“The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed”.
– William Gibson
At Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, drinking my coffee, eating the obligatory cinnamon bun. Typing away on my laptop, which is plugged into the one of the many wall outlets providing “Green energy”. The wifi is free and reasonably fast. Checkin was automatic, happened in minutes, and then I dropped off my suitcase at an automatic conveyor belt. The late Douglas Adam famously said “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport.’” And Arlanda might not be pretty, but the experience is.
Having it on my way out of Sweden feels like an affirmation of a joke I have been making: Being in Sweden feels like living in the near future. It is a not too distant reality, where people send each other money with their phones, have nearly unlimited data plans, and can authenticate themselves online through a centralized system. Credit checks are performed in seconds, contracts signed digitally, you can videochat with a doctor. Today, I learned about a startup that offers online funeral booking. I have even seen people with little implants in their hands, allowing them to unlock doors by waving their palms in front of a sensor.
I am not saying that all of these developments are good (from a privacy standpoint I even find many of them troubling) but they certainly strike an impression. Just like the people here, I like certain things to be efficient, to be orderly and well taken care off: Each year, I pull out my hair filling in byzantine tax forms; each week I find myself cursing the small number of ATMs in Berlin, and the fact that you can hardly pay with cards.
But I also get it, I know that my country’s inefficiencies result from its culture, its liberal past, fear of privacy intrusion and skepticism towards technology. Searching for an ATM on a cold winter night feels like a quintessentially German experience, just as losing track of your card payments feels Swedish.
Maybe that means my joke was short-sighted: That the future isn’t just a fixed destination we will inevitably arrive at but something that will always differ, ever so slightly, based on context. Maybe the future doesn’t get distributed but we pick and choose.