Daze of Future Passed

Davenport 2116

Pretty basic technology got me into this adventure – the only kind of technology available to people in my mindset. As those who know me well are aware, I am an aggressive luddite, willfully sinking into curmudgeondom, unaware of most newer technologies and busy railing against those I do encounter.

The basic tech was Facebook, a pervasive tool that has much in common with most bad habits, in that it is delightful when you are first exposed to it, and horrifying as you discover it is taking over what used to be your life. Sort of like what I am told heroin can be.

I used FB initially to connect with current friends and acquaintances, then broadened my definition of friends to link up with people I used to hang around, mostly from high school. One such friend of long standing now living in Minnesota, logged a post (or posted a log, hell, I don’t know the parlance) in which he bared his soul for having abandoned his best friend from childhood around the sixth grade;  a shy, nerdy, fellow, so that he could hang out with a group of anti-authortarian morons so prevalent at that time of life.  As a member in good standing with that group, I was one of the first to receive Minnesotan friend’s confessional, to which he had attached list of achievements that our “abandoned” friend had gone on to accomplish. This list by comparison makes the rest of us look like refugees from a chain gang. The confessor (I haven’t permission to use his name) felt that he and our group had bullied our abandoned friend and he for one was ashamed for being part of it. I presume what he was calling for was forgiveness from the Facebook Father, but also like contrition from the rest of us.

If so, he was disappointed. A few of us responded in a defensive vein, taking issue with the assessment of abandonment to recall juvenile adventures involving our friend, primarily it seemed in the eighth grade. Several of us weighed in against the notion that we had bullied him, saying rather that he was just a member of our crew, albeit an extremely quiet and introverted one, and that he may have been an outlier on our bell curve of delinquency, but was never treated any more cruelly than we treated one another, and that he (and we) shouldn’t feel guilty for his presumed suffering and sudden departure. That said, none of us could recall when he left or if he even graduated from Davenport Central or went to college.

I decided shortly after our facebook debate to try and find the aforementioned shy, brainy, nerdy friend. This turned out not to be too hard, as his accomplishments were well-publicized, at least in the corridors of “technological and scientific issues related to electronics and broadband telecommunications”. By way of demonstrating the scope of his accomplishments, I have lifted just one sentence from his curriculum vitae: “(Name omitted due to lack of permission) has published original research on topics such as applying network coding to create efficient multicast networks, enhancing the performance of  small buffer-packet technologies such as Data in the Optical Domain (DOD-N) networks, quantifying the value of dynamic optical network reconfigurability, exploring the effects of bandwidth granularity and bandwidth grooming, automating the identification of optical impairments from eye diagram analysis, and other topics.” He holds several patents, and has authored several well-regarded papers. He received his BSEE, with high distinction from the University of Iowa, his MS degree in EECS from Berkeley and his PhD from the same institution, with minors in mathematics and physics. A poster child for both nerdosity and brilliance.

Amidst his accomplishments and achievements, the real mystery is how I ever found the nerve to e-mail him to say so much as “Hello, remember me?” I am glad I did, however, because he did recall most of us, and we have become quite good friends, in an e-maily sort of way. I discovered that he held no resentment to his contrite friend, or to any of the rest of us, that he didn’t feel any sense of abandonment or of being bullied. It seems his overriding concern from about first grade was that he was colossally bored in school. He filled me in on where he went after his sophomore year in high school (to SAU where he completed his high-school studies in a year with special permission), and where his academic adventures has taken him, while I brought him up to speed on friends he recalled from McKinley Elementary and (to a lesser degree) Sudlow Junior High, what became of cute girls, and what had been happening in the wonderful world of Davenport and surrounding cities. Living as he did on the west coast and later in the east near Washington D.C., he only got back here occasionally to visit a brother. His perception of Davenport, his hometown, was that it appeared to be slowly dying, as he perceived was true of much of the Midwest. I got the distinct feeling that, like many a coastal commuter, he considered everything in between New York and California to be fly-over country.

As a long-time practitioner of economic and community development, I felt I was in a unique position to provide background on the area since his departure, and much of our correspondence revolved around the whys and wherefores that caused the economic and social differentiation between the place of his upbringing and where he came of age.  This you’ll be relieved to know is where the story begins. 

