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Author: Claire Poole
Year: Future

‘Okay, Arianna, stay safe until we link again next week. Bye.’ I watch the young woman’s image fade and say ‘Off’ to shut down the wall. Unusual, I know, as most people leave it on all the time, but I am old-fashioned enough to like some down time. I stretch, roll my shoulders and rub my eyes. I’m tired, very tired, and wonder again whether it might be time to finally retire. I am 90 after all, and although I have been online counselling since the First World Lockdown of 2020, I secretly admit that I preferred the old way when psychotherapist (me) and client communicated face to face, in the same room. Of course that wasn’t possible during the 2020 lockdown so we all switched to teletherapy. After some time, people realised that there were issues with such work. Micro facial expressions are missed, and tone of voice is less clear, so reading emotions was more difficult – until some bright spark came up with the software to read these cues.

Nowadays I have a continuous ticker-tape strip at the bottom of my screen saying ‘anxious...irritated...sad’, as the software interprets my client’s feelings. Really she should have the same, as that would be congruent or equal, as us psychotherapists say, but most counselling platforms leave that off – sessions can get very complicated otherwise. Of course, there is the option of a virtual meeting, in a virtual room, as an avatar – I shudder at the thought – or the ultimate, psychoconnect, where I connect my nervous system into my computing system which connects through Arianna’s computing system directly into her nervous system, and I get to experience her thoughts and emotions first hand. I’ve not pursued getting licensed for that, thank goodness, as it is incredibly intense and can leave the psychotherapist in as bad a state as their client.

I remember during the First World Lockdown in 2020 when my internet service failed, the feeling of release that there was nothing I could do until it was fixed. I read and sketched and gardened, not that we have gardens like that anymore. Such technical failures are impossible now, in fact it's not possible to even get a light switch that isn’t computer controlled – and I know because I tried!

I do so miss the old days in so many ways, none more so than when a client and I were in a room together. Quite apart from visual and auditory cues, one could sense feelings in a room, perhaps as vibrations emanating from each person. Sometimes I felt such sadness, the client's sadness that it was like a cold water shower – not that we have those in the nifty fifties, the water shortages of global warming moved us all on to micro-particle and hot air cleansing systems. I used to be a dog trainer, and it was said that fear travelled down the lead. More than that, it ricocheted round the immediate area.

Subversive ideas nowadays, I don’t speak of them, my license might get revoked. And of course, we don’t have dogs any more, there is nowhere to walk them and they use too many resources. It was the Second World Lockdown of 2032 that saw the last of them off.

A plaintive, low pitched whine disturbs my train of thought, and a warm furry muzzle nudges my hand. That’s Archie, wanting ‘fed’. Archie is my robodog, and is very convincing, I can almost believe he is real. He is top of the range, with some of my last real dog’s nervous tissue swaged into his circuitry so he behaves just like a dog, but he doesn’t need to go to the toilet or exercise, and he doesn’t get bored. I like to believe he likes to interact with me. He nuzzles me and wags his tail as I go to find his ‘food’. Of course he doesn’t need food, his gamma power source will power him long after I’m gone, but I have him programmed to ask for food, bark at drone deliveries and other dog-like behaviours. His synthetic skin and fur feel just like the real thing when I stroke or tickle him, and he rolls with delight, but of course he sheds no hair.

I miss real dogs – and real people. I am excited as my real life visit from my daughter is coming up soon. That happens every three years, and her drone pass has been issued. Oh, we meet up virtually all the time but it isn’t the same. My grandchildren and their child won't come through, they don’t see the point of meeting in person – they are scared of that closeness, my world is not their thing.

Bed time soon. I feel I should use the cryo bed that the children got for me. Another ‘advance’ by another bright spark who realised that we sleep almost a third of our lives, so if we self-chill for that time, we can live a third of our life longer. So ninety is the new sixty, I think, ironically.

I am so reflective tonight, I was actually sixty when my client Arianna was born during the First World Lockdown – 1st WL. When I was the age she is now, thirty, my only computer was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and I had just got a state of the art mobile phone, the size and weight of a brick.

People met together without fear for coffee, walks, outings to cinemas and theatres. We climbed mountains and swam in the sea. If Arianna experienced any of those things, it was only briefly until the 2nd WL in 2032. That's when we realised for certain that life as my generation knew it would never be the same again.

I gently pat Archie’s warm soft head and come to a decision. I’ll not be using the cryo bed again. It's high time that Nature, what is left of it, takes its course.