Printed Meat And Nattering Packages One writer imagines how some of the inventions you just read about might work.
By Cory Doctorow

(Business 2.0) – Rennie stood among the sculptural displays of ready-to-eats at D'Agostino's, thinking There are way funner things for a 16-year-old to do on vacation in Manhattan than go grocery shopping. But that's how it goes: Over lunch Dad had announced that he had to catch a supersonic back to California for a second lunch with clients. Come evening, Mom was so pooped from sightseeing without another adult to ride herd on Gemma, Rennie's kid sister, that she crashed at the hotel with the brat and sent him out to buy dinner.

Rennie knew exactly what he wanted: a big tube of SteakyPaste Extreme! SteakyPaste was blue and swirled with gold, tasted better than a Big Mac, and gave Rennie hard, fast twitches that demanded he burn off his energy playing Ultima Extreme! Just try finding SteakyPaste at D'Agostino's, though. The store didn't even have aisles--it had sophisticated "food experience clusters" that made him feel 1 inch tall and a million miles from home.

He pushed purposefully past the shoppers and snatched up a blobby bag of Lynne Cheney's Special Recipe Beef Burgundy. The dandruff of smartdust around him blinked and zizzed as the motes established a connection between his personal area network and the slippery packaging, which faded to white and then began to crawl with messages:


He'd seen enough. All the meat back home in Santa Cruz came from tissue printers. It was better than "cruelty-free"; it was free of the uniquely medieval taint of putting an animal in your mouth. Besides, the last time he'd eaten anything with fewer than four trust-stars, at one of the "ethnic" stalls on the beach, it had turned out to be a Thai chocolate-coated beetle. It was his own fault--the manufacturers let you mark up their stuff exactly so you wouldn't end up eating beetles.

Half an hour later, he still hadn't found the SteakyPaste. Giving up, he grabbed a BarbieMeal for Gemma and a Salad Sack for Mom. The packages started nattering completely off-demographic upsells at him. He frankly didn't care that people who bought BarbieMeals also bought Girl Bioscientist lab kits, now on sale at the impulse rack near the purchase clusters, where the checkout boys were packing shoppers' purchases in bags that crawled with animated text advertising their contents to status-conscious passersby.

Dejected, he carried his parcels up to the nearest purchase cluster. The checkout boy shook his hand, and their PANs zizzed at each other as his account was debited a truly astonishing sum. Manhattan.

"Thank you, Rennie," the checkout boy said, his eyes dipping down to the cuff of his shirt, where a text crawl had begun to cycle. "Dude! No SteakyPaste?"

"You've got SteakyPaste?" Rennie asked.

The boy pointed his finger, and a landing strip lit up along the faux-marble tiles, threading through the experience clusters. "Go ahead," he said. "I'll watch your stuff for you."

The SteakyPaste cluster towered high and masculine, vibrating with twitchy, Extreme! energy. Rennie ran a fingertip along a row of tubes and watched as they lit up with trust-stars. He took two tubes down, then added a third. It was Manhattan--who knew how long he'd be up tonight?

Cory Doctorow is a science-fiction writer living in San Francisco.