You see, being retired and a person for whom life had ceased to be about money some time ago, my friend has taken to writing and self-publishing books. The one he is writing now is a science fiction tome, and he has decided to have it take place in Davenport Iowa in the year 2116. Whether as a favor to me, or because he thought my background would be helpful, he has asked me to write an introduction to the novel, telling the reading audience what life is like in Davenport a century from now.

My friend, who like most of the world, is more well-travelled than I, has chosen to set his novel in the community from which he departed when he was nineteen. Further, because I have never really left the area for any length of time and am more familiar with it (and more fond of it) than any other place on the planet I get to do the intro. Augmenting this parochialism is the fact that, in the practice of my work I have been obliged to identify changes are taking place here and around the world, and what economic trends are driving decisions to invest and locate employment-generating activities.

Not of course that this makes my crystal-balling infallible. The likelihood of accuracy is remote; there are simply too many variables, too many forks in the road; too many paths leading to roads leading to forks. But by analyzing the city and the trade area and its history, and tempering it with reasons why it thrived, and expectations of key components, one can build something that is rational and rooted to some degree in probability.   Whether what I am seeing is an accurate reflection of the future is another question, happily unanswerable for at least another century.

Even determining key components is a challenge. One can hark back to the predictions made fifty years or one hundred years ago, by some of the best scientific minds in the world, all of whom neglected to predict the advent of the internet, of cell phones, or of powerful hand-held computation, research and communication equipment. Much was made at that time of the prospect and need for space travel, if only to deal with an unsustainable population level, but it remains a speculative non-priority. The world now has more than three times the population of 100 years ago. It has been sustained by an increased food supply, but the planet is no closer to a remedy for over-population, and no real drive toward direct explorations of the universe.

To lay groundwork for this prediction, I have chosen seven fields that I believe will cause precipitous change in these areas by the year 2116: Climate, Technology, Education, Transportation, Security, Economics and Agriculture. These seven fields that will change precipitously, and the changes will affect the planet, causing other occurrences that will themselves impact Davenport.

Field the First – Climate – It has changed, trending toward increasing temperatures which have caused considerable melting of the polar ice caps, in turn raising the levels of the oceans. While the rise has not been precipitous, it has caused some flooding in over-built coastal areas, causing emigration from areas such as Florida, Alabama and Louisiana. Much study was made of the potential impact for the west and east coast, in turn causing major program and policy decisions.

Field the Second – Technology – The trend for some time was to produce things because they would be a boon to the social order, but that gave way to provide advanced technology primarily because it was feasible. The advances in methods and means of communications had a counterintuitive effect, reducing dramatically the inclination for people to communicate meaningfully and directly. Society has become more and more isolated, and a decline in social interaction has been evident. Most people for generations live through their technology, making purchases, gathering such information as is desired, obtaining education and making life decisions without the burden of seeking opinions. Of late, there has been a movement toward doing without technology, or reducing dependence on it. This is gathering momentum, but the weaning away is a difficult process, as is the re-learning of skills such as reading, hunting, gardening, carpentry and engaging in face to face conversation. Proximity to energy sources were among the key drivers of an area’s well-being and connectivity.

Field the Third – Education – Much is gathered via technology, and learning has truly become a life-long process. Teachers are not directly connected to students except in the early years, and this void helped create multiple generations of disaffected society, which exacerbated a rise first in urban gangs, then in both urban and rural tribalism. Ironically the tribalism filled the need for social structure which had been damaged by the misuse of technology and the abuse of education systems.

Field the Fourth – Transportation – In 2116, the made modes of transport in urban areas are small cars and bicycles, equipped to haul passengers and commodities. Travelling is much reduced, with airlines no longer available or considered necessary, and Interstate highways given over to transport of large trucks. Passenger rail is available, but only in small components within large high speed passenger rail. Barge transport and recreational boating are still viable, though the latter requires much re-learning and is taken up only by avowed “anti-techs”. Commodities of all kinds are stored in vast fulfillments center, and the distribution chain carry them to urban areas, then smaller markets, not too different from this time. Shopping for all but the most immediate perishables is a thing of the past, as people order what they wish using technology and having it delivered mostly by bicycle.

Field the Fifth -  Security – The dark side of the future is manifested in this field. With emigration from climate changes and the rise of gangs, coupled with the lack of regard for societal moorings, enforcement of law and order became a function of who had the means and numbers of persons at their call. Society entered a sort of Dark Ages, relieved only slightly by technology and the ability to distribute goods. People gathered to those who could provide protection, and para-military operations populated the country. People gathered together gradually, but were slow to realize that individual effort could only take one so far, that communal living was essential for all but the most rugged individual.

Field the Sixth – Economics – Currency was still used to facilitate trade for commodities, but increasingly the relative value of different currencies fluctuated dependent upon seasonality of goods and political stability of both the points of origin and points of departure. Much of the trade transactions were conducted using technology, and the gradual weakening of enforcement, combined with the rise of brigand groups made it prohibitive risky. The vast majority of vehicles used for commodities transport included armed guards, provided by either the shipping entity or the receiving party, dependent on the contractual arrangement. Trade in general was reduced, with groups in diverse parts of the continent becoming more self-sufficient, excepting for the use of technology.

Field the Seventh – Agriculture – While miraculous achievements had been made over the course of the previous century, the use of chemicals to induce over-production had lessened productivity of much arable land marginal land lost what little ability it had to add to the food supply. Scientific advances eventually were unable to meet the demand for resources, and this, combined with the increasing population and shifting immigration patterns, were responsible for much of the tension and the increasing onset of violence, particularly in areas where water was in increasingly short supply. It was this shortage of water in the southwestern United States that was the primary cause of a Resource Conflict in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado, which resulted in declared war that the U.S. government was unable to stop, precipitating the secession of southern California, Arizona and New Mexico to form a separate country. Nevada and Colorado followed suit, and this set off the balkanization of the United States. This, more than anything else, caused the formation of multiple countries in what had been the United States of America and vicinity.

At the time of the setting of this novel, there are eleven countries in what had been the United States and vicinity:

The Pacific area of Washington, Oregon, northern California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and the southern part of British Columbia;

Utah joined Nevada and Colorado;

Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico eventually conquered portions of northern Mexico following a bloody war with their northern states, caused to a large degree by the lucrative drug trade.

Alaska had shifted to Canada and was a part of the Yukon and Northwest Territories;

Hawaii remained a strategic outpost, connected by what remained of the navy and communications  technology to the capitol in Washington D.C., the states of Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia and Delaware, along with Cuba and southern Florida;

The Great Midwestern Confederation included the Dakotas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Wisconsin, most of Illinois and Missouri; they held the water resources of the Missouri River and the Upper Mississippi River.

Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas were called Texarkania;

The Old Dominion, included the former Confederate States of America (except Virginia), plus Kentucky. They controlled much of the water supply in the southern part of the Mississippi river and had a long-standing uneasy truce with the country to the north along the Ohio River;

The States of the Great Lakes include Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, excepting the boroughs of New York City. It also included that portion of Illinois known as Chicagoland.

 Metropolitan New York City, along with New Jersey, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts  formed the Plymouth Preserve.

Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, after a series of quarrels and referendums, opted to join Canada as a new province.

Davenport, Iowa in 2116

A number of strategic advantages play into Davenport (and the rest of the metropolitan area, known as the Davenport-Moline-Rock Island Metropolitan statistical Area, or the Quad Cities) thriving by most measures over the last century, at least on a relative basis. To begin with it has abundant access to the commodity most in demand in other parts of the world – water. The Mississippi River bi-sects this metro area and enabling crops to be cultivated, and the population’s thirst slaked. It also provides for efficient transportation via barge to enhance trading to the south and the north. The only problems facing barge traffic are locks and dams, which sometimes are taken over by pirates and smugglers who trying to hold cargo for ransom. Much of this is effectively fought by having armaments aboard so that such ships could not only repel boarders, but attack communities and campsites that have been overrun. For all this, most trade stops at the intersection of the Ohio River and the Mississippi; much doesn’t even go below the Illinois River. One of the main expenses of the country involves keeping locks and dams clean, functional and well defended.

Water helps with trade and transport, and also with energy. While the nuclear power plant near the Quad Cities caused considerable suffering and damage when it became dysfunctional after repeated warnings, the damage had been mostly contained and the affected area quarantined so that after two decades it was, while not habitable, at least no longer a threat. It was during this time that Riverside Energy station in Riverdale was ramped up to an increased capacity, and a hydro-electric dam was put in place across the Mississippi River near LeClaire, Iowa. This project, not without controversy, provides ample energy for the Quad Cities and a radius of approximately thirty five miles, which in turn allows for efficient (if more labor-intensive) farming and some residential development, sustaining a growing population.

The primary reason for the population growth has been immigration, primarily from the south and southwest. The reasons for the immigration are primarily that climate changes have rendered much of Louisiana, Alabama and parts of Florida uninhabitable. Additional reasons for migration was drawn were that this areas was safer and more secured. There has been a reduction of drug distribution wars, which are now contained mostly in the southwest, due ironically to a breakdown in the distribution network and a dearth of capital to fuel the supply lines. Of some importance too was the availability of employment in the growing agricultural industry. Large scale farming has been threatened by the advent of roving bands of armed marauders who subsist on hijacking trucks, holding up trains and ravaging farms. A sort of social-feudalism has evolved, where large farms were more labor-intensive, providing shelter for many men, women and families. These people in turn provide defense in the event of attack.

Security was the other great asset that made the Davenport area unique. In the center of the river is the Rock Island Arsenal Island, defensible and equipped to produce small and mid-sized arms. It is accessible by three bridges and employed thousands, manufacturing weaponry for domestic use and for trade. The island is rigorously defended, as periodic piratical attackers find to their dismay. The Island, offering as it did proximity to both employment and shelter, has drawn many to the area, helping to sustain the populations on both sides of the river.

The Davenport of 2116 then, is an energy-sufficient, relatively secure area that has not suffered for want of resources. It has evolved into a militaristic state, whose key priorities are the protection of the Island, the maintenance and upgrading of the energy sources on the river including the locks and dams, and defense of the river borders against attacks from the south and the west. Its northern and eastern borders are more secure, facing little threat from Minnesota/Wisconsin or from Illinois. Chicagoland is a major population hub and foraging marauders and even occasional small armies have had to be dealt with as they make raids on trains and truck transport.

Located near the energy depots (hydro, solar and wind, but also some fossil fuel) are massive fulfillment centers; second-tier trading hubs where supplies are shipped in and out through the day. The Davenport center is located near highway, rail and river, enabling shipping and receiving of goods to serve a market beyond its defended population and energy-defined borders. Interstate highways, secondary roads and some rail lines suffer from neglect and county roads are not in good condition, as public sector resources have grown scarce and the responsibility for maintaining them has fallen to the large socio-feudal farms that have allocated enough labor and raw material to ensure access by some means of transport that enables trade to continue.

From the time of the Resource Wars and the Great Migration, the U.S.A. found itself splitting, and had neither the political will nor the means to reverse the process. All new configurations pledged themselves to the principles and the precepts of the original government and its Constitution, but all too had their own priorities and interpretations.

The Great Midwestern Confederation is a geographically large area with a relatively small population. Its capital is in the Twin Cities to the north, but even within the country, there are parochial concerns. In the west, farms are large, cities are smaller and trading is far more risky, as bands of marauders also threaten from the plains and the Rocky Mountains.

In the east, there is growing tension on the borders and the cost of defending and maintaining river infrastructure is under constant scrutiny by those in the sparse government who see this as an issue strictly for those directly served by the river and deriving economic benefits from it.

Some in Wisconsin and Illinois fear Chicagoland; but others see it as their logical homeland, and the threat of further splintering and secession hangs heavy over Davenport and the surrounding areas. Many see optimal potential in forming a new state comprised of eastern Iowa and western Illinois, something that could be responsible for maintenance of its energy and security, utilizing its manufacturing prowess to manufacture weapons and agricultural equipment. Others see this as an indefensible option that would encourage neighbors from all directions to perceive the area as vulnerable, and open to conquest. Many fear the secession of Wisconsin and Illinois as it would not only split the metro area, but would highlight the Rock Island Arsenal Island as a primary strategic target, a prize coveted by all, and secured by none.

Security, energy, trade, militarism, immigration and political division. These are but a few of the challenges facing our area as the twenty-second century looms before us.

These last two pages comprised the introduction to my friends book, which as of March 24 was nearing completion. I am hopeful it meshes with what he has in mind, though I suspect it will be incongruous with a more dystopian and scientific view of things. It is after all, science fiction. If it is used, that will be a joyous outcome to a friendship rekindled across nearly a half century. If it is not, it occurred to me that this exercise in selecting given fields and random areas to forecast a future civilization might contain in it the germ of an interesting computer game where one chooses a time, chooses fields and scenarios and selects geographic areas from which a graphic presentation of the future may be followed.

In any case, it has been the re-birth of a beautiful friendship, and who doesn’t need more friends?

 Scott Tunnicliff