The year is 2019. The month, July. I am in London, somewhere between Piccadilly and Park Lane. I am wandering the backstreets to a deli. It’s sunny. People are milling around outside. There is no need for coats. We are enjoying summer in the city.
As I wait to cross the road towards Hyde Park, a car silently glides past me. An electric car. A noiseless chariot. With blacked out windows and an anonymous driver. It is graceful. It is elegant. It is… the future. Now, this is not the first time I have seen an electric car, but every time I feel the same. I am overwhelmed with excitement. A childlike tingle passes over me. It feels like I am stood on the precipice of the future world. That, if I reached out and touched that silent electric car (without being reprimanded and screamed at by its owner!), I would be teleported 30 years from now, or maybe 100 years, to a world as yet unknown, a future world, a world I am excited to see.
I have been obsessed with the future for as long as I can remember. My nickname is NostraGarbus. I constantly have a stream of new ideas, visions and predictions, all about our future world. And these predictions are almost always completely right. I imagined solar trees nestled unnoticed among real forests, their solar leaves creating a constant supply of renewable energy (thought-idea circa my late-teens). I imagined vertical farming, with skyscrapers doubling as farmland and buildings becoming their own wild ecosystems (dear diary moment early-twenties). I imagined people leasing space on the sides of their houses and roofs so that farmers can produce food for the local community (quite new). AND I recently imagined Clothing Twins where, at the end of each season, we send our clothes to our style twin in the opposite hemisphere, so they can use our winter clothes while we enjoy their summer edit. Classy, carbon neutral and a step towards a future where we share our resources (totally brand spanking new).
But as I watched the black Tesla glide past me that day, I started to wonder. What if our future may in fact be more Orwellian than Utopian, and if silence would be the differentiator. Would silence become the new status symbol?
The Silent Future
My image for the future had always been that of a quieter one where we cycle, recycle and remake. Where we get back to basics, back to nature, back to ourselves. Where we reject packaging, share commodities, high-five our resourceful selves. But what if not everyone can afford to make such conscious choices? What if, for example, only the wealthy could afford to make purchases such as electric cars? What would that future look like? A future where The Haves can afford to drive expensive electric cars, the ones that seem to hover and glide around the city, like miniature space crafts, orbiting themselves towards secluded off-grid homes where the occupants quietly grow their own food. These Haves have long-since shunned the noise of social media. They have silenced or rejected mobile devices. They have no TVs. They have no WiFi. They meditate. They use words infrequently, sagely, with purpose. They only buy packageless products. If they set foot into the outside world they do so wearing noise-canceling headphones, wearing dark glasses, moving swiftly to their next silent destination. They exist on the periphery of mainstream society. They lead purposeful quiet lives. What they don’t say, says everything. The noise they don’t make, sets them apart. Silence is Golden. Or at least, their silence, is really bloody expensive.
The Have Nots, on the other hand, in this imaginary future world of mine, are unable to afford the luxury of a quiet life. They are still forced to drive noisy polluting cars. They still use phones with constantly updating social media streams. They watch TVs. They chitter. They chatter. They have to buy shouty packaged foods from regular supermarkets, that crinkle and rustle, crackle and tear, like noisy popcorn in a silent movie theatre. Because conscious choices are not always freely available. A quiet life comes at a price. Ethical goods can be exhaustingly expensive.
The backdrop of all this, for me, is silence. Silence as the new status symbol – a sign, a guide, of who you are and where you sit in the world. The noiseless 1%. The silent tribe. The quiet haves. While the rest of us are just noisily trying to get by. For now, these thoughts are the backdrop to my next novel. But in years to come … who knows… I am, after all, Nostragarbus.