The Handmade Hand: TOH ENJOE
April 6, 2015
This is the next short story by author Toh EnJoe who imagines the year 2036. When anyone can be a creator, how do things change for workers?
If you turned left at the shopping street that looks as if it’s stuck in the Showa era, there was the front gate of the elementary school. Right on the corner of the street, running straight from the gate to a main road, stood a rundown building. The exterior was tile, the glass was wavy in a way that was probably in vogue when it was built, and the aluminum sashes were drab.
When I opened the sliding door, a man standing next to the workbench in the center raised his head. The platform was surrounded by elementary school students with serious looks on their faces, and similarly small bodies were crowding around the other workbenches in the room. In contrast to the building's exterior, the inside was brightly colored.
"Naturally, this may run into copyright issues," said the man with a wry laugh. "But if we leave things up to kids, they’ll start by creating character items." The room looked like a small and colorful urban factory space, lined with old machine tools and computers. The boys along the sides grinned and raised their arms, on which shone bracelets showing pop-culture characters that were currently in fashion.
Upstairs was a large sculpture. No adults were in evidence.
"The pride of this lab," said a girl as she stepped out of the shadow of the sculpture. "It's a one-room data center. It's equipped with 20 by 20 by 20 boards, length by width by height, and it uses as many as 30,000 CPUs," she said, showing off the space with her head held high. Then her shoulders slumped a bit. "But it's a mishmash of teaching materials. I also do some volunteer data processing."
"These days," said the safety lead, "even early recruiting is getting tougher. Well, this facility effectively depends on corporate assets. Marketing used to be the main purpose. It was for cooperation with the government. It was for 'making industry,' as they said. But recently…" He shook his head. "Well, the products themselves have been too profitable, and that's become a problem for us as a non-profit."
“If you have this much manufacturing and number-crunching capacity, why don't you rebuild the building?"
On the first floor, the man shooed children out of the building. "So that people ask us that question," he replied.
“To preserve appearances, we do maintenance for the entire shopping street as practice for making things that look exactly the same. For tourism."
The evening sun shone through the corrugated glass window, and the PA system played the end-of-day chime telling people that it was 5:00 and time to go home.