U. of T.: 2020

Yesterday’s future is now today’s present.

Winter, 2019-2020 / No. 44
Matthew Daley

Mere months after the would-be apocalypse twentieth-century humans dubbed “Y2K”—an event that saw society narrowly avert destruction at the digital hands of its own creations—Jim Munroe was already looking toward another future—that of the year 2020. Jim captured his predictions for that then far-off date in a short story titled “U. of T.: 2020,” which appeared in Taddle Creek’s pages in the retrospectively innocent summer of 2001. To commemorate the future’s arrival, the magazine below presents Jim’s tale of life on the University of Toronto campus in today’s present, exactly as it appeared in Taddle Creek No. 5.

Elizabeth took a slurp of the oversized lollipop, willing the sedative coating into her bloodstream. She wanted to be numb before she got into the lecture hall.

“…I mean, what’d ya want? To go back to the old style of schooling, all on hypotheticals? ” Bill was looking at her for an answer, but she knew he’d be happy to provide one of his own. “I sure don’t. What’s the point of getting a degree without a corporate backer? They need people who are up to speed on company history, ready to hit the ground running.”

“I know,” Elizabeth said. Bill put his arm on her shoulder. Elizabeth looked at the arm of his U. of T. jacket for a second—the Microsoft logo below the year he was supposed to graduate—and dully wished he wouldn’t touch her. But then where would she be? She looked at the students passing by, seeing a girl like her similarly attired with pigtails and skirt and boyfriend. She was also eating a lollipop, but because she was blond, hers was lemon. Elizabeth sighed, wishing they had red lollipops in flavours other than cherry. She was sick of it.

Bill was annoyed that his pep talk hadn’t worked, but covered it up with a pretty good likeness of sympathy. “You’re just pissed ’cause you have to do that demographic assignment again.”

She shrugged, batting her eyes at him and sucking prettily around a smile. He smiled smugly and yanked one of her pigtails.

Of course he was wrong. When was he not? She had done that assignment “properly” in an hour flat. How many eighteen to thirty-fours her company would attract with extreme-level shoe ads versus how many thirty-fives to fifties it would repel was insultingly easy; Elizabeth had originally factored in the greater consumer loyalty of the older demographic. We’re covering short term this week, the prof had said, adjusting his Nike sweatband like he always did when he was annoyed.

No, it was last night that was bothering her. Seeing Simon jamming his clothing into a backpack, chattering about Mexico like it was a good thing that he was going there, that he didn’t mind having to move every few months to the next ghetto as the rent climbed beyond his means. “We’re not economically displaced, we’re the new gypsies!” he had said, and she had fought the stinging in her nose. Could she have saved him if she had fought harder with him about applying for a corporate backer? He had given her a bracelet he had made of latex and string, and shouldered on his backpack. Their goodbye hug had squeezed tears out of her.

Elizabeth started crunching her lolly. Bill fished out his card, slid it through the Coke-can-shaped reader, and disappeared into the building with a wave. As soon as he had lifted his leather-swathed arm from her shoulders she felt light, a giddy and frightening feeling that she attributed to the sedatives. She continued toward the lecture hall, her tummy a balloon, wondering if she could float away to Mexico on it.

The Future is Now

This amusingly naïve story was written in 2000 for a project called Science Friction Action Heroes. It was an attempt to splice together political action and science fiction. A small group of us (including Emily Pohl-Weary and Nalo Hopkinson) chose neighbourhoods and flypostered one-page stories that were relevant to that neighbourhood on poles. “Kensington Market: 2020” was the first, and “U. of T.: 2020” was another. Other things eventually caught our attention, and we stopped doing it, and the world went on.

That said, the idea keeps coming back around in different ways. Last year, I helped convene something called the Multiversity Collective, a like-minded political sci-fi project jumpstarted by Toronto 2033, an anthology conceived of by Matthew Blackett, of Spacing magazine.

It’s probably predictable that these activist-futurist projects happen around years of science-fictional significance: 2000 and 2020. Maybe some ideas are just on an orbit that draw us into their slipstream every twenty years.

So, see you in 2040—I hope!

—Jim Munroe

Jim Munroe has written graphic novels and prose novels praised by Pulitzer winner Junot Diaz and comics legend Neil Gaiman, and lo-fi sci-fi feature films applauded by Wired and the Guardian. His political video games have appeared at Sundance and Cannes, and he co-founded the world's first videogame arts organization. He was an Art Gallery of Ontario Artist-in-Residence in 2014. He has contributed to the magazine since 2001. Last updated Winter, 2019–2020.