Monday, July 04, 2011

Social signs

Contemporary technology can be a real problem when writing far-future SF.Image via Wikipedia

In the days before TV, mobiles and social networks all an SF hero needed was a lantern jaw, a laboratory, and a convenient woman with a fatal attraction for invading aliens, giant insects or rogue robots.

Even in the days when William G was writing Neuromancer mobile phones were not ubiquitous. It was published in 1984 and the first mobile call in the UK was made in 1985. So it was not odd that the future he envisaged made no mention of them. Anyone writing anything similar now would have to make mention of them, wouldn't they? For me, a future without them, or the instant communication they make possible, is inconceivable.

The rising popularity of the social network has also got me pondering. Again, they seem such a natural addition to the the way we live that to be without them in any future looks, from here, odd.

So any far future SF has to take into account ways for its members to be in contact all the time and for them to be managing the connections with friends, family and others. Even if they do it in a very different way to the cumbersome way we do it now. Smart AI will probably help manage that workload.

I could ignore it. Write as if those technologies had not come about. It's tempting. I've grown frustrated with this because I realise that it means explaining away several aspects of the world I've put together in a story. For explaining away read - hide. The main character has been kidnapped so its not surprising that he cannot contact his nearest and dearest. The others who live in this place will be able to, though.

Just thinking about this made me realise that my original conception of this story was flawed. It took no account of the consequences of technology their lives. I was thinking about their lives using the perspective of the 21st century. I find myself justifying why certain technologies and ways of life are missing to make the story work. This is despite the fact that most far future SF I have read does not take these technologies into account because they were not around when it was being written.

Do I have to? If I'm being honest about the work then I do even though deciding which technologies will survive into that far future is impossible.

More problematic is satisfying myself about the philosophical outlook of people living in a society looked after by a god-like AI. If that was the case would people worry that almost everything they do is futile? Where is free will and how can it manifest itself? If those AIs are engineering everything for maximum comfort for the majority and can do it in a way that is largely invisible then how can anyone live a fulfilling life? I'm not even sure they would realise that they did live under such a regime. Would these fish discover the water they swim in?
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