It’s incredible when we look at how much Facebook, Twitter – and yes even the humble and now bizarrely relaunched MySpace – have changed our world and the way we interact within it, all in no more than a decade. It’s easy to see why some of the best science fiction has recently focused on the future of social media and technology in the hands of individuals, rather than governments or militant groups.
This year has seen the release of Google Glass – one of the most sci-fi-feeling inventions ever – which is a wearable computer intended to ‘free data’ from your desktop, and bring it right in front of your eyes.
Google Glass could be considered the first step toward what Will McIntosh calