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Monday, October 29, 2007

Technophobic SF

I recently was reading this post and it got me thinking about this very subject.

What exactly is the allure about technophobic SF? I'm not talking just literature here, but science fiction as a whole. From the Matrix to I, Robot (the book and movie), to even 1984, it seems to be something very common in SF. Why? You'd think that with SF writers predicting vast, amazing futures, there might be more interest in the good side of technology. Certainly we can say that technology has been mostly positive when we look at how it has changed our every day lives. Computers make communicating and researching infinitely easier and faster; the notebook makes bringing that computing goodness with you as easy as lugging around a few extra pounds. Cell phones, despite their downsides, have made our lives complex and simplistic at the same time. Medical technology is constantly changing, advancing, and making our lives 'better'--though you could probably argue against this.
Yet science fiction stories commonly address futures where technology has gone out of control, where technology is 'evil'. This doesn't just mean AIs gone bad, robots turning on masters, or any of the many other examples of technology actually turning on mankind, but it also means the use of technology by man against man. Perhaps SF writers are trying to address and issue that we as a society of human beings are not ready to face. Are we as a species willing to accept that at some point our fiddling could turn against us? Sure, building AIs is interesting and definitely a worthwhile adventure, but what happens when we go too far? Genetic engineering is right around the corner in humans. Are we prepared to build supersoldiers or choose how to build our children? Could something like the Matrix happen if we go too far and really play god? These are questions asked and answered by SF writers on a regular basis. There's good reason, though. Of all the writers out there, SF writers are preoccupied and concerned with the future. And, as much as we might want to deny it, our future is one that will be fraught with conflict. Not just war--which will be enhanced by technology too no doubt--but in our arguments over the ethics of technology. Cloning will become a reality once we realize we cannot stop everyone from doing it. Stem cell research and genetic manipulation are going to open up doorways that should otherwise be closed.
There's nothing wrong with technophobic SF. Not at all. In fact, in a lot of ways, almost all SF is technophobic--by nature it has to be. It's intentionally technophobic. Perhaps it has to be in a lot of cases, considering the type of future we are inevitably going to have to face anyway. It might seem strange for a SF book to not address the technology of the future, if such a thing is even possible. Taking into account that our future is going to be one filled with great technological achievements, it's clear that technophobic SF isn't going anywhere. The futuristic issues that have already been addressed, in some cases ad naseum, are going to become a part of our present reality, and as the future slowly moves in on us, more and more SF writers are going to be addressing those issues more and more. And they'll all be looking at us at some point going: welcome to the future, and you thought we were just making it all up.

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