Crèche: London Central B
Strengths: Top quartile imagination; Third quartile expressiveness
Areas for Development: Lowest quartile physical; Second quartile entrepreneurship
Opportunities: 70% creative technologies
Risks: 75% locked-in
Kind? Yes (Max 3 Kinds)/No
I am thinking of the Kind when it all clicked, the milestone in my life, the game-changing Family. Lizabeth and Christina, they were so cool, black leather jackets with badges for bands. Mysterious, like long-gone races in a fantasy saga. Lizabeth was a designer in a games work-clan making branded realities. Christina did data in a music label. Something to do with tour schedule optimisation. Very cool. I go back through my moodFeed and I frown at the explosion of happy faces.
In our first Kind, we played a space game in an old building in East London. Lizabeth and Christina told me its history. It was very educational.
These places used to be factories. Big windows with lots of light so the workers could stitch away from dawn til dusk. Then there was disruption and they became offices for advertising agencies, lots of lights so the creativity of the workers could soar. Then there was more disruption, and they became empty as business moved to the cloud, then some more disruption and they turned into levels for branded reality Family experiences like the one we were about to play. Windows blocked to make the experience more immersive. Lesson: disruption happens. Things change. You adapt. If you get locked-in, you get left behind. Don’t get locked-in.
Anyway, we played as colonists on an exo-planet. There were some strange lights outside our camp. We went to investigate, we found a treasure and fought a gang of Venusian pirates. We met the wise ambassador of a lizard alien species and I bargained with him. Lots of healthy fun for free, or rather, paid with infinitesimal smidgens of my future agency, bought by a brand in exchange for subtly conditioning sounds, colours and messaging.
I only understand this now, after spending some years in the business, it explains Lizabeth’s mocking attitude towards the wise ambassador. Where I was amazed, she saw the sliver of a viral promotion campaign planned years in advance, with me as the target.
In our Second Kind, Lizabeth took me to the site where her work-clan was coming together for their current project. It was just like another game level. A mixed environment with presies like us, and other agents tuning-in from all over. The arts-clan included a complex construct representing the combined outputs of outsourcing agencies in Slovakia, South Africa and Vietnam. There were blocky retro avatars for freelancers with super-niche skills (e.g. haptic mood nudging) logging in from their countryside manors, and kawaii project managers who metamorphosed into snarling dragons when the client wasn’t happy.
I sat at the back and looked at the game taking form as a 3D structure in the centre of the room. In this one, the players tracked the feelings of shoppers in a mall. They used that data to customise the augmented reality, tune it to optimise conversions. Subtle behavioural cues gave the shoppers away when they where show-rooming. The players made them offers with prices or personal data costs below the averages for their customer segment. I thought it was a bit mundane. Gosh, I really didn’t have a clue, did I? I didn’t realise I was looking at a picture from the future.
I learned something else though, looking at Lizabeth as she sat there, blinking metronomically while she compiled level packs fitting baseline shopper mood-states and optimisation strategies. Pay-time splurge, body loathing, overdraft rampage.
I had sleuthed her timeline. When she was younger, she had studied fine arts, and made strange installations precariously funded by the Crowd and the Arts Council. Her work left in her audiences a lingering sense of loneliness and alienation, flashbacks of weird shadows and subsonic echoes. An unsettling aftershock rippling through their own timelines.
Now, Lizabeth was applying those hard-to-market skills in a new context. Blink blink, mouth a thin line, levels coming together like there was a natural law at play. Which there was, actually. Lizabeth was displaying adaptability in the face of disruption. Is there anything more natural and necessary than that? This is what I learned in that wordless lesson. Oh Lizabeth, my mentor, my role model.
In our Third Kind, we went to the FinFun theme park in the docklands. We played more AR games with an economics subtext. We cashed out our windfall in hot dogs. We pranced around and laughed. At the end, Lizabeth and Christina told me this was it, this was our last Kind. Boom.
I think I blinked, they sensed my mood. They looked at each other as if I was an ad for a humanitarian disaster. Lizabeth touched my arm and said they really liked me. They hadn’t unkinded me. This was a system level decision. Kinder had been tracking me and knew I had potential, but I was at risk of becoming locked-in, unable to display adaptability in the face of disruption and change. I shouldn’t get so locked-in to people. I needed to tool up emotionally.
When they dropped me at the Crèche, Lizabeth pushed me her number. She told me to get in touch when I finished school. Maybe I could intern in her work-clan. This made me happy. She had seen something in me. I almost cried. Gosh, such a no-no, imagine I had cried.
I remember rolling in bed that night, hating myself for getting locked-in to friends, to toys, to places, for being such a needy baby. I fell asleep thinking out strategies to become more adaptable.
Subject: Kinder Membership Agreement
Your Junior Kinder subscription ends next week. It’s time for you to decide if you want to stay with us, and get a full subscription. These are the conditions:
You will out-kind two members of the Family every week. You can sell extra out-kinds at the marketplace.
You will in-kind two members of the Family every week. You can buy extra in-kinds at the marketplace.
You will do full sharing in your moodFeed.
The default payment model is ad-supported. You can change this in your preferences.
If you stay with us, you will be on trial for 12 months. We will use your kindness rating and other data including your moodFeed to rate your Family engagement. If you do well, you can level up to premium membership, with extra rights including Family-building privileges.
We really value you, and we hope that you will decide to stay with us. Let us know what you think, and drop us a line if you want to chat.
Paolo Drowrey, Family Manager, London
Choices that aren’t choices because no one with all the relevant information and an unbiased outlook would doubt for a moment about what to do. To stay in Kinder or go back to the Dark Ages? Come on.
And then Dandan told me. We had hooked up for a quick Arrakis hover-bike race. She told me just as she sped past me and into the sandworm area, just like that. I crashed.
I remember trying to catch up with her, to convince her to stay. Riding over clouds of dust, down twisting slopes, while she explained that she wanted to see what’s out there. Dodging sandworms that exploded through the desert surface, as she continued about wanting to spend proper time with someone. A barrage of missiles from a Harkonnen patrol, that attitude, as if she was more real than me, for saying no to the future.
I was angry. You are locked-in, Dandan. You never got over Olly, beautiful insouciant Olly, headed for a stellar career in satellite prototyping. You want to feel that again. You think it’s easy to come back if it doesn’t work out. Not so easy. We have all seen the stats. Once you go into the Dark Ages, you get bad habits, you start to think about people as if you owned them, as if they owned you, you regress to a primitive definition of ‘family’, you get left behind.
This is what was going through my head as we zoomed over Chris Foss-mined lands of golden gradients, under an exploding sky. I didn’t want Dandan to make a mistake, I wanted to save her. I thought that maybe if I reached her, if I beat her in the race, she would understand how much I wanted her to stay in Kinder. But she was faster, she won, she left.
It’s probably for the best. Going through my moodFeed now, I can see clear signs that I was definitely getting locked-in to her.
Subject: Kinder Earnings Call, Q4
Kinder is outperforming financial and social benchmarks quarter on quarter. Every day, we do 5 million Kinds, including 1 million Premium Kinds generating over $10 million in revenue daily. Our gross profits have grown by 60% quarter on quarter.
These are the cold, hard numbers. But they are not the most important thing. Money is great, but money isn’t what we are about. Kinder is about family, Kinder is about kindness, Kinder is about displaying adaptability and innovation.
Our moodFeeds show an average improvement in personal mood of 30%, and an improvement in social mood of 20%. The mean normalised salary for a Kinder member is 40% higher than comparable non-members.
Kinder is getting bigger, Kinder is getting happier, Kinder is getting more productive.
This planet is getting Kinder.
Brad Lane, CEO
I was jubilant when I was awarded full membership. I was being recognised as a valued member of the Family, and received a big bonus for all the extra out-kinding.
The previous twelve months had been pretty intense. At school, learning about consumer psychology, media engineering and interaction design, working with other study-clans on simulated briefs for global brands.
I would get back to my room late at night, and log in or go out straight away, to mentor junior members, keep senior members company, go on dates and social activities with friend-clans to keep my score up. Sometimes it had been a drag, I was so tired. Thinking about it in retrospect, it was definitely worth it. In addition to the big bonus, I picked up so many skills those days — conflict resolution with mood-swinging, mistrusting Bill, wall-climbing with the Hackney Goat clan, sex tricks. And of course, learning how to detect and manage lock-in as it happened, learning to segment my emotions effectively and deploying them where they are most productive.
I had also learnt some ancient history from the seniors, especially from Elena. Old and creasy Elena, sitting in her nice Cancún balcony, sipping an orange juice, staring into the horizon as if she could see me on the other side of the ocean, telling me about the Dark Ages, when the future was full of uncertainty for seniors, when they had to rely on their ‘family’ or volunteers to avoid growing up alone, in an unstimulating and homogeneous environment that sped up their cognitive and physical decay. That really put things into perspective.
That evening, I went to the mall to celebrate. My experience simulated a recent nightmare logged in my moodFeed. In it, I was morbidly obese, a slug of a person slimily progressing through twisty, dreamy streets, now materialised as the avenues of the mall, friction coefficients and torque designed to nudge me into retailers who had bid highest for shoppers with profiles like mine.
When I went back home I finally decided to change my Kinder payment model from ad-supported to salary share. I finally could afford that, happy times.
Subject: Dealing with non-members
As Kinder has grown, so has its visibility. There are many non-members out there concerned about us, even fearful of us. These fears are based on bad data, and an inability to display adaptability in the face of disruption and change. As a member of Kinder, active in a mixed work-clan, you should always represent Kinder and its benefits in a way that is honest and non-threatening.
You can go here for some headline findings about the value of Kinder, here for a training simulator about dealing with conflict in hybrid environments. And of course, go here if you want to chat.
Merida Chiang, Public Perceptions Officer
I changed work-clans after finishing Garden Defence Force, a tele-presence game sponsored by a nematode-engineering biotech brand.
