My Dystopian Kick
Day Eighteen of Thirty Days of Writing
The past couple of weeks, during this challenge, I’ve read two books: 1984 by Orwell, and just moments ago I finished The Circle by Eggers. Reading them inspired my short story — in an admittedly messy state–2124. Both books give me goosebumps and inspire a sense of frisson, for oh so many reasons.
The aim of the thirty days of writing was to share stories, to present complicated complex ideas in the way like the above books have, I also have a desire to be apart of the conversation on Medium but not contribute to a lot of what is already being talked about, which is largely comprised of politics, opinions on the state of the world — especially politics in the United States. We all have our opinions about what’s transpiring.
However, I didn’t what to contribute to a conversation that would further lend it’s hand to the stifling polarization that is happening among us. I can’t stand offering an opinion and being called liberal or conservative. The last few vestiges of my own integrity come from a place of pride in being able to think for myself. To struggle with the information I find and get comfortable with the paradox that might arise from my thinking.
I posses some chagrin in the life delay it’s taken me to get around to reading 1984. It’s a book so firmly rooted in world understanding of totalitarian regime. It’s also been so highly referenced in my own life. At 17, just days before my 18th birthday, I started working for Apple Retail. A company in which has an add talking about why 1984 won’t be 1984.
The correlation there gives me goosebumps. If you’ve never read the book than I apologize for any spoilers or talking points you may not follow, but this isn’t a book report. However, I can’t help but point out the contradiction that had become so apparent. Orwell predicted, maybe haplessly, the tenets of what’s happened since 1984. Socially we call this the birth of the golden age of personal computing.
Regardless of whether you hate Apple or love them, they became a catalyst for the democratization of personal computing. They set flame to the way we look at and use technology today. From your computer, to your tablet, to even your watch now. It was sparked in 1984. That gives me chills. But Orwell couldn’t predict what technology would do, what the full encompassing effects, psychologically, technology would have. His primary emphasis was a totalitarian system of surveillance and the affects it would have. This is a present theme in both books.
It does also, indirectly, go into the suffering of science. How after the revolution science and technology for public benefit failed and it’s (science) course changed to serve Big Brother and the needs of Oceania — the governmental system that spanned modern day Britain and all of the Americas. Their biggest goal being a way to monitor every citizens, primarily those in the Party, thoughts. To have full monitor over what people were thinking.
Pretty scary stuff.
And they succeed, in a way, if you’ve read the book you know how Winston Smith feels at the end. A disheartening, frustrating, but realistically appropriate end to the story. Totalitarianism is not joke. It’s power lies somewhere that, we as a species and society, don’t have full grasp of: our minds. It is a psychological system as much as a political one. Those unaware of themselves can fall prey to what’s being placed in front of them. It is easy to outweigh the good for the bad. Life can seem…simpler.
Which leads me to…
This book, which is on it’s way to the screen soon, has a more modern approach to dystopia and comes from a similar place as the story I’ve started in 2124. It’s how we get to the dystopia. And it comes from a modern perspective. No specific date or time is mentioned in the book but it does make reference to being in a post Facebook world. That is scary in and of itself. The implications there are spooky.
The book, which of course I recommend a read, puts focus on the scarier part for me: the psychological aspect. Heavy focus on social media and it’s implications. The deranged idea that democracy is at it’s purest form when truly handled by the masses. How empowering the individual with a misguided thought brings a sense of superfluousness to the systems of the worlds and society.
Everything can be decided by the people with a smile or a frown. Sound familiar?
The aspect I love most about this book, as opposed to 1984, is the modern display of technology. Much of what it goes over through out the story exists in some format today. Watches & wristbands, feeds & followers, the circle of social media. All of our data, centralized in one place, controlled by one entity. The reality of the world in The Circle is uncanny.
Side by Side
About both of these books, these stories, side by by side that really freaks me out when we look at the world and some of the innovations coming out today. I’m no doomsayer. I love technology, but as a technologist, I spend a lot of my time pondering the ethics of it.
