Read the second part of our fictional series exploring a vision of the future where commercial real estate and the latest technologies intersect seamlessly—and where people might fit in that intersection.
Miss chapter one of Future Office? Read it here.
When Hannah got to the building the next morning Skip was standing in the parking lot next to a shipping container waiting for her. “Tell them to kiss my &%$, that’s what you can tell them,” he yelled into his palm screen. “If they wanted me to stay they shouldn’t have monitored me like a damn convict. Last time I checked this was still America. Jefferson said it best: ‘Liberty is a goddamn inalienable right’.” When he saw Hannah he hung up his screen abruptly.
"This is exactly the kind of thing I want. No digital records, just the function that a lock was designed to do and nothing more."
“Good mornin’ ma’am,” he said, with none of the venom he had in his previous conversation.
“Good morning, Skip.” She pulled out her grandfather's giant key ring and unlocked the door. “I had another key made for you. It will have to do until I get a bio-lock installed.”
He took the key from her and held it up to the light like an archaeologist studying a freshly unearthed treasure. “You will do no such thing! This here key is perfect.”
“Really?” Hannah said. She had been embarrassed by the antiquated amenities. She knew how advanced the Workly offices were and wanted to try to get the building at least somewhat modernized to compete with their offerings.
“You bet. This is exactly the kind of thing I want. No digital records, just the function that a lock was designed to do and nothing more.”
“Well, ok then.” She acted indifferently but was really relieved about one less expense on her already constrained budget. “Well, feel free to move some stuff in. You obviously have your pick of the place. There are a couple of desks in the back you can choose from.”
Skip chuckled and shook his head. “No ma’am, I don’t use desks. I’ll just get set up in the back by the roll-up. I like how it lets the light and air in.”
“Whatever works for you. Grandma should be here any minute to start the coffee. And Skip, just call me Hannah, no need to call me ma’am.”
“Okay, sorry, old habits are hard to break ma...Hannah.”
As Hannah walked around the building opening windows and turning on lights, she watched Skip bring his things in and arrange them next to the back wall. She was startled by the utter lack of anything that even remotely resembled office equipment. He hauled in a weight bench, beanbag chairs, a stationary bike, one wheel skateboards, yoga mats, a mini fridge, and a peculiar looking platform with a curved bottom.
“What is that?” she asked, pointing at the platform.
“That is a CenterStand,” he replied nonchalantly.
“Oh, ok.” She had no idea what he was talking about but didn’t want to pester him any further.
Once his things were arranged to his liking he pulled the rug walls around them. “Please tell Grandma to make me one of those amazing cups of coffee,” he said before he closed himself into his multicolored box. “I have to do a little bit of work."
Through a thin gap in the makeshift walls, Hannah watched as Skip pulled what looked to be a helmet and visor out of a box and put it on his head. He clipped two palm screens to his pockets so they hung where his hands naturally fell and stepped onto his “CenterStand.”
Then, after a momentary pause, he started moving his head around and feverishly typing on his screens. All the while the platform beneath his feet swayed unpredictably in every direction as he adjusted his balance accordingly.
Back in the showroom, Hannah could hear her Grandma spinning coffee beans in her cooking pan with her usual cadence. She walked in to greet her, “Morning, Grandma!”
“Morning, honey,” her grandma said back with a loving smile.
“Grandma, what do you think of Skip?”
“I think he is lovely. He has too much energy for his own good, but so did Baba at that age.”
“He doesn’t seem a little...unhinged to you?”
“His smile is too genuine to be manic, honey. He is definitely kooky, no doubt. But, normal people rarely do big things. I like people who do big things.”
She kissed her Grandma on the cheek and walked to Grandpa’s desk to check her notifications, relieved by her Grandma’s calmness and the familiar smell of her roast.
“That's how long my biodata says is the optimal work time. Forty-six minutes and fifty-three seconds on and eighteen minutes and seven seconds off.”
As quickly as he started, Skip stopped typing and took off his helmet. He slid back the wall and walked into the showroom with a big smile on his face.
“That coffee sure smells good, ma’am,” he said to Grandma as she gave him a cup.
“Oh, thank you, sweetheart. Now have a seat and enjoy a cup,” she said, patting his head as he sat down on the bench.
Hannah looked up from her screen, happy to be pulled away from the monotony of tax prep. “You're done already? Short work day.”
“Forty-six minutes and fifty-three seconds,” he said as he took a long, euphoric drink of coffee. Looking up he realized that Hannah was waiting for an explanation. “That is how long my biodata says is the optimal work time. Forty-six minutes and fifty-three seconds on and eighteen minutes and seven seconds off.”
“That is very specific,” Hannah replied, eyebrows raised.
“Well...yeah. No reason to try to put the data into round numbers just so I can understand it better. The difference between fifteen minutes and fifteen minutes and one second is just one second.” He paused to let it sink it.
“I can’t argue with that,” she replied, with a guarded chuckle.
“Let me ask you, can I microvape in here?” Skip asked, changing the subject to hide his embarrassment. “Those Luddites at Workly wouldn’t let me, they don’t understand, but I assure you that there is nothing exhaled. No waste, no nuisance to others. My friend Dinesh invented the process, he can vouch for its safety. Let me get him on the screen right now.”
“No, that isn’t necessary, I believe you,” Hannah said, not wanting to rock the boat before she got her first rent coin. “What is in it?”
“Caffeine, nicotine, THC, CBA, D and E, adrenaline, dopamine, cinnamon. My bio-meter tells the vape the perfect ratio I need. Except for the cinnamon; that's in it every time. I'm partial to the flavor.”
“It's your body,” she shrugged.
“Amen to that, sister,” he said, nodding methodically as he pulled out a silver box from his pocket and breathed in through a hole in the top.
“So, I have to ask,” Hannah said, “what is that helmet you put on? I have seen display glasses, but why the bulky head piece?”
“Oh, the neuro-stimulator. My other friend Hector is developing it. It uses electrical currents to optimize the part of my brain that I need for any task. The display tells the stimulator and the CenterStand what kind of brain function I need and they adjust accordingly. It also creates some great electronic music with the optimal beats per minute. At least for forty-six minutes and then it shuts off.”
“Forty-six minutes and fifty-three seconds, you mean,” Hannah joked.
“I didn't want to sound too specific,” Skip said, apologizing.
“Be specific, it is who you are. I want you to feel like you can be yourself here.”
“I think we are going to get on just fine, Hannah. I really do.”
"That way, we get to be the ones that control all of the data collected about us."
That afternoon her uncle Danni showed up unannounced. He kissed her forehead as usual but had a look of concern in his eyes. “Can we go for a walk in the back,” he asked. “I have something I want to talk to you about.”
“Sure thing, Uncle,” she said, “but we have already voted on keeping the building and I am not changing my mind.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to, Hannah. You and I both have our family's stubbornness.” He looked over at Skip pounding away on his screens and swaying like a maniac on his CenterStand. “It is about your new tenant.”
“I know he is a little irregular, but he is paying good money.”
He grabbed Hannah's hand and led her to the path that her aunts had cut through the bamboo in the back yard. “It is just that I tried to look him up and couldn’t find any trace of him on the public profile.” He was using a hushed tone and looking over his shoulder like he was afraid of any retribution for his words.
“Yeah, I guess he is a big deal in the coding world. He told me that a friend of his specializes in profile upload suppression. He stays off the grid so that he doesn’t get followed around by admirers or targeted by rivals.”
“Sounds fishy to me, Hannah. You know what kind of people wear masks? Criminals, that's who.”
“What about Batman? He wears a mask and is not a criminal.”
“Hannah, Batman is a superhero, this is real life.” He was reverting back to the explanatory tone he used to use on her when she was a kid.
“I know, Uncle Danni, but those stories are meant to be metaphors. Sometimes we have to hide our identity when we are dealing with forces bigger than ourselves."
He walked for a minute and let the words sink in. “Well put, Hannah. I hope you are right, I really do. I just don’t want him to put your business in jeopardy. At the very least he might make other tenants nervous. Remember, he is only one person, you still need to find renters for the rest of the space.” As he said that, they rounded the path back to the building and saw Skip running towards them with an excited look on his face.
He felt her uncle's grip on her hand tighten. “Here we go,” he said under his breath.
Skip stopped in front of them, “Afternoon, sir. Hannah, I have some great news. I was telling my hacker group about this place and they think it is cool as all get out. They all want a space here.”
“Great!” Hannah said, looking triumphantly at her uncle. “How much?”
“All of it,” Skip said, waving his hands in circles as if he just performed a magic trick. “Take the listing off SnapList. We’ll take it all.”
Uncle Danni jumped in, “Don’t they need noise cancellation to keep things quiet and space recognition to record usage?” He had been doing his homework. For all of his nosiness, he was one of the most informed people Hannah had ever known.
“Yes, sir, but that is the point,” Skip said to her uncle, getting more excited and started making bigger and bigger circles with his hands. “We are gonna put all of that in. That way, we get to be the ones that control all of the data collected about us. ’Power to the creator,’ ain't it bout the most beautifully American thing you can imagine?”
“But won't that cost you lot a bunch of money?” Her uncle was having a hard time wrapping his head around Skip's motivation.
“So what. We can always make more money. Data only gets collected once and can produce insights indefinitely.” By the time Skip paused to get a response his arms were wide open.
“Hell, sounds fine to me, Skip.” No sooner did she finish her sentence Skip grabbed her and gave her a bear hug that pulled her effortlessly off the ground. He then turned to Uncle Danni and, despite his obviously disapproving body language, hugged him as well. She couldn’t help but chuckle at her Uncle’s tiny head sticking up above Skip's massive back. She knew that if her grandpa was watching over them right now, he was sharing the laugh with her.