I agree that the surface plot is a bit summer-beach-read. But I’m really on board that the undercurrent was amazingly prescient.
Like a lot of good science fiction, the surface narrative belies a deeper point about our relationship to technology. It reminds me a lot of Brave New World, which I think has turned out to be a much more accurate dystopian vision than 1984. It wasn’t that the government would have to create new alternate realities, we’re just happy enough with entertainment to not care about the truth.
There are two other points that I think the book accurately predicted. One was how many services and screens we’d need to be completely “connected”. Every time Mae gets back to her desk, they’ve clamped another screen to her console and she’s being asked to monitor another platform. It seems awfully familiar to anyone that has 5 or 6 different social apps on their phone. It’s a lot to keep up with.
The other element is how little social media really adds to our life. A lot of the research so far has shown that social media doesn’t really make people happier. Like Mae in the book, the first introduction of social media makes it seem like a great way to connect with people you’d otherwise lose contact with or stay “in the know” on more topics than ever before.
But the reality is that it’s harrowing. You end up comparing your life to glossy, staged versions of others. You’re more likely to be exposed the most extreme expressions of every opinion because the social monitoring aspect of smaller communities has been removed.
We’re obviously not going to stop what we’ve started. Google, Facebook, Apple and whoever comes next are going keep sharing our data and looking for ways to leverage every minute of our lives. So its important that we have stories that can highlight the dangers of possible futures. Those stories can give us a social lexicon to talk about the things that were unimaginable even a generation ago.