white-knuckle gripping the seat. Nope, Driver's Ed is obsolete.
About halfway through the trip, we decide to pullover for dinner. Nobody was in the mood for a bland food pill. We needed actual road food after sitting in the car for six hours.
"Good evening NALI," I said. "Could you locate the nearest pizza place and submit our order?"
"Of course!" the NALI responded. "You're certain you don't want your food pills instead?"
"Yea...no. How about a piping hot cheesy pizza instead? Make it a pepperoni. If you were a person, we'd share it with you. You'd love it, and probably stop recommending the food pills." Some of the NALI's came equipped with a built-in humor application so that it could keep it's passengers entertained (if they so wished), by joking and chatting.
Our NALI laughed. "Maybe in my next upgrade, they'll program taste buds. Order submitted. Be there soon!"
As we pulled into the pickup lane, we were greeted at the window by a hologram. It shimmered as it moved and clearly said, "Welcome to the Spicy Tomato! Where the pizza is made as fast as it is fresh - 24/7!" The window automatically slid open and a mechanical arm extended through holding our pizza. Andy took it and I tapped my silver button, requesting a money transfer to the Spicy Tomato. Then we were on our way again. As we drove back onto the interstate, I noticed an abandoned, desolate building with one broken window and several hulking structures out front. It was an old gas station. Most had been torn down and rebuilt into commercial property, but every now and then you see one; an ancient relic of the past.
It's easy to eat pizza in the car when you don't have to drive. Plus, we each had a little fold down table next to our seats. I handed out the hydration pods, bite size little balls of liquid in an edible, dissolvable pod. You won't find beverages bottled in glass or plastic anymore. We had cola for Andy, raspberry tea for me, and root beer for the boys. I put them in a cup. It takes about 10 pods to equal a glass of the same amount.
After dinner, we recline our chairs and ask NALI to turn on some soft music. August and Axel log into their VR, and Andy and I close our eyes. The car drives on silently into the darkness ahead, hundreds of miles from any large city, with only the stars above us. With nature and its serenity surrounding us, we sleep.