Saturday 25 October 2014

Hell is Other People

No, not really, he says desperately trying not to come across as some kind of sociopath, but we do have visitors at the moment...

Visitors who nicely illustrate a cultural divide between non-digital natives and others.  Evening entertainment seems to revolve around plonking themselves in front of the TV, regardless of what's on.  I do remember a time when I would have been happy to sit and absorb whatever happened to be on telly, but since adopting the PVR I either watch what I want without the adverts, trailers and having to place my arse on the sofa at the whim of a scheduler, or I go and do something more valuable if it's somebody else's turn with the remote.  I won't just sit and veg in front of whatever just happens to be on.  (I should be working on my novel, but I'm in that endless wasteland of act 2 and the blog seems easier.)

One effect of the digital revolution, all of which would have been science fiction just a few years ago, is that we losing our enslavement to other people's timetables.  I suppose it started long before - your first car freed you from bus and train timetables, greenhouses and herbicides freed you from the growing seasons.  Email and computers frees your employer from expecting you to leave at 5pm...  My point is about those things specifically, but that I don't think anybody saw any of this coming as a sci-fi future prediction from times past - but now it's here the behaviour change feels entirely natural.

It’s normally hard to work in a reference to the National Trust into a sci-fi blog, but we went to the Killerton Apple Day last weekend - thought the cider a touch sour, but admire their commitment to 'keeping it real' - where the site includes a preserved 1950s Post Office.  On 'sale' was a 1957 (I think) Dan Dare comic, the cover story of which was set in 1997 dealing with issues concerning ray guns, or possibly death rays.  Rays of some sort, anyway.  (The Post Office also had a pack of suet pudding in a ‘utility jacket’.  Not sure what a suet pudding would need with all those pockets, but I digress.)

Whatever it was about, 1997 wasn't big on ray guns and flying cars or anything else from 1950s era sci-fi.  Those guys predicted the future about as well as one of those laughable animals they roll out every World Cup to predict the winner.

But we're not any different - my guess is that the future is going to be way, way different to whatever we're writing about now...

Friday 17 October 2014

BBC Genome Project

The BBC have this great site, Genome, where you can look up what was on telly on any day in history.  Since the invention of telly, that is.  Obviously.

So I looked up what was showing on the day I was born.  Good God.  I though ‘An Evening with Dame Sybil Thorndike’ was a Python sketch.  No wonder the pubs were full.

Which is, obliquely, the point of this posting.  Its one of the things that classic sci-fi never quite predicted.  Whether utopian or dystopian they’ve tended to show us societies, tribes, clans.  Peoples - not always human - coming together through some shared sense of identity or need.  As if that's our default, the need to flock together like penguins in a blizzard.

Which is ironic, really, when you consider these are stories banged out by some bloke on his tod in front of an Olivetti portable or whatever was the equivalent in the time of Verne or Wells.

But we’ve gone from everybody down the pub to avoid ‘An Evening with Dame Sybil Thorndike’ or a documentary on the cost of motor insurance (no, really) to walling ourselves up in our living rooms huddled in family units to watch three, then four, then a dozen channels.

Which was, of course, just a waymarker on a longer journey.  We’ve since gained screens in every room and have fractured our society into even smaller parts, whole families sitting in different spaces watching different - or, even worse, the same - things.

And now, forget a fixed screen in every room, we have a screen in every palm.  And we can film our own material to boot.

Society is like water or lightning.  It takes the path of least resistance.  That’s why, when you take away the need to man a loom for fourteen hours a day, the average mind drifts to porn and drugs.  It’s a default.  We’re animals, really.  And I mean that literally first, and metaphorically second.

The future is us sitting in our own filth with screens over - and then in - our eyes watching content of our own making.  And if that’s just a waymarker too and not the end of the journey then I have no idea what comes next…

Work that into part seven, George.