atom thought

31st October 2011
By Rachael

I’m sure I’m not alone in my penchant for dystopian sci-fi novels. Or maybe I am. Either way, one thing I’ve been thinking about since reading Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart is our increasing dependence on technology to get us through everyday life. I can’t help wishing I could fast-forward and take a peek at what life will be like in ten or twenty years time, post-iPhone, post-Facebook, and post-data protection…

SSTLS aims to do just that. The kind of world the author envisions already sounds familiar – could he be joining the ranks of Huxley and Orwell by being ahead of his time? See if you agree – some of his predictions are below.

1. The iPhone becomes another limb

You won’t be able to live without your ‘Apparat’

We’re already heavily dependent on our phones for our social lives, but at what point will they become pivotal to our existence? Will people who don’t wear one be ostracised from society, even penalised? A pebble-shaped pendant that hangs from the neck is what our smartphones could one day become. There’s one point in the novel where New York comes to a standstill and all technology becomes unavailable. The effect this has on people’s psyches is telling – what would happen in a world where we could no longer connect to people through instant messenger? Or shop for stuff online?

2. What data protection?

We’ll be able to view data on anyone, anywhere, at any time

For anyone who already thinks Facebook’s ability to know everything about us is getting creepy, Shteyngart’s world goes one step further. Statistics on our lives, bodies and movements will be easily accessible to all. There is a great scene where Lenny does a few quick searches on his love interest, Eunice, on his flight home, and ends up finding out everything from how much her sister weighs to her credit card transactions and her childhood traumas. Will the internet be the new Big Brother?

3. Social media goes public

Everything you do will be rated, reviewed, and commented on

Ever looked at someone across a crowded room and wanted to know all about them? Socialising and social networking will merge. Rating people in real-time and commenting on their clothes, shoes, and friends might sound shallow, but it could be a fast approaching reality. The prediction is that social networking will become instant and open to all – you’ll be able to point your ‘Apparat’ device at anyone and rate their ‘hotness’, as well as message anyone you see on the street.

4. Citizen journalism multiplies

Everyone around you will be ‘Media’

Ok, so this one’s already kind of true. But picture the scene: you’re at a gathering with your friends and none of you are actually conversing with each other. Why? Because you’re all streaming your own live TV shows to your respective followers. Whether it’s ranting about relationships, or commenting live on the latest current affairs, we’ll all be part of the army of Media types (note the capitalisation) aptly satirised in Shteyngart’s novel. If and when this occurs, media will become something of a free for all, with little credibility – something where everyone streams for the benefit of their own sponsors, and where money is the only object.

5. We’ll forget how to read

Books will become smelly relics of the past

In SSTLS, anyone who reads a book is met with revulsion – books are seen as smelly, pre-historic things, often referred to as historical artefacts. In the book, Eunice has a degree in ‘Images and Assertiveness’, yet she admits that she has never learned to read. Instead, she and her generation only know how to ‘scan’ the endless streams of data they consume – a symptom of the already rapid decline of the print medium. We already see commuters glued to their Kindles and news apps, how long before this impacts on our relationship with literature? Only time will tell.

Other predictions in the cybersphere

While these predictions may sound a little grim, there are some other, more uplifting conversations elsewhere. Predictions for the future of online marketing include:

  • Ads that track our eye movements and change according to what content we read
  •  ‘Advertainment’ – advertisements which tell the user a story that unfolds in episodes
  • Automated search – your phone or tablet will know so much about you that it will search itself spontaneously, knowing exactly what information you need at any given time

For more, check out this blog post by a Google insider.

Could you live without your smartphone? What will be the next thing we just ‘can’t live without’? All you need is your future goggles and a good old dystopian sci-fi novel to find out…