They really aren’t defined. Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park says it best:
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
The ending of both books hints to some things going on in tech today that leave me questioning the ethics. Initially I heard tell and thought “cool!”. Neural networks, getting inside the mind, mapping and understanding the brain. There’s a lot of great stuff that can come out of that research, but there’s also just as much bad.
There are companies that have desire to put my brain, your brain, in the cloud. There are companies that want to zap as much data as possible of the internet and create code that can think, predict, and act as we do. The awe of artificial intelligence. Today, as it stands, all I see that we’ve created is what I like to call Assisted Intelligence and I honestly, at least right now hope it goes no further. AI fascinates me as much as it scares me with exception to one core principle that I’m glad exists…
The concept of decentralization is being tested, used, and adopted. You’ve probably heard of Bitcoin and by now there is a decent chance you’ve heard of Ethereum. Both represent a secured way of storing data, and changing the way we look at currency and open market places. They, personally, represent Web 3.0.
Decentralization is critical. Information cannot be allowed to be controlled by a single entity. Taken to far it spells disaster for all of us. Life as we know it can shift. This isn’t paranoia, its truth. Information is power. Information influences politics & government, it influences money, and it influence us. Me and you.
The inundation of information creates an uncomfortable mental dissociation called cognitive dissonance. A break in logic. The unfortunate ability for us to hold multiple streams of understanding that contradict each other. The possibility exists for us to change our mind and understanding.
We can know that 2+2=4, but believe, simultaneously, that 2+2=5. Psychologically it can happen. It can give you a headache, and it’s more common than you think…
The Paradox of Tolerance
Tolerance is the best example I can come up with. We, you, me, your neighbor, your brother, your sister, at some core desire equality. To be heard. To be understood. To be treated and to treat everyone with dignity. This stems from accepting tolerance.
But there’s a paradox. In any argument where one side preaches the tolerance of some thing (leaving it nondescript on purpose because it really does not matter for this context) they can find themselves preaching a right to be intolerant.
I’m not alone in this observation. It’s been talked about, studied, and debated. You can seem some info on Wikipedia, but of course I encourage you to go down the well deeper in your own exploration.
Point being, we can think and feel one thing, almost righteously, but in the same breath we express that one axiom, completely contradict it. This is the doorway to our own downfall. The only way to close it is with awareness.
Can dystopia happen?
Sadly, I believe so. The mob exists in two parts now here in America. The left and the right. Conservatives and Liberals. It’s so evenly, and scarily split, we can say it represents the left and the right lobes of the American Brain. We are, unfortunately, at war with each other. A society trapped in cognitive dissonance.
Both sides capable of holding two thoughts simultaneously that contradicts it self. How does the brain handle this? I recently learned of a piece of our anatomy in the brain called:
corpus callosum — You can learn more about it here
But it, quickly, is apart of the brain that handles communication between the two lobes. It’s mitigating the fight in your head. To either side it’s viewed as a bit of an “enemy”.
“Hey you’re taking his side”
“No, I’m on our side”
And that debate continues to help us rectify and resolve the unresolved.
Society has the mechanism too, In politics we call it “middle of the road”. If you’ve read either of the books mention, especially The Circle the scary part is that some of the technology mentioned in the book is useful and even fascinating in it’s implications.
Where does it fail? Centralization. No one force, person, or entity can contain or have access to all that information. Even if the initial pursuit is innocent, the long term effects corrupt absolutely. Absolutes in society don’t work. It cannot ever be all one way or all another, in either direction we may try to make argument for, it becomes totalitarian. The importance of freedom is choice.
“We must have the right to anonymity”
“Not every human activity can be measured”
“The ceaseless pursuit of data to quantify the value of any human endeavor is catastrophic to true understanding.”
“The barrier between public and private must remain unbreach-able”
“We must all have the right to disappear”
- The Circle, Dave Eggers.