1st The Museum of Obsolete Objects

Imagine how they lived in the Olden Days: All those things! Life was so physical. It’s dress up day next week with a grand ball to mark the end of Ancestor Week. Can’t wait. It’s the highlight of the year. Last year I was a pilot. This year…I don’t know. I am going to try something different. Ah, here we go. I could spend a lifetime wandering the virtual halls of this museum. It’s all here. How our ancestors lived and worked. What’s this? A new exhibition? I hover uncertainly. ‘I Contain Multitudes’ intones the invisible usher. As I approach the virtual doors open rather dramatically.

And there, alone on a plinth sits a wallet. The last of its kind. There is a picture of its maker Big Bill Jones and as it comes into focus a clip of a recording made shortly before his death is triggered. With him, I am solemnly told, died the memory and skills needed to make these once ubiquitous objects. It was a moving tribute and my avatar squeezes out a tear. The wallet is offered up to me and I handle it reverently. My olfactory receptors are flooded with a leathery smell, and it squeaks charmingly. A soothing voice guides me through its constituent parts and uses. ‘The wallet’ droned the tour guide ‘had replaced the soul’.

‘In the Beginning’

What, I wondered, was it like to carry your money and cards outside of your person. It was like wearing your heart on the outside, and that is not where hearts are meant to be. At birth you received your digital wallet with your vaccines. It coursed through your bloodstream eternally on. There was no need to carry anything. Every atom of your body had been mapped, indexed and distributed across databases too numerous to count. We were transparent to ourselves and everybody else. There were no expiry dates, no theft and digital wallets were impossible to misplace. Universal updates were provided every 1 July at precisely 12:01 am and Update Day was a national holiday.

‘Peak Wallet’

The mania for wallets grew in proportion to our ancestors’ physiological problems. People seemed to celebrate these objects as their posture deteriorated. To illustrate the point, the curator had reversed the usual picture of evolution. A woman clutching a small wallet began as erect and strait backed, but as time progressed her posture curved, her spine twisted and her wallet transformed into something called a ‘tote bag’. Dramatic x-rays flashed across the screen showing postures that were permanently altered and anguished physiotherapists manipulated damaged muscles, but to no avail. It was an interactive display and we were encouraged to experience it and as my avatar clutched at a digital replica the right side of my body seized up. A moment ago I had floated effortlessly through the ether and now I was being dragged down to earth. I shrugged it off like the hand of an unwanted lover and its contents scattered dramatically across the table. The tour guide informed me that as the wallet grew to accommodate the endless credit cards, reward cards and coffee cards, a tote bag– a sort of super wallet – was developed to ease the burden until that too grew pregnant with objects. One hundred and twenty one separate objects representing the contents of a typical tote bag were itemised and displayed.  And the price for a Louis Vuitton wallet with accompanying tote bag? The figure, adjusted for inflation, flashed before my eyes. Unbelievable. The past really was a foreign country.

‘Stolen Wallets Stolen Dreams’

Men had it easier, of course. Theirs was mainly utilitarian and rarely existed outside of a pocket, however their anxiety did not lessen as a consequence. The exhibition was richly illustrated with pictures of ashen faced men whose destinies were upended in a single moment when their wallets were either lost or stolen. Of course there were those lucky few whose wallets contained the keys to the kingdom – the grandly titled ‘American Express Centurion Card’. The Centurion Card was reserved for the very few, or as the advertisement breathily announced ‘a card made for the very best of us’.

‘The Turning Point’

The smart phone changed everything and things got a little easier after that. Cards were absorbed into phones, but even these tended to grow over time. The museum had an exhibition for those interested in the rise and fall of the smart phone. Another time perhaps. As I exited the exhibition I breathed a sigh of relief, happy that the past was truly past and that I had dodged a bullet. Stilettos, now I heard they were a girl’s best friend…

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