Let's Not Envision A Future Without Google And Facebook, Okay?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

The book was published in 2010, and purported to be about the distant future.  And yet its opening chapter was based on a premise that wouldn’t have flown in 1995.
The book was about an antiques dealer, sitting at his desk, when a customer came in with some effects from a dead celebrity.  The antiques dealer had not heard of said celebrity, and as such told the woman that these items weren’t worth much.  As it turns out, the dealer “doesn’t get out much,” and the celebrity was in fact very big news in certain circles, and was later called upon the carpet by his boss.
Note what did not happen in this crazy future-world: not one fucking Google search.
Back when I was editing for StarCityGames, I’d get articles by people I’d never heard of.  And even as scattershot as SCG’s editorial focus was back then, I Yahoo-searched every name to make sure they hadn’t won a Pro Tour or something.  Sometimes they had, and that saved me much embarrassment.
So what we have is someone presented as a competent employee, who doesn’t think to type a name into a goddamned computer.  Which is a social failure on the part of the author, who also references a lot of old-school printouts and books hanging around in a future rife with AIs that can talk and evolve.  Won’t e-books and bookmarks have consumed those wholesale by then?
I don’t think that it’s that she’s bad at writing (the book’s quite fun otherwise!), but that she’s so busy envisioning a future where black holes and time travel matter that she’s accidentally skimming over the very changes to society that technology has wrought right now.
As a science fiction author, that vexes me.  I think it’s our job to look at how technology changes people, and part of that has to be looking at the society that we’re becoming.  Facebook is causing all sorts of havoc in the college field, because you have some sleazy hookup with someone, and wham!  Tomorrow, an embarrassing friends’ request.  That person’s now connected with you, a part of your life in a way you didn’t necessarily want but would now be a dick to refuse.
Things teenagers say are now amplified in weird ways.  Drama spirals out of control so much quicker when it’s all in the public arena, dogpiles of crazy waiting to happen.  Dumb photographs you took when you were fifteen now lurks in your Facebook archives, waiting to be revealed by employers at the worst possible moments.  And always, always there’s the possibility of your idiocy going viral, where in the blink of an eye your fun weekend project becomes the next Rebecca Black.
As people who are looking at the future, we need to examine that, and extrapolate, and figure out where all of this enmeshing of society goes.  Maybe that’s a part of my history, because at the age of 25 I started writing crazy sex stories that opened up my personal life, and twenty years later that’s such a part of my identity I can’t imagine what it would be like to not be a blogger.  But the choices I made when I was young, dumb, and full of cum are still influencing my life years later in massive ways I could not have anticipated…
…and that’s the future.  This having every word on the record.  This me, changing the details of the book so I’m not calling out another author in public, because I don’t want to start a flame war with someone whose book I think is otherwise quite good.
This is the new society we live in, where all information is just a touch away, and I think as authors we need to examine that warp and weft of our fabric more closely.  To figure out how our culture will either adjust to this craziness, or to figure out how we’ll start to bend the rules so that it becomes healthier for everyone.
Either’s okay.  My first pro-published story, Camera Obscured, is all about a boy trapped in the web of social media.  Sauerkraut Station is about a lonely girl who’s too far from the social networks, but note that there’s at least a nod to the expense of sending emails.  I’m not saying they’re works of genius, but they’re at least making concessions to the future that’s spinning off of today’s headlines.
I think the singularity is coming, but it’s not what you think.  I think it’s going to be a hideous snarl of concentration-shattering advertising and reptile-brain attention grabs and selfishness ego-shouting, and when it comes it’s going to shred us apart because the corporations will have learned how to pander to our worst desires out to three significant digits.
That’s my vision.  Yours will be different.  But please.  Apply a little thought to what’s going on now, and don’t just have the next generation of people be just like us.  They will have a lot of similarities.  But they’re growing up in science fiction now, so honor that by viewing it through a lens that is flexing and distorting as you read these words.

1 Comment

  1. Richard Feldman
    May 14, 2012

    I have a post of some sort brewing about this topic, but briefly:
    I think there’s a certain degree of writerly inbreeding responsible here. Where writers start to base the reality of their stories on the reality of past stories they’ve read, as opposed to the reality in which they live.
    As an example, how often do you see in a movie or TV show, set in the present day, where someone answers their cell phone and cluelessly says “Hello?” – only to be completely surprised when it’s Beth on the other line, whom they’ve been trying to avoid. As if their Caller ID just stopped working, or that their habit of checking it suddenly fell into a black hole.
    In TV it’s especially amusing because in the next episode (with a different writer), for opposite plot reasons, a character might check the caller ID and go “Crap, it’s Beth! Should I answer it?”
    It’s possible the former case is just the writer lazily introducing an anachronism for plot convenience (needing to get Beth and this character conversing), but the complete familiarity of the sequence makes me think it’s something more.
    It’s not just similar, it’s executed *exactly* the same as when a character would have picked up the phone and cluelessly said “Hello?” a quarter century ago because that’s the only way phones worked back then.
    I think it’s writers doing what’s familiar–either because it’s a mechanism they’ve relied on in previous stories, and haven’t stopped to reexamine whether it still makes sense, or because it’s something they’ve seen other writers employ so many times, when they get into a storytelling mindset it becomes indistinguishable from actual reality without conscious effort to separate the two.
    I see that in the exchange you posted here. Sure, it doesn’t make sense if you start from our reality and project ahead, but what if you’re starting from The Future as envisioned by other science fiction writers?
    What if you have internalized that The Future lacks Google because you’ve read about so many Google-less Futures that at this point it’s just automatic?
    None of this, incidentally, is to disagree one bit with your thesis. I absolutely agree that science fiction writers should do better.
    If anything, I’d add that writers of all stripes could benefit from such self-reflection.

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