This post is part of a series on nearline future technologies and how they might impact living. I hope that, in addition to being enjoyable to read, they encourage you to think about how technology will effect the people you work with and for.

The truck was packed, the door latched, and off it went. Jim went through the house one last time to make sure the dataports on the upstairs and basement were sealed and to do the final log out of the systems. A quick look at the pool and back house, questioning his judgement briefly, and then out front to his waiting car.

He watched the pattern of light as the sun filtered through the leaves. It moved gently across the lawn and pathways. His car started softly and now he was on his way to the next place.

The move itself wasn’t that unusual for Jim, he had moved twice a year for many years now. Jim made a living working for Great Western Seaports. When the seaports were built, some years past now, they were heralded as a way to increase inbound Asian shipping volumes by providing facilities for massive freight ships.

Of course, if one seaport were built then a second would have to be built so that there’d be competition, who was doing the competing was another story entirely. But that’s how there got to be two of them, which seemed great at the time. What wasn’t factored in was the shift in “consumer geographics” — contemporary business-speak taking note that the consumers on Jim’s side of the ocean no longer consumed enough foreign goods to keep massive freight ships turning on a regular basis.

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Sometimes the politicals suggested that this “geographic shift” was a result of the inter-government issues. But the companies–the makers, the designers, the shippers–were mostly above that squabble. Jim had worked the seaport long enough and from low enough positions to understand that there simply wasn’t any need to send more than two massive freights each year[1]. Most anyone doing working jobs understood this at a gut level if not a conscious one.

Once the old “small ship” shipping volumes were absorbed by the two massive freights launched, splitting destinations between the two Great Westerns was really the only way to keep one or the other of the cities that hosted them from tanking. The politicals had reason to talk about the issue but probably not enough experience to see the FUBAR of the situation–or too much skin in the game either way.

For Great Western it was just business. Two massive freights per year saved so much money in material, maintenance, and headcount[2] that the shareholders would have revolted had Great Western not made the shift. For the employees of Great Western it was a steady job, but you had to move with the work. Up north in the summer for the Northern ship. To the south in the winter for the Southern ship.

Jim remembered when he’d explained his job and the part about moving twice a year to his grandfather. “Now everyone’s a migrant!” the old man had bellowed from his soft chair. Jim had to reassure him several times that the pay was steady even if the living was not. The old man had issued his token grunt of comprehension and that was the end of that conversation. That was the end of most conversations with the old man.

Well the old man was gone now. Jim no longer felt like he had to maintain old world comforts. And the thrill of living in a different city every six months had worn off by Jim’s fourth Cycle. What was different about this move was that Jim was downsizing.

Jim had gotten comfortable in the Lawn House class of housing that was provided gratis by Great Western. This time, he was moving to a Striplex–the housing option which gave the greatest bonus in the housing allowance.

Usually only debtors or those with other significant financial needs took this option when an employer offered it. Jim’s boss had asked him if everything was alright and had to be reassured that Jim wasn’t involved in anything out of spec.

The truth is that Jim didn’t want to work at shipping forever. He wanted to do the Upgrade and that would require additional education beyond what he’d done in distributed education and the technical skills he’d learned at Great Western. He could Degree on the technical skills alone most likely, but that wasn’t the same as the Upgrade.

As much of a blowhard as the old man had been, he did appreciate thought and thinking. He had a library both digital and, exceedingly unusual for a man who hadn’t done the Upgrade, real books too. Jim had read some of them over the years. Enough to know that the technical skills he had learned weren’t the same as an education. Enough to know that clocking time eight-to-six wasn’t actually going to produce much for him anyway.

He needed money to get in line for the Upgrade and he needed even more money if he ever got to the front of that line. He reminded himself of this as his car pulled up alongside his truck, already half unloaded, outside the Striplex.

The air pulsed from convoys of 26ers that cruised the Interstate fifty feet from the front of his Striplex unit. The sound of course was minimal, that was always the thing on a Striplex: “Cheap. Quiet. Living.” A row of poplars or two and the noise of a truck convoy’s aerodynamics broke up enough. But the air itself always had that pulse to it.

Originally, the Striplexes were simple developments that took advantage of the all the urban space no longer required once people weren’t behind the wheel of vehicles[3]. As people from The Squares migrated to The Coastal to get new work[4], they had to live somewhere. The cities were full enough, the subs had been “quite full thank you very much.” Building Striplexes out along the interstate highways was easy enough and done.

Built to be a temporary thing, they were were well into their third decade. As Jim walked to the edge of the tree line he saw the collections of faded white stones along the highway from before the Striplex resident age requirements were lifted (or established depending on who you asked). The convoys moved, three or four 26ers at a time, the wash of air giving the trees a lilting quality.

The inside of his unit was plain but serviceable. There wasn’t a pool or back house. But he’d be studying and saving money for the Upgrade and that would be a fair enough trade to Jim. He opened a container of the old man’s books and started reading the first thing that came out, the Lattimore edition of the Odyssey[5].


  1. ^ Increasing size of container ships | Article: MSC Oscar becomes world’s largest boxship; Lloyds List
  2. ^ Efficiency of large container ships outweigh risk according to those who buy them | Video: World’s largest container ship is too big for U.S.; CNN
  3. ^ Autonomous cars require fewer streets | PDF: Urban Mobility System
    Upgrade (page 25); International Transport Forum
  4. ^ Common employment, as measured by Census Bureau, that automated transport would disrupt | Map: The Most Common Job In Every State; NPR
  5. ^ Gahlord’s favorite book | Book: The Odyssey

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