Whether you try to create a successful new product, introduce a smarter process or initiate a strategic initiative – the solution always needs to “fit” (the market, the organization, etc.). For example, Google Glass was a technically fascinating invention but led to a strong public backlash (its early users were sometimes referred to as “Glassholes”). It is difficult enough to anticipate reactions to solutions for the world we actually live in (hence the popularity of user-centric methods). It is even more challenging, however, to judge fit within a future world that no one has ever seen. Nevertheless, scenario responses require a deep understanding of those future worlds to be effective. A very old but also very powerful tool to achieve this are stories.
The following short stories illustrate what the future might look and feel like based on the four scenarios of The Pandemic Aftermath. Each story happens at the exact same time on June 03, 2030 and features the same characters: Peter, his father Marc, Anne and Lisa. However, the lives of the protagonists have taken different turns, influenced by the scenarios they live in…
June 03, 2030: 09:07. Peter woke up when the airplane smoothly touched the runway. It took only a few seconds until he realized that he was in big trouble. He had 8,452 new hugs on his Bttr2gthr account, but also 143,502 frowns. The first message he read was from his father Marc. It read: “Peter, I just saw it online. I hope you are fine!?” The second message was from Lisa, the sustainability officer of his biggest client, a global food company. “Peter, please e-visit me immediately! We need to issue a statement within the next hour.”, and then three more. Lisa’s last one said, ”Peter, we had no choice but to terminate our contract based on §14 on statements leading to public outrage. You find the press release below. Hugs & tears, Lisa.”
Peter aka #Peppr&Pete is a famous influencer known for his crazy vegetarian cooking videos. Last night, he had been secretly recorded while he told his father that he thought the whole sustainability and animal welfare thing was [retracted offensive word], that he just loved cooking and simply didn’t like the taste of meat.
When Peter stood up from his seat, people around him were staring at him. Some made pictures which he was sure would be on social media in a moment. Probably with some snappy comment about him being able to afford expensive, climate-killing flights by fooling his followers. He took an e-taxi home to avoid the people in the train. As soon as he was back at his loft, he e-visited his girlfriend Anne.
When Anne received the e-visit, she was staring out of the window of her apartment. The silent movement of the noise-cancelled wind turbine in front of her apartment had a calming effect on her. She was tired. Last night, she had done 11 virtual consultations with poor children in the EU Solidarity Hospital in Mumbai. Anne works as a doctor, and she is a volunteer for EU Solidarity Doctors. When the coronavirus appeared ten years ago, she was still at medical school. The crisis had made her mentally ill, and it took her almost two years to get well again. Helping others has helped herself to heal as well.
Anne had met Peter at a virtual charity event three years ago. They clicked immediately. Their relationship had not been without problems, however. Last year, they needed to overcome Peter’s fling with another greenfluencer. But after all, love should be spread, not hoarded. More problematic for her are Peter’s ambiguous feelings about the new solidarity zeitgeist. She remembered their big quarrel once, when he said that he also wanted clean energy, emission-free mobility and good healthcare for everyone – but that he felt patronized by her and her “zealot friends”. Back then, she didn’t know whether she should be more offended by his violent language or his downplaying of the great societal achievements during the past few years.
Anne winced, when she felt the sensation of his virtual touch on her shoulder. She still had to get used to how realistic virtual touching felt with her new EmoTech shirt. “Anne, I’m so sorry,” Peter said with sincere remorse. They talked for more than two hours. But she knew that she would forgive him already by the time he had finished his first sentence.
June 03, 2030: 09:07. “I can’t right now! I’m in the middle of something!”, Peter yelled. He had played online poker for the entire night. After a winning streak in the beginning, he started losing. But he had a feeling that his luck was just about to come back. Another knock on the door. His father yelled, “Your appointment at the job center is in half an hour. You should get going!” Peter realized only now what time it was. He hurried to brush his teeth and put on fresh sweatpants. “Good luck, son,” he heard his father say when he left the apartment and ran to the subway.
Three years have passed since his last real job. The latest termination has hit him hard. He started online gambling and now had to move in with his father again. “What is that disgusting smell?” he mumbled to himself. “That’s the price of a free subway!”, said the stranger standing in front of him and laughed.
