Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dystopian Futures

Today I read the story I, Robot by Cory Doctorow (you can read it too, for free online--Cory Doctorow is one of the pioneers of the Creative Commons license that I myself use on this blog). Cory Doctorow pioneers a lot of information technology stuff, actually, and unsurprisingly technology is often the subject/theme/main character of his fiction.

I'm actually writing a story about technology, too (remember those future pirates I mentioned a couple days ago? Think media piracy, but on a larger scale). Mine is about the internet, and Doctorow's is about robots, but they have something in commom--authoritarian or totalitarian governments.

Dystopian literature has always been one of my favorite genres. A Handmaid's Tale, Blade Runner, Brave New World, 1984 and others were my favorites to read. I don't think I can pinpoint exactly what appeals to me about these kinds of stories; I like the color (usually dingy shades of grey--both physically and figuratively), I like the conflicts; I like the contrast of something gorgeously human in a cold metallic environment.

When I started out writing my pirate story, I didn't really have a regime in mind, or even really a society--just an occupation and a couple pieces of technology, extrapolated from the present and the past. But as I read Doctorow's story, I realized that my work was going to go that way, too, with governmental controls and secrets and freedoms you didn't even know you had being taken away.

I realized this, and I started to feel like, even if the picture hasn't event been gotten exactly right, it must be inevitable for reality to catch up with fiction. You can see it happening all around if you look for it: with every new leap forward, there's a legal retaliation. As soon as some wonder is revealed, regulations are put in place. It's not immediate; it takes the authorities a little awhile to notice all the ways in which new inventions could threaten them (or do threaten them) and also to find an effective way of dealing with them.

I'm not an anti-authoritarian, by the way. I don't hate "the man.' But it's interesting to see things now like anti-piracy PSAs on the front of DVDs and new laws to govern digital media rights, and the like. We widen access to information, we make strides in information technology and design, and then someone comes up with ways to restrict it all.

I guess it doesn't have to be inevitable. But if not, then why isn't there more fiction about utopias of technology? (Well, there is, but it always turns out to a lie.) Sure, it could be because the environment of a totalitarian regime makes a better story, but it is hard to imagine what a techno-utopia would look like. Free market, free access to information, appropriate regulation of digital media... but of course things are only to reach further and further out, and it's hard for the law to catch up.

Alright, I feel like I'm repeating myself. But here is my question: what would the ideal future look like, in terms of technology freedoms and regulation? You're never going to make everyone happy, but what's the best possible scenario?

Also, I might get to meet Cory Doctorow at Comic Con!


doctorow said...

Hope to see you at ComicCon!

Duff said...

There is always Thomas More's Utopia, that wasn't just a Garden of Eden type of paradise (humans get along cause they are completely innocent), but a best of possible semi-realistic worlds. It's a pretty good read. And short too. But in the end, as I mentioned on my blog, that I think that it serves more as a commentary on More's Europe than an outline for action or possibilities for the future.

ayn said...

Well, much of science fiction (and similar) serves more as a way to examine ourselves and our own time rather than actual hypothesis about the future. Alien species are an excellent way to think about what it means to be human.

And then you have stories that are supposed to serves as warnings (some of them remarkably accurate!).