top of page

Seeds of change - by Lin Lune

2021, ETH Zürich Seed Bank Cynthia Yu walks through rows and rows of shelving, a cuboid beehive with drawers the size of index cards, and whispers Latin taxonomy. She knows that she does not know how many species go extinct every day, and she knows that her unborn child will be named something special. 2030, ETH Zürich Seed Bank "Hey Cynthia, you should take the day off. Everyone's seen the news." Cynthia sheepishly glanced at the entrance of the community garden. "You have seen-" Cas began and then put away his phone. "Oh. And them too." A child hesitantly rounded the corner, clutching a packet of vacuum-sealed seeds with a tearful expression. "Yup," Cynthia said matter-of-factly. "Waterwheel, this is Cas. He's planting heirloom seeds right now, stuff you'll never see in the supermarket." Cas crouched down and added, "this variety of carrot here was first grown in Asia, and it's purple! When one seed bank gets in trouble, we all help out and share our seeds. Nothing is lost." Cynthia chuckled at her child gravitating towards a sprouting plot. "I didn't name you after an endangered plant so you can cry about it." 2038, Zürich Waterwheel woke up to a cacophony of notifications and was flashed back to their childhood when a seed bank was looted in a conflict, and their mom's phone rang for days. Waterwheel dived into their feed. A slightly famous local tree was regionally trending because the tree had been cut down just five hours ago when the city was sleeping--but the internet was awake and noticed an abrupt decapitation in the tree's digital sensorium. Waterwheel had gained a small but loyal following because of their citizen science project that tracked the tree's metabolism, and now the outraged community boosted them to fame. 29 Angry people shared their photos of the tree and chestnut birthday cakes. Waterwheel had personally roasted its chestnuts every fall. As Waterwheel read on, it became clear that their project was the main reason why the tree was marked for removal. The data had gained scientific attention when the tree was injured by construction last year, and the three years of healthy metabolism followed by eight months of deterioration made a tragic metaphor when visualized as a wave graph. Now with the ghost of the tree growing online in open source, Waterwheel consulted their mom to take advantage of the sudden fame. They would mourn by taking action. 2044, aboard the Blauer Himmel " something we humans understand at a subconscious level. I was lucky to grow up around plants, but anyone can understand that the trees speak through data; why are my roots compressed by flat boulders? Why have I been cut with iron? When you personally feel the Bäckeranlage Chestnut's melody get weaker and weaker and disappear overnight with not even a chance to react, well, people burst into tears. It is not some numbers on a graph anymore; it is real. It affects you. It unites you, and you do not destroy that which is beautiful." Waterwheel finished their talk and adjusted their XR setup for Q&A. The wind-powered passenger and cargo ship slowly but surely made its way across the Atlantic. In the last five years, Waterwheel has helped build a grassland in a harbour, a swamp in a city, lived on a giant sequoia for months, planted a wall of endangered dragon blood saplings in the path of war, and left enough sensors on all of those plants so a global audience can don an XR suit and be immersed in the beauty of interactive visualized data. Half an hour later, Waterwheel was discussing with an audience member about an experimental graveyard garden, part science and part art, that can track every molecule as a body returned to nature. 2047, Buckingham Palace Waterwheel stared at a bright yellow flower, likely non-native, definitely cultivated, and could not recall its name. Instead of letting their botany app identify it and then continuing the inspection of the Queen's final resting place--Waterwheel's grave garden design firm had scored the proposal to carry out the Queen's will of letting her death be meaningful for the environment--they stared at the flower and watched it slowly close up as the sunlight grew warmer. 30 Somewhere in a part of their mind not occupied with XR art or fear of ecosystem collapse, Waterwheel realized they were burnt out, by all things, on working with plants. They had saved countless trees from destruction by turning biological data into a story, but they had neglected to measure their own stress levels. They pinged an assistant and told her to distribute all their other projects to the junior designers. Waterwheel would end their career on a high note and was sure their audience could empathize with them because they were already empathizing with plants. 2050, Swiss Alps Specks of diverse alpine flowers dot a meadow as Waterwheel walks a dirt path with a scientific drone. They've settled in a rural farming commune that's part of a self-sufficient Europe spanning co-op network, living a slow life in a village of mostly young people that also feel the same. Every now and then, they tamper down the instinct to get involved with the board of directors. The dairy sheep and goats, all native breeds well suited to the rough alpine ecosystem, also exist as data points in the village network, an internet of life that was synonymous with art nowadays. Waterwheel was credited as a driving force of the humanization of big data, giving voice to plants and nature and making long-term life more valuable than short-term exploitation. The commune's infrastructure was subsidized by the government, and everything else is either from fellow co-ops, like the mushroom farm and the internet of life network, or rarely bought with money earned from selling artisanal cheese. Waterwheel advises and spectates at her firm now and is not familiar with the new DNA computing techniques that make up the bulk of their farm sensors, but it's alright. When they use the community XR lab to view the farm's own sensorium, it's not an overstimulating carnival of rainforest or a heavy weight on one's chest like thousand-year-old trees. The long sleep and short wakes of alpine flowers are just as unique and resilient.





July 26, 2023 at 10:16:08 PM


bottom of page