The year is 2068.
“Uncle!” the young man exclaimed, looking at me with a shocked expression.
“Is it true that in your time, you could share jokes on your mobile?” he asked in a conspiratorial whisper.
I looked up at his innocent face through my multifocals, his question stirring vague memories from decades ago.
“Oh yes,” I said in my phlegm-filled voice, smiling as the bygone past came into sharper focus.
“That was before the Good News Act came into force,” I said, a faraway look straying over my face despite myself.
“We would spend many joyous hours cackling over mindless nonsense our friends would send to our chat groups to light up our day,” I told my young friend nostalgically.
He responded with a look that reminded me of an unloved orphan, hungry for a kind word or a nod of acknowledgement.
Poor thing, no one has ever sent anything but good news to his phone.
In fact, for a long, long time, no one has passed on chuckle-inducing information of any kind, or heaven forbid, anything that could get you stopped in the middle of a belly laugh by the good news police.
My thoughts strayed to the memory of the historic moment when the Guy Who Had The Last Laugh was arrested.
There he was on Facebook Live, quivering from head to toe from a guffaw to die for. He had been reading out the latest wisecrack on the unofficial fan page of his favourite comedy show.
They took him away before he could catch his breath.
His offence: Purposely spreading the virus of mocking good intentions, as the Commissioner for Legal Action later explained.
After that, you could virtually hear the laughter die away.
“It took a while,” I told the young man, “but people gradually got used to checking their impulse to laugh at others, especially when the bots are watching.”
We soon got used to the sight of random people turning red, blue or green as they swallowed their instinct to laugh out loud at something.
Sympathetic strangers would gather around such people in distress, rubbing their backs to calm them down or offering them a sip of water.
“There you have it,” I told my young friend, smiling wryly. “Your history lesson for the day: How we learned to stop laughing.”
The young man was silent for a moment, deep in thought.
Then his face broke into a broad grin.
“You almost had me there,” he said, chuckling uncontrollably, drawing in the air with a great sound in between rounds of laughter.
“That’s a likely story,” he said, confident that he had seen through my tall tale.
It was then that I felt a tug at my sleeve. It was my editor, and she didn’t look amused.
“You’re enjoying your coffee break, I see,” she said, fixing me with a glare that she reserved for reporters who don’t keep to their deadlines.
“Time to wash your cup and hand in your story. The printer’s waiting,” she said.
Never argue with your editor when your report is late. She can make even the good news police cringe with just one withering look. And that’s the truth.