Thursday, 17 July 2014

Why sci-fi's double whammy doesn't work

My mind drifted this morning on to an article I'd read a couple of days ago about the issues and risks thrown up by Google Glass and whether I could construct a storyline involving card counting and casinos before deciding that was all rather old hat.

From there it was a short (mental) step to the question of why science-fiction never predicted the Internet.

Of course, a quick Google reveals that, of course, science fiction did foresee both the Internet and social networking, firstly and most completely in Mark Twain's "From the 'London Times' of 1904" (1898) - which by all accounts is a brilliant story unless you try to read it.

Which then led me to ponder the really quite obvious point of why sci-fi hasn't done very well at predicting the myriad of things we use the Internet for on a prosaic, day-to-day basis: satnav, eBay, streetview, parcel tracking and so forth.  I'm no expert and will be willingly corrected (matron!) but I get the feeling sci-fi was always more eager to go down the virtual reality/mind-reading route than foreseeing fridges that would talk to the supermarket when your Parmesan got down to the rind.

My conclusion is this.  In the pre-digital age the Internet would have been a leap of faith, a deus ex machina for the writer to explain and the reader to buy into.  Mark Twain's Telectroscope, apparently, mainly let you do what you did normally (observe, converse) but geographically removed.  To then add a second invention, dependent on the detail of the first, would have stretched the credulity of the reader beyond comfort.  Virtual reality and mind-reading, whilst representing bigger asks in the real world are single step fictional inventions, whereas Internet plus kitten videos going viral is, somehow, two.

Or, maybe, the imaginations of most writers, me included, is limited so that we can only make out the next step; anything beyond being lost in the gloom.

I'm thinking out loud here.  Responses via however we'll be communicating in the year 2096, please. 

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