Tomas Johansson

Annie in Wonderland

- a science fiction story about how we will get
experiences about history and archaeology in 
year 2030.

Annie is an 18 years old London girl and has a great interest in history. She likes the Romans and the time of the Roman Empire. She is reading the old Roman texts, the poems, Gibbon (also for the English), watching pictures of sculptures and mosaics in books and on Internet (now called Ultranet after improvements).

When she was little her father used to bring her to the British Museum. Still this museum has a lot of exhibitions in the traditional ways; there are objects in vitrins, small texts and actually it is mostly working as museums have done since the middle of the 19th century. 

In year 2010 a big Roman temple was opened in central London, not far from Piccadilly, and it function as a real Roman sacred edifice. The congregation has more then 3000 members, most of them young people. Here are all the Roman ceremonies, the gods Venus, Jupiter and Mars are worshiped, holy fires are burning and even some odd mystery religions have their place here. 

Endless of discussions and scandals preceded the opening of the temple. BBC had discussions on peak time. The archbishop of Canterbury lost his temper in a live transmission after some one remarked that the Christians should by definition show respect for others. Main sponsor for the temple is a famous British computer genius, who donated 5 million £ in year 2024. He also started a working Roman gambling house, as the Romans once enjoyed this pastime.

Annie visits the temple now and then, but she is still too shy and afraid to join the congregation. The atmosphere there, the strange songs, the smell, the dresses, the secrets fascinate her and they give her fantasy a lot of impulses. “I am a reincarnated Roman woman”, she says to her brother who laughs to tease and irritate her. 

She is using a service on Ultranet called 'Make-on-Demand'. At the computer at home she is designing Roman pieces of jewellery like silver brooches and bronze arm rings. There is a catalogue with pictures on the net of original objects, where she can get inspiration for her own new design in Roman style. Some times she makes a little anachronism by adding an Egyptian cathead, "because they are so cute".

Annie sends the design by Ultranet to an automatic factory, which moulds or manufactures the object, and in a few days she will have it back in a real version – if the Post delivery not is on strike. Since the robotized factory makes thousands of different objects every day it is cheap and a little brooch cost about like three Coca Cola. But many young people also are working with different handicrafts in the traditional ways, in fact more now than 30 years ago. Silver smiting is popular because the tools are simple and cheap and the work could be done at home. 

Snow white

Annie, like many young girls and nowadays even boys, likes to play with the “Snow White”- machine, named after the fairy tale. The interesting mirror, (like “Mirror, mirror on the wall…”) does not speak but gives the possibility to easily change and try different dresses. It is a big cylinder and the asking person is standing in the middle. By giving a computer instructions you can have a projection on the walls of yourself in different dresses. 

By pressing the five buttons: “Roman”, “50 AD”, “18 years old”, “Woman”, ”Elegant”, the machine projects the dress on the person so Annie look like she were dressed for a evening party in Rome at 50 AD in stola and pallium. The effect is like in a 360-degree mirror and she can see herself from all directions and even record the image. 

By pressing the button for make-up and chose from different variants even the face will be colorized in Roman young-girl style. Now she needs no ornatrix, a Roman hairdresser, who makes the coiffure. By pressing perfume-button the cylinder will be filled with actual smell of Roman perfumes. (Real copies of Roman perfumes are sold in shops in London with names like Gladiator Sweat, containing synthetic hormones and pheromones).

The 'Snow White'-machine also gathers all information for producing a complete dress in traditional textiles. It takes some minutes for the robots to produce the dress. It is obvious that 'Snow White' also has changed the whole structure of textile production over the world for daily clothing. No bad fitting clothes any more.

The re-enactment movement, which became popular in the 1990-ies, has been growing all the time. Often the borders between reality, fantasy and history are blurred. In the streets of London one can today not only see people in traditional dresses from far away cultures like India or West Africa, but also from distant historical cultures like Hellas, Golden Hoard, North American Indians and even 'Neanderthals' are now and then seen lumbering along Oxford Street.

Sometimes the whole family goes out trying to find a Roman restaurant, which is serving the old menus with exclusive ingredients like swan tongues. There are dozens of Roman restaurants in London. As the much of the meat comes from rare or almost extinct animals, most of these restaurants started first after 2013, when new methods for cloning was introduced. It became easy to for example clone a swan thong – just put the original (or cloned original) in a little can and add the magic liquid and wait for some days. Cell by cell is cloned – a little bit expensive but better then breeding swans and kill them. Also more appropriate for a young girl who thinks about the animal's rights. So Annie has in fact eaten ‘the same’ menu as Cleopatra once did. Apicius' cookery book is in daily use. 


