Science Fiction has always been about exploring mind bending concepts, big ideas, extrapolations into the future that makes us think about our present and so on. That’s not new. However, there is this tendency to think towards the nostalgic – torn between the hopes of furthering our progeny star-ward between the evils and privacy invasion that technology will provide here on Earth. It’s like a very odd tennis match going on as eyes ping-pong between what could be and what shouldn’t be. What used to be a constantly forward looking genre has been criticised for being a self-sustained system.
Articles like “The Widening Gyre” and “Science Fiction without the Future” have picked up on this, as well as many other sources. The Guardian article on SF titles for SF haters has racked up an impressive number of those advocating the Golden Age favourites – the Heinlein, the Clarke, the Asimov etc. and whilst these undoubtedly have their merits – what can we say about the case of Science Fiction today?
I tutor 11+ and have taught Science Fiction writing to GCSE age students this year. It’s interesting to see what they think of the genre – I brainstormed with each group in different schools about what they thought the genre was about and what it had to say. You can see the post that I wrote about the experience here.
The important message here is that they’re not scared of the information age. Why should they? They’ve grown up with it. What scares them is being disconnected from the link, an absence rather than presence of what we may see as the looming grid. It’s their confidante, their sounding board, their teacher – however dangerous it may seem to us.
From what I’ve seen from tutoring and researching digital natives for my copywriting job, this fear is only in our minds. Take the average 10/11 year old of today. She/he watches ads – company videos that the internet has told them specifically to watch in order to collect points or some form of imaginary currency. These help them to unlock something in a game or purchase something online that they normally would have to beg their parents to buy for them. In other words, it gives them a false sense of “agency”. When I heard this, I was rather shocked, but they seem to do this without batting an eyelid. They are absorbing this information and being “paid” for it. Even if they don’t remember what they’ve watched, it’ll be stored somewhere in their memory. I asked a girl if she was worried by what she was doing. She told me that it was just normal. Something everyone does.
Does anyone remember Neopets? I was a little too old when this came out, but I remember knowing that there were “job offices”. You would apply to watch ads or collect certain items for their Neopoints. It’s not a new concept as such but to think it’s seen as normal nowadays to do this – children waiting for ads to appear just so they can buy a hat for their character worries me a little. That’s just a drop in the ocean, of course, as to what the internet can really do.
Therefore, if we need to write scenarios that will appeal to the up and coming generation, we have to embrace the technology ourselves. See what it is that magnetically draws them to something we may see as horrific and invasive.
Cuckoos and Chrysalids, a play that I’m currently redrafting, is about a woman who has stored her children indefinitely in cyberspace, waiting for the “right time” to activate them. She feels that this space is safe enough to even go as far as preserving her bloodline and only falters when she tears herself away from the grid as she is criticised for exceeding her data limit. In a space where the rules are constantly being redrawn, it’s a debate between the older and newer generations – even though many of the characters use the technology themselves for other reasons. It all boils down to whether you can trust humanity to do the right thing.
I’m writing a short play about someone who, in a future riot, decides to forego the internet entirely, hiding in a looted house. Because of the false information fed to the public via these feeds, she decides to rely on her instincts entirely – ignoring the consequences.
Of course, writing about the fears of technology is something we can do quite readily. But what we may have to do, as writers, is to imagine ourselves in the mindset of our children or our younger generation if we wish to reach out to them.