The Three Traps

To expound upon a point made in my previous post, science fiction writers, by and large, have an extremely difficult time predicting future social trends. They can predict technological developments, often with surprising accuracy (although they often fail to predict which technologies will be developed when, and the accuracy of these predictions break down the further one goes into the future; it would be impossible, for example, for Jules Verne to accurately predict modern information technology, because the physical principles upon which it is based had not even been discovered in his time). What they have much more difficulty doing, however, is predicting with any degree of accuracy the profound social effects that these technologies will have (although here I must note that some authors have taken an heroic stab at it, notably Cory Doctorow; I would not be remotely surprised if his novel Makers ended-up being prophetic). In general, this error falls into one of three broad categories:

  1. Future Society Will Be The Same As The Present: This is probably the most common; you can see it all over the place, but it is particularly notable in much of the SF literarure written during the mid-twentieth century, in which 1950s social values are extended, uncritically into the future.
  2. Future Society Will Be Dystopian: New technologies have changed the way that societies operate, and the changes are terrible! Because of these new cybernetics, everyone is a cyborg zombie! Mapping the Human psyche has resulted in a situation where social deviants are viciously mind-raped into happiness! Mass media has turned everyone into mindless slugs! O tempora! O mores! These ones tend to be written by authors with a political agenda, trying to highlight what they percieve to be evils in the modern world by reducing them to absurdities*.
  3. Future Society Will Be Utopian: It will be awesome! We’ll have replicators that will create a post-scarcity economy where everyone is free to pursue art and scholasticism without fear of starvation while robots perform whatever necessary manual labour people don’t feel like performing. This one can be seen in various older science fiction, Iain M. Banks’s The Culture novels, and, of course, Star Trek.

Few and far between are those who predict a convincing future world which is neither better, nor worse than the current one, but simply different. I salute those who try.


*Understand, I`m not trying to make any sort of pejorative judgement about this type of story; in fact, I think that novels like 1984 played a very important cultural role in preventing a society like the one it depicted from coming into being in post-war western countries. But they can become hilarious when written by extreme conservative technophobes.


About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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3 Responses to The Three Traps

  1. P. rhoeas says:

    Have you read Philip Jose Farmer’s “Riders of the Purple Wage”? It’s … dystopian? Also kind of racist and misogynist, and way too Freudian/Jungian – though that’s sort of the point. But, in rare form for the genre, frequently hilarious.

  2. Pingback: Hey, You Kids! Get Off My Lawn! « voxcorvegis

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