VR-helmets where one can look into virtual worlds have been on the market for 25 years. The old ones had problems with low frequencies, which made the spectator dizzy and also gave the feeling of being tipsy after the removal, are now solved. Most of regular fiction films are produced for this media now. Some are interactive others not.

Of course historical films (or 'lings' as they are called now – an acronym) are popular. Annie has one called 'Lydia', where she can walk around in the Roman empress home, give the servants and slaves orders, re-furniture rooms, listen to poets, poising some enemy and much else. She can spend hours with the helmet on and have an ambition to learn more Latin language to ‘really’ feel how it was once upon a time.

Her brother has secret ‘lings’ in his wardrobe called ‘Roman baths and comparable establishments’ and also one called ‘Follow the Vikings on a Night Tour in Kiev the Year 966 AD’ with unknown content. The turn over of the ling business in Europe is now bigger than that of the mobile phone industry. (This happened first in year 2023 and has been so since that.)

Reversed electroencephalograph

Since the beginning of the century the pendulum of impact, economy and science has swung from North America to the Orient. Many of the best laboratories are now situated in China, Korea, India and Japan. An Indian/Sri Lankian professor named Da Silva constructed some years ago the first good working ‘feeling transceiver’ – FTV. By putting a lot of electrodes on the head – mounted in a special cap – it is possible to transmit specific feelings from one person to another and also possible to measure the intensity of the feelings. Of course the feelings can be recorded on any appropriate media and transmitted like a radio or TV signal. 

The first electroencephalograph was invented already in 1903 (by Willem Einthoven and the test person must keep the feet in bucket with salt water to be grounded) and developed as a medical device for more than hundred years. In 2021 De Silva succeeded in finding the methods of influence the right centers in the brain with the correct frequencies and effects. Many sci-fi authors have predicted this device; one well known was Arthur Clarke.

So, now it is possible to really feel how other people feel. Soon certain artists started to work with this new media and made compositions of 'feelings' that went direct to the nervous system. It was now not necessary to go the way over for example music, operas, film, religion or drugs.

If someone got especially good feelings when listening to Mozart the reaction was recorded and could be loaded into the brain of an other person. Soon whole 'symphonies of feelings' was created, and even connected with historical events. The most brave experienced the trenches of the First World War; others liked to feel like Stalin for some minutes. Some like to feel the euphoria of being Olympic gold medal winner in 100 meters sprint, or being a mammoth hunter for some minutes. Annie preferred a recording called 'Like a Roman Girl' by one of the most famous composers. Her brother likes 'The Gladiator Five Minutes before the Fight'.

As a variant of this feeling transmission the geneticist are making experiments with drugs. The problem with the reversed electrocardiograph is of course that no one really knows what Stalin felt; the compositions are after all fake. By extracting some DNA from a lock of hair of Stalin the geneticist believe that they finally can create a tablet that gives you the personality of Stalin for some hours. Annie is dreaming of feeling like Cleopatra, but it might still take fifty years before that could be realized. 

Historical places

For some reason human beings seems to be attracted of historical places. They want go there and experience them in reality, even if it is nothing or little to see. "Here was the Battle of Hastings in 1066", says the guide and people seem to be content to look at the unpretentious fields of the village Battle in Sussex. This binding to places is strange and can be a biological heritage from the territory behaviour of animals.

Already in the first years of the 21st century different techniques was invented by the computer industry to convey messages from historical places. Various techniques built on GPS and Bluetooth interacted with hand held computers and gave the owner continuous information about places. Annie likes to go out on Sundays and study the old Londinium, the Roman London. Often she walks randomly around and let the computer tell and show her the story of the early Roman city.

Now it is possible for Annie to give her hand held computer the main instruction: "Guide me to and show me all Roman remains in Londinium, during the 1st-2nd century A.D." She is then able to get information from thousands of pictures, texts and links. It is also possible to connect it with the FTV and ling techniques to get maximal experiences. In fact she can 'see' the old Londinium from the place where she stands and also follow the changes over time.

Of course the process of change from traditional museums and techniques to high tech was not wholly bloodless. The traditionalists considered the new technique as blasphemy, and outburst of feelings characterized the debate. 'The Times' editorial wrote in 2009: "It seems that the main preserving agent used by the traditional museum curators seems not to be synthetic chemicals but human venom, with a concentration not less than in the glands of medieval dragoons."

Around 2006 investors found the branch of history interesting and it yield a good money return. After that the development of new technique increased exponentially. The starting point occurred, when new technology was used for information about historical places. Still the traditional museums have a role to play as keepers of the originals, which people still want to see.

But ordinary young people in year 2030, like our Annie, has better possibilities to understand and get insights in Roman history than any erudite professor of antiquity through the centuries before her. 

4 April 2002


Institutet för Forntida Teknik 2002-06-23