A few years ago, I got into a conversation with my then-boss about teleportation. We were imagining what the world would be like if people could suddenly teleport, a la Star Trek.
He started imagining all sorts of utopian benefits, but I, as a person who’d been poor in her life, started to look at how it would stratify society.
I imagined that even if teleportation existed, it would be very expensive. The same cost as a trip to Europe for infrequent trips, or perhaps the same cost for everyday use as a private jet or at least a helicopter.
Therefore, wealthy people could afford daily or even hourly access to it, while non-wealthy people could not. Perhaps it would even get more expensive for regular folks to travel, as teleportation bit into economies of scale for air and train travel.
So, I envisioned a world where the wealthy, no longer tied to jobs in big cities, would all move to the places with the most natural beauty. Places that used to be beautiful, but remote and therefore affordable, would become expensive. By contrast, The Poors would be the only ones tied to physical jobs where you had to live nearby. Cities would be for the poor and mountain towns near Yellowstone would be for the rich.
Weirdly, this is exactly what has happened. We don’t teleport our bodies to places where our minds need to be, but rather the reverse. And I see this trend continuing, at least for the upper echelons of society. Now that we’ve given the wealthy something special they couldn’t have before — year-round skiing or year-round walks on the beach — they’re not likely to give them back. The rich aren’t into takesee-backsees. They only want more, ever more, not less.
For those of us poor schlubs who find ourselves contained to the physical world of physical employment, I don’t know what the future holds. However, instinct says it’s grim. We have no reliable nationalized proof of vaccine. Can you imagine if our government had made that a priority? We could have a national database of vaccinated people, and you would have to scan your phone before entering shops or restaurants. In that environment, workers would be protected. But now, nobody is. Nobody who has to work with the public gets to have any sort of choice about whether they remain safe from a deadly illness. And nobody who has is immune compromised gets to have any sort of choices at all.
By contrast, I have my theories about enclaves for the rich. I bet places like Catalina and Fisher Island and other wealthy gated communities will institute their own laws, held up not by police (which the rich don’t care about) but by the threat of expulsion from the in-group (which the rich care about very much). Everyone in certain communities will need incontrovertible proof of vaccination. Thus the rich will attempt to create a new kind of gated community — inside the gate, life can continue as it did before, based on an enforced social contract that leaves infection rates vanishingly low. Inside the gate, it’s safe. Outside the gate, the propaganda virus is allowed to spread. “Vaccine passports mean I’m not free,” and things like that. This causes the virus-virus to spread. The bottom 90% live in a world with endemic Covid, where daily life is just riskier than before, where at any moment you can get sick with a virus that can kill you or worse, cripple you for life. Meanwhile, the rich jet from safe haven to safe haven, protected, above the rest of us.
The only real hope is that vaccines work as well as they say, and that one’s own individual choices can keep one safe, or safe enough. Right now, the powers that be have made it clear that they’ll sabotage any group efforts to keep us safe and protected. So any problems that require communal responses will just…remain problems.
Of course, everything about this is merely a dry run for the communal response needed to address climate change.
Or, the lack thereof.
With climate change, the wealthy will seek out those little geographical pockets that are less affected. The Pacific Northwest, which will slow turn into a mediterranean climate. Buffalo, NY, which will still have plentiful fresh water. Second homes in Canada will become the newest “it” product.
Or, if natural disasters get to be too intense to avoid completely, then the wealthy lifestyle will be nomadic — Cali in the winter, Canada in the summer. The rich will live everywhere, while only the poor will be tied to one location, and forced to endure annual catastrophes: increasing tornadoes in Oklahoma, increasing floods in Miami, increasing hurricanes in Lousiana, increasing wildfires in Oregon, increasing heat waves in Texas, increasing floods in New York, snowpocalypse in Connecticut, increasing crop loss in Iowa….
Escaping the seasonal catastrophes, the wealthy will turn into migrants. Not migrant workers, but migrant un-workers, migrant resort-goers, migrant leeches. To get to their seasonally, intermittently-safe resting places, they’ll contribute to the problem — with low-mileage Winnebagos and high-carbon jets. Escaping the problem they themselves created, they’ll contribute even more to the problem in the meantime. Calls for reduction of carbon footprints will fall on deaf planes.
And the rest of us? Poverty will mean staying in one place, having a fixed address, being forced to endure.