A uchronia is a fictional time period, an alternative to the past like the one presented by Kazuo Isiguro in Never Let Me Go or Robert Harris in Dominion. It’s a genre that has always fascinated me: imagining a completely new and outlandish set of events in a timeline already lived makes my head spin. It’s exactly what you feel when you have been standing on your head and go back to your natural position without any sort of transition.
I like playing with time. One of my favourite pastimes on my way to school is observing the people as if I were a time traveller from twenty-five years ago. I imagine how I would describe the idiosyncrasies of this twenty-first century people, so different from the ones imagined in the science fiction movies of my childhood.
My general conclusion about this future people is that progress has turned them into a bunch of morons. Looking at a box as you walk down the street or even cross the road doesn’t strike me as very smart. Arriving at my school and seeing that people are still glued at the little boxes instead of having a conversation confirms that there is something really wrong with us.
The fantasy stops here, at the moment when I have to start my classes. But I often think about the first time we bought a mobile phone, not because we were fascinated by new technologies, but because Lorenzo wanted to stay in contact with his family lawyer while he was travelling as a sales rep. At the time, he had a card that allowed him to call from any phone box without cash, having the call directly charged to his phone bill. That was a sign of progress that lasted just for a couple of years, until the use of mobile phone became almost universal. I also remember that we had a triple phone call that connected Lorenzo in Malaga, me in Jaen and Carla in Berlin in spring 1997. I guess it cost us an arm and a leg.
We have developed a routine during these last few weeks of confinement. After breakfast Lorenzo reads me an article from his smartphone. I always joke that he’s my window to the wall. Today he has chosen a thought-provoking one: “An Analog Ucronia: What the coronavirus crisis would have been like without Internet” (“Una ucronía analógica: así habría sido la crisis del coronavirus sin Internet”) by Jaime García Cantero. It explains the differences between today’s society and the one in 1994, how the spread of the pandemic would have been much slower and how we would have coped in a world were the use of Internet was limited to the scientific and academic environment.
Would have our personal lives been different if we’d had access to all these technological resources? It’s an interesting thought.
I’ll finish with another memory. Autumn 1991. I’m visiting a friend who tele-works as a translator for a software company based in Dublin. He lives in a small apartment he inherited from his grandfather and spends the days in his pyjamas. He shows me a project he has been working on: the translation of a new programme called Word. It’s in colour and instead of having to press the F keys to ask the computer to perform the different functions, it has a bar where you can open drop down menus where you can choose the different tasks.
As I leave his apartment I realise that I have learned two things. The first is that I have seen a glimpse of the future, as this new software will certainly change the use of computers forever; the second is that I’ll never ever work from home. I was right about the first one.