We had been crunching hard for some time. I was working in the player reward loop, very tricky. The user was embodied in a miniature space marine drone, based on the Bungie template, that patrolled the garden to protect it from pests. When it worked it was incredible, your little warrior rising to face a metamorphosing colossus of slime in a scenario worthy of Lovecraft, which, mind-blowingly, was playing out in the garden just outside your house. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to equip the drone with heavy ordnance for safety reasons. This meant that it could take an hour or more to kill a mid-sized slug with your puny weaponry. As vicious as nematodes are, they take ages to implode their victims from within. Definitely not fun for the user, or brand-enhancing for the client.
This wasn’t the only problem. The workspace got sweaty, intense and emotional. Carmen, a small Dark Ager lady from the infrastructure sub-clan, was being particularly unproductive and letting the team down. You could see it in the burn-down visualisations hovering over our workspace like organisational ectoplasm. The estimates showed a significant probability of failed milestones, which would decrease our ranking and our rates. Not on.
Lilly did some timeline sleuthing and discovered why Carmen was upset — her mother was dying of cancer, and Carmen had had to leave her with her unreliable sister to come and crunch on GDF. She probably wasn’t sleeping much, and she was dropping the ball as a result.
Lilly tried to help, sort of. She told Carmen that if she joined Kinder, things would be so much better. She wouldn’t be locked-in with a decaying relative, she could share the load with the rest of the Kinder Family. It’s stressful enough when you are crunching in a project. Perhaps Lilly shouldn’t have told her this. It probably came across as insensitive, and not very aware of the mechanics of lock-in. Dark Agers can get a bit upset in ‘family’ situations like this.
Leo, another Dark Ager in Carmen’s team, flipped. He obviously didn’t like us and this gave him an opportunity to let everyone know why. He said we are a sect. He complained about our tax deductions. He called us freaks. Our extended family, our constant marketing, our positive attitude to disruption and change, our inability to commit. All very emotional. In my head, I went through the headlines from our Economics and Social Science research briefing, refuting each of his attacks with hard data. The millions we save everyone on child care, education and senior care. The way our educational model steers Juniors into careers better suited to their interests and capabilities, and the improved levels of productivity and income resulting from this.
I didn’t say anything. I kept it non-threatening. Leo cooled down, Carmen got her act together. I balanced the player reward loop with some bots and more active matchmaking. We delivered the project, we kept our ranking. Soon after, I found a position in a fully-Kinder clan, and that was that.
Crèche: London Central D
Strengths: Top quartile cross-segment empathy; Third quartile imagination
Areas for Development: Lowest quartile self-confidence; Second quartile prioritisation
Opportunities: 80% Monetisation
Risks: 45% Under-achiever
Kind? Yes (Max 5 Kinds)/No
Berta has unreally big eyes, like some anime telepath with the ability to absorb everyone’s thoughts from the other corner of the room. They twitch too, fractally, twitches inside twitches like scaredy rodents zigzagging past a dark forest full of cruel predators.
Her vfeeds and her moodFeed help contextualise her stats. One day, Berta could be an amazing designer, one of those people who snap their fingers and, zing, there you go, a perfect match between consumer sentiment and virtual environment, the kinds of conversion rates that algorithms can’t match yet. There is also the risk that she will build a cocoon to insulate herself from a universe that is too intense and terrifying, and never come out of it. Stay at home watching TV and eating crap forever.
To avoid this loss, I am putting together a Kinding schedule aimed at leveraging her capabilities and balancing her risks.
Such responsibility! This is, after all, our Family. Berta could contain a microscopic sliver of my genomic best hits, cut and pasted from my Family-extension contributions. I was going to say that she could be my daughter, or a fraction of my daughter, but that would sound really Dark Ager. It reminds me of the way that Dandan was talking about her ‘family’ when we met for a catch-up a couple of days ago. It had been so long, I almost didn’t recognise her. She has put on weight, she has big bags under her eyes, and she dresses in supermarket styles.
No matter, she looks happy, still shining like she always did, even after all she has gone through. A dead-end job, a disabled child, a divorce, such confined horizons now! Still, it was like she couldn’t wait to get back to her grubby home, to her locked-in life. Admirable actually, I don’t know how she does it. I suppose there is something to be said for all that stubborn resilience. It might be obsolete now, but it put humanity in the position to take it to the next level, which is what we are doing.
Ok. I better stop speculating and get on with the schedule for Berta. She needs a platform like the one I was given once. She needs nudging. She needs a game-changing moment, and I am going to give it to her. Because it doesn’t matter that I found out about her and her hopes and her anxieties just 30 minutes ago. I have the data, I have the incentives, I am her Family, and that’s all that matters.
Juan Mateos is a research fellow in economics in Nesta’s Creative and Digital Economy Team for Policy and Research. Based in Brighton, he also contributes to the music blog, 20 Jazz Funk Greats.
Patrick Savile is an illustrator based in London.
This story is taken from issue 1 of After Us, available in print from Bleep