He was five minutes late to his appointment and apologized. His father had told him to be friendly to increase his chances. “I’m sorry, but I have bad news for you,” the woman behind the bullet-proof window on the other side of the counter said. “All ten employers I contacted have rejected your job application – most of them because you are on the extremist list”. All his friendliness had faded. She continued, “And since we met the last time, you received two new entries on your record.” She handed him a piece of paper that listed various things he had posted on social media that apparently had been reported.
“You treat me like a criminal just because I’m exercising my right of free speech! No wonder you have to hide behind armored glass!”, Peter hissed.
The woman behind the armored glass showed no reaction. She had been confronted with much worse. Her name was Lisa, a PhD in Environmental Science. When the crisis started, she worked in the sustainability department of a large corporation. She was laid off during the Second Crisis after the escape mutation had emerged in 2022. When she started working for the job center, she hoped she could make a positive difference. And in some cases, she did. But over the years she got numbed by the desperation she was facing. And she got scared by the rage that sometimes erupted in her clients. “I can only recommend that you stop making illegal statements online. If you stop now, your record will be cleared in two years‘ time.”
Peter was glad his father wasn’t there when he came home. He saw a cake on the kitchen table and realized that he had forgotten his father’s birthday. “I should get some flowers from the park,” he said to himself. But first Peter needed to vent some steam off. He turned on his computer, put on his headphones and started playing Counter-Strike: Deep State, an unauthorized black market game named after the popular first-person shooter video game series.
His father came home from work a few hours later. In the kitchen, he found a bunch of flowers and a note reading “Happy Birthday!”
June 03, 2030: 09:07. Peter was waiting for more than five minutes by now. Peter hated waiting for his father. Because his father refused to share his location with anyone, Peter had no clue whether he was one or 30 minutes away. Or worse even – he could have had an accident or a heart attack. His father Marc was an “offliner”: one of the few people who accepted all sorts of disadvantages just to avoid being connected to the cloud. The thought that his coworkers could find out made him shiver. His health monitoring app alerted him to breathe as his pulse went up. The app was the latest product that he had launched as the CTO of the HealthTech start-up Digithusalem. It had made him a rich man, at least on paper. His shares were now worth 94 million Earth Dollars. And his professional rank in Germany had gone up from somewhere in the top 50.000 to 912. That placed him in front of most board members of the remaining brick and mortar economy.
“Peter!” He turned around and saw his father. “I really appreciate that you came in person today. You know I don’t like these video calls.”, his father said with a wink.
“Happy birthday, Marc!”, Peter said and awkwardly hugged him.
They took a stroll in the park. As a few drones hummed over their heads, Peter remembered his birthday present and gave it to his father. Peter had chosen the gift himself. The recommendation app he usually used wouldn’t work in the case of his father. It simply lacked the necessary data. “A mechanical Rolex!”, his father said with a mix of joy and embarrassment. “That must have cost a fortune!”. Peter was pleased with the reaction and joked, “Yeah, especially if you consider that it hasn’t even wireless connection.”
Marc stopped at an ice cream shop. “Peter, do you also want a scoop?”, he asked. “No, thanks.” Peter was more focused on the pretty girl behind the counter. She smiled at him. “Damn,” Peter thought when he saw their matching score: “have fun, but not babies”, it said. After his last failed relationship with Anne, he had sworn to himself to never again date a match below the category “eternal love”.
When Peter grabbed the ice cream and handed it to his father, they heard the now familiar ‘bling’. “Thanks for paying, Peter. I’ll never get used to this.” “Sure, it’s your birthday!”, Peter replied. The truth was that Peter had paid because he would have felt embarrassed to let the people in the queue behind him wait. It would have taken at least 20 seconds until his father was done paying with his antiquated bank card.
Peter and his father walked for another 15 minutes. His father talked most of the time and told Peter trivial stories about his everyday life. It was strange: although this small talk served no apparent purpose, Peter somehow enjoyed it. At 09:35, his pre-set alarm went off. “An urgent business emergency?”, Marc said ironically. “No, it’s fine.”, said Peter and turned off the alarm. Peter stayed another full 45 minutes until he got an actual emergency call by his assistant and quickly said goodbye to his father.
Peter was about to get into his Tesla Big Achiever, when he remembered the ice cream he had bought earlier. He quickly logged into his health account. The ice cream had reduced his health score by 3.6 points! He reallocated the ice cream to his father, knowing that he would not even notice.
“Elon, take me to the office”, Peter said.
“To the office or to Mars, I can take you anywhere!” the car replied and silently drove off.
June 03, 2030: 09:07. “3 … 2 … 1 … GO!” Anne leans forward and starts falling. From behind she hears a jarring screeching that quickly gets deafeningly loud. The smoking X-Fighter misses her by just a few meters before it bursts in a massive explosion between the clouds. “Anne, do you read me?”, she hears Peter shout over the radio. “Stop, screaming!” A few laser blasts hiss past her head. From the right, she sees a large troop transport approaching, attacked by a squadron of X-Fighters. Anne stops screaming and yells, “Woohay, this is so awesome!”. On her heads-up display she sees a blinking warning that they are reaching the minimum altitude. “I know, Anne, but we need to open our parachute in five seconds.” The warning signal just turned red now. “Put your head in the neck … ready?” A moment later she feels how the parachute pulls her up.
Meanwhile, the troop transporter has started burning and is hovering above their heads. She can now clearly see the ground troops fighting. She also notices the crash site of the X-Fighter that almost hit her. “How are you doing, Anne?”. “This is so awesome!”, she said once more. Of course, Anne had heard before how realistic the Sky Drop Experience 2130 – Augmented Reality was supposed to be. But when she saw the jaw-dropping visuals and heard the mind-blowing sound effects, when she felt the real wind on her skin and the zero gravity from the actual skydive, then, for a moment, she felt like she was really a galactic paratrooper taking part in an interplanetary invasion.
Anne’s skydive instructor Peter, who had done the tandem jump with her, was also the brain behind the entire spectacle. But it was his father Marc who had started everything nine years ago: He had never been very fond of his job as a teacher. Yet it took the coronavirus to give Marc the courage to turn his passion into his job and found a skydiving company. Peter was still a teenager then. He initially was more interested in computers than airplanes. Peter soon made himself a name as a 3D artist of a famous open source collective. The two pieces eventually came together when Peter and a few like-minded people around the world dreamed up the idea of creating an augmented reality experience for skydiving that would “feel like being in f**cking Star Wars”. When they were ready, they licensed the code to Disney and some other booming entertainment companies in order to make a living. But mostly, they did it for the fun (and a bit of fame). Their next project was going to be a dragon experience with wizards and magic spells. Peter couldn’t wait to get started.
They hit the ground hard. “Anne, are you alright?”, Peter asked. “I’m not sure, my right ankle hurts a little bit.”. Peter knew that it was his fault. He had daydreamed about his next project and not properly instructed Anne before the landing. “I hope it is nothing too serious”, Anne said, but was still smiling. “I’m not that well insured.” “Don’t worry,”, Peter said nervously, “we have a full diagnostic station in the office. You don’t have to go to a hospital.” Anne didn’t feel much pain anyway. She was still full of adrenalin and couldn’t stop smiling. Peter helped her over to the office and placed her leg on the medical scanner. “So awesome.”, Anne mumbled a few times while she was waiting.
“Good news everyone, the computer says nothing is broken, it’s just a sprained ankle!”, said Lisa, the Director of Adventure, who had run the diagnostics. “You’re lucky”, Anne said looking over to Peter with a broad grin. “Sprained ankles cost only one dinner – how about tonight?”. Peter flushed and was slightly perplexed: “But I can’t tonight, it’s my father’s birthday.” His father, who had overheard the entire conversation (like everyone else) started laughing and yelled: “Don’t you dare taking me as an excuse – we live only once and you two will go for dinner tonight!”
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the participants of our open scenario workshops in 2020 who came up with or inspired some of the ideas described in the stories above. Apart from the mentioned famous brands and companies (Rolex, Disney, Tesla, etc.), similarities to product or company names are not intended and purely coincidental.