Here at Hames Sharley, we like to invest in the latest technology. In recent years we’ve found great benefits in utilising 3D printers and virtual reality hardware. However, most recently our investment in a time machine has allowed us the opportunity to experience what life is like for communities in the future.

In this chapter, we follow the Mancio family as they set out for a day at their local shopping centre…

It’s Saturday morning and the Mancio family climb inside the spacious pod of their autonomous vehicle for a day at the Shopperama. It’s become a weekly tradition for them, an excursion they enjoy on the middle day of every weekend. Sure, more than seventy percent of their purchases are made from the comfort of their own home, but there’s something about a day at the shops that every member of the family enjoys.

Luke Mancio hurries along his son Nate and his daughter Becki, who seem to take forever getting out of the house. Plenty has changed in the last few decades, but kids will always drag their feet… Olivia, his wife, is already sitting comfortably in her reclining seat, and in the time it’s taken for the children to get in the car she’s been able to catch up on the all day’s global news via one of the pod’s floating, curved data screens.

Their vehicle cruises silently out of their suburb, each turn and manoeuvre made precisely by the onboard Chauffeurmatic. The car itself is owned by the Shopperama – Luke had thought about ordering an AutoUber, but the retailer vehicles are that just that bit roomier when you’re travelling with the whole clan. Sure, there’s a little more multi-media advertising to put up with on the drive, but it’s worth it, especially since Shopperama’s algorithms only promote items that Luke and the family might actually want to purchase.

A holographic ad pops up in front of Becki – online superstar boy band Sixth Grade is making a personal appearance at the Shopperama – and as quickly as it takes to reach across and has swiped the avatar, she’s booked her virtual ticket in the front row. Nate groans and mutters something about Sixth Grade being lame. Luke has no idea how he’d know, given that he spends all day underground in the new fully immersive VR Minecraft.

By the time they arrive at their destination the Mancios are relaxed and refreshed. Once they stopped bickering, the kids spent most of the journey transfixed by MyTube; Olivia passed the time sampling the latest sustainable, triple-filtered Icelandic espressos from the beverage console, while Luke browsed the in-car promotion screens and flagged several special offers for male grooming products.

Whisper-quiet, the car docks at the centre’s main entrance and the family alight, ready for a busy day of shopping. Their point of arrival today is adjacent to the Light MagnaRail Transit station. The LMT services people travelling to the Shopperama from the outer suburbs; for distances of greater than 150km, the magnetic rail system is faster than taking an autonocar, shaving the transit time down to about 15 minutes.

As the vehicle glides away to pick up another family, Nate grunts a quick farewell and dashes off to the skate zone to meet his friends, while Becki rushes to the centre’s concert precinct to scream at the members of Sixth Grade. The miniature GPS tech that each of them carries will let Luke and Olivia know when and where to pick them up later in the day.

Luke quickly checks that both the kids’ spending money is topped up, loading their personal credits into their cloud-based accounts. He smiles as he remembers his granddad talking about cash and cards and pocket money; these days transactions are authorised through a combination of facial recognition, and verbal and manual gestures.

Free of the children, Luke and Olivia meander through the spacious centre. Even on overcast days natural light floods in through a complex but discrete series of solar-glass mirrors that redirect sunlight and reduce the need for power. This Shopperama was carbon-neutral long before it shifted entirely to renewable energy sources. On most weekends it actually sends energy back to the national grid and creates a further income for the owners.

They pause to glance at a store’s animated, window-screen display, and their actions are recorded and logged into their own (and the Shopperama’s) analytical centres. Retina-scanning data has recorded that Luke visually engaged for 12 seconds with an ElectroStylus at the stationery store; subliminal advertising will remind him of that later in the day. For now, the writing tool has been added as a ‘soft’ item on his personal wish list, his neural waves displaying a spike in serotonin levels large enough for the stylus to make the cut. It’s his birthday next month, and Olivia will be depending on the list of surprise gift ideas.

Throughout the week Olivia has been creating a vList of her own, noting all the things to pick up on today’s trip. Once confirmed, her inventory was converted to a virtual map and now the couple follows the route through the Shopperama that was pre-plotted as the most efficient.

First stop of the day is at the boutique. Olivia has a big meeting at work this week – one that will be conducted live and in person, as opposed to the standard VR conference – so she’s on the lookout for a new business suit.

As they walk in, Olivia is approached by Armando, one of the store’s customer-relationship managers. It’s so much better now that there are real people to deal with again. Like most people, Olivia had found it hard to trust the opinions of soulless sales-droids when they’d been introduced, and nowadays companies only employ genuine human specialists who understand the global trends in their own particular fields of expertise.

Armando’s performance at work isn’t rated by how many sales he makes, rather by Engagement Satisfaction Reviews. ESRs have revolutionised shopping, as owners came to understand that a happy customer was a returning customer, and that brand loyalty was an absolute must in a flooded global marketplace. Olivia notes Armando’s ESR of 9.4 in the female 35-45 demographic and is at once confident in his ability to advise on the purchase that’s just right for her.

After ten minutes of browsing through swatches with her, Armando gestures in mid-air and Olivia’s avatar appears, sporting a number of different styles, material and colour combinations. Luke rolls his eyes and resigns himself to another 30 minutes of waiting around for his eager but indecisive wife; recognising his impatience, Olivia suggests that they part ways for an hour or two. He jumps at the offer – his footy team is due to start the final quarter in a preliminary final, and there’s still time for him to get to the Virtual Stadium for him to enjoy the game.

He heads to what was once part of the centre’s carpark but is now a 400-square foot room. Through the tricky use of light sensors, an augmented reality facsimile of the 250,000 capacity VCG is created in the space, the sights and sounds almost as immersive as being in the stadium itself. For the fully authentic experience, Luke elects to disengage the audio commentary; he’s never cared much for the McGuirebot 5000, with its undisguised bias for teams from the Victropolis.

Back at the boutique, Olivia and Armando have come to a decision. She has selected a neat business suit in a powder blue with a light grey pinstripe made up of her children’s names in barely visible text. For a moment or two, it looked like the transaction might not go ahead – Olivia’s price-check app notified her of a similar suit elsewhere in the Shopperama for slightly fewer credits. However, Armando quickly agreed to match the competitor’s price, making another customer happy and boosting his ESR to 9.5.

After verbally confirming the purchase, Olivia’s size is automatically measured via light sensors and the information is sent three storeys underground. A micro-second later a 3D printer whirs into action and her bespoke ensemble is in production on site. Before she has finished saying goodbye to Armando the clothes have been packaged into biodegradable boxes that will be automatically loaded into the storage compartment of the autonocar that will take the family home later. Olivia wanders off, shopping bag-free and ready to find accessories to match her outfit.

Next stop is the jewellers. Today Olivia is in the mood for a vintage necklace to match her new suit – she still appreciates the authenticity of pieces designed back in the 2020s and is prepared to pay that little bit more for them. She’s even happy to wait the four hours it’ll take for a drone to fly the item in from Paris and deliver it to her door.

Luke and Olivia meet again at the Shopperama’s central dining precinct for a spot of lunch. Luke skips into the hall, and there’s no need to tell Olivia that his team secured the win and qualified for the Grand Final. It also goes without saying that, at full time, he will have swiped to automatically enter the draw for tickets to the match itself. His chances are only 1 in 100 but he might be one of the lucky ones… if he is, by this time tomorrow his flights and accommodation will be automatically booked for a September weekend in Melbourne.

Olivia is in the mood for Eurasian cuisine and her husband selects a laboratory-engineered, 100 percent beef burger. The food arrives a predetermined seven minutes and thirty seconds later, and as it is served each calorie and gram of fat is logged into the couple’s cloud-hosted personal dietary diary. Every scrap of food that’s left on their plates at the end of the meal will be subtracted from the files for an exact consumption record.

Well-fed, the Mancios quickly check in with their children via holo-conference. The conversations are short, and again Luke is reminded that teenagers haven’t changed at the same pace as the rest of life, and still don’t like to communicate with their parents.

Next stop is the world cuisine quarter. Their friends, Jaime and Alex, are celebrating their anniversary and Olivia has invited them around for dinner at eight. Her Eurasian lunch has inspired Olivia for the evening’s menu – usually, the staple consumables in the family kitchen are automatically replenished from data sent directly from the refrigerator to the local food and beverage delivery droids, but today Olivia wants to sample flavours before buying.

To all intents and purposes, the space feels like a genuine Asian hawker’s market and having tasted several entrées and main-course options Olivia makes her selection. Her choice of Napa Cabbage Summer Rolls with Chicken and Spicy Peanut Sauce is added to her menu app and the ingredients are cross-referenced with what she already has at home in the larder.

A buzzing alert sounds and a notification pops up in front of Olivia. Alex has a peanut allergy and Jaime finds cabbage too bitter. With a wave of her hand, she modifies the order and a synthetic nut compound and genetically modified sweet cabbage replace the items on the original list. Moments later the products are packaged and in storage alongside the family’s other purchases.

By now Luke and Olivia are ready to head home to their inner-city apartment, and with the wave of a digit, their children and vehicle are summoned to the docking portal in the most mutually beneficial location. All their shopping is safely stowed onboard the autonocar in chambers that suit the storage needs of each product.

The journey home is spent in comfort, as the boys watch the edited highlights of the match and mum pulls up her animated avatar to show off her purchases to her daughter. Luke relaxes in his seat and thinks to himself how much more fun the day has been that if they’d just ordered online…

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