‘The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening.’
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
I meander down the road, weaving in and out of the throngs of New Yorkers, distracted by the grandeur of the journey I’m making. Summer has just arrived, the air is thick as soup. I wipe a bead of sweat from my cheek with my shoulder as I cross the intersection. A man and a woman argue on the footpath, the cause of the conflict is lost in the city clamour. I stop at the WMMH sign and a man, cursing my abruptness, stands on my heel. The World Museum of Millennial History is a tall, white building, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. A crowd of tourists form a barricade round the entrance. I approach and, after some confusion, manage to find the end of the line. When I get to the ticket machine, a tall screen with voice recognition, I ask for a ticket and hold up my wrist to be scanned, my arm buzzes as the microchip under my skin lights up blue and chirrups authorisation.
‘Your payment has been authorised,’ the machine says. ‘You may proceed.’
I could not help but imagine what it would have been like to attend a museum in 1999 or 2005; a sales assistant and money, real money. Only one currency exists now: the dollar; and this currency is all electronic. The glass door opens in the direction of the ceiling. Excited to see real money, I pace through the entrance, taking an e-map on my way.
Being at the museum is a great relief to my angst for I have been wanting to see the relics of the old modern world for since I was a child. I want to see what the world was like when my grandmother and great-grandmother lived. My grandmother died 10 years ago and my great-grandmother died before I was born. There used to be evidence of centuries before my time, such as the 1500s, but it was lost in the Great Bombing of WWIII. My grandfather fought in the e-infantry unit. Now the oldest artefacts we have date back to only the 19th century; but my favourite period is the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
I’m here as part of my research for my PhD. My artefact, a composite e-book, is going to be about life at the start of turn of the millennium. When I graduate in a year, I’ll be able to be an e-professor at the World University of Literature. I’m still working as a junior robot supervisor to support my studies; I’m on holidays at the moment. Most people are supervisors. That’s another thing! I can’t wait to learn about all the jobs there used to be; cashiers, taxi drivers, even bank tellers. These days, most jobs are in IT, space, medicine and construction. We also work only a 25- to 30-hour week as there’s a universal income. It must have been odd to work a 40 plus hours every week. I often wonder how they found time to do everything.
I look at the e-map; domesticity is housed on Level 1. The exhibition is set up like an artificial house. I follow the sign to: Main Housing. There are old wooden doors with miniature holes in them; a device called a key used to go in the holes to unlock it. I find this odd; eye, voice or fingerprint recognition is far superior. I mean, our fingerprints are individual but keys can be copied – imagine all the burglaries!
There is also a mock living area with a scene of a birthday party set up with blue and green balloons, greeting cards and party invitations. A bookcase, with novels and magazines, is in the background. No one uses paper or plastic anymore. They must have been really inconsiderate to the world. Though it would be awesome to have balloons at a party.
I follow the sign: Finance and Employment. It takes me to a room resembling an office at the turn of the century. There is an unbelievable spread of objects in the tall glass cabinets: money (one-and-two-dollar coins and notes ranging from $5 to $100); thin, rectangular cards, constructed out of plastic, that say ‘credit’ or ‘EFTPOS’; and chequebooks made out of paper.
I have always liked old things; and I like them far more now they’re not in use. It must have been a lot to carry: keys, money, cards and chequebooks. I hear the heavy footsteps of a man walking up behind me.
‘Strange, isn’t it?’ he said.
I turn to look at him. His hair appears red in the light but I know it’s brown. I’ve always thought it must be fascinating to see someone with hair as red as a ruby. There are no people with red hair anymore. Even blue eyes and fair, freckly skin are in the minority. My grandmother had eyes as blue as the ocean. We learnt all about the extinction of redheads and fair features in biology; globalisation increased mixed-race relationships and, as dark features are dominant, light features became obsolete. Now most individuals have chocolate eyes and skin that turns to butterscotch in the sun. There are still some people with fair features in northern Europe. I must look a bit blank because the man gestures at the cabinet and continues:
‘That the millennials carried change in their pockets and locked their doors.’
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘It’s very strange.’
I follow the sign: Familial and Marital Relationships. I walk into a bedroom. There’s a nuptial agreement, with a wooden frame, sitting on the bedside table. It must have been weird to be expected to be married for the entirety of life and then to have to go to the trouble (and money) of divorcing. I take an e-photo to send to my parents; it’s my mother’s third marriage contract and my dad’s second. Annual marriage contracts are much better, you just renew them each year.
Next to the bed is a cot. My grandmother had children young. She was only 27. My mother had me at 38. But it’s normal to have children between the ages of 40 and 49 now.
My stomach roars. I forget it has been a while since breakfast and I have done a lot of walking. I take the lift to Level 2 where the café and Society exhibition is housed. The lift is crowded and I can feel the breath of the lady behind me hit my neck. I order a burger and a bottle of juice at the café. Apparently, back in my grandparent’s time they ate real animal meat. There were actually farms of cattle and then they would be sent to the abattoirs. They would also use the skin to make leather for boots and jackets. I’m glad we have synthetic leather now. I was told they were barbaric, though not as barbaric as their forefathers.
The radio is on; the President of the United Continents of Earth is making an announcement in English: a new planet has been discovered. There are only four languages now: English, French, Spanish, and Mandarin; apparently, there used to be hundreds. Everyone learns them as part of their schooling so no matter where you are in the world everyone can communicate.
It reminds me that the societal floor includes media and entertainment. I throw my rubbish in the e-bin and head to the Media section. There are lots of articles about equality. I can’t believe my grandmother did not get paid as much as my grandfather.
There are also weather forecasts. It must have been cold back then. Summer did not go higher than 35 degrees Celsius. Without all that heat from the sun I wonder how they got all their energy. Space based energy is what we use now the sun is hotter.
I take the lift to the Nature exhibition on Level 3. The lift isn’t as crowded. I pull the old photograph of my grandmother out of my pocket and glance at it. It’s of her on holiday in the Artic with a polar bear, now extinct, in the background. I also see the northern white rhino.
I think they became extinct when the ice melted. But I’m not sure. I make a note on my e-pad to check. That reminds me: Antarctica is the 51st state of the U.S.A. now. All the ice melted leaving a small but habitable land. As there is so much saltwater in the ocean now, manmade islands are a popular holiday destinations. Or space. You can go to the Moon or Mars. The colony on Mars is thriving. I wonder what a museum about my time would look like in 100 years.
is an Australian writer who is working on her first novel The Bastard Brians, a family saga set on the east coast of Australia. She has worked as a journalist and a copywriter (for which her work won the Queensland Multimedia Awards in 2014) for almost a decade. She has a Master of Professional Practice (Creative Writing) from the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. She has also spent time abroad in Italy, Japan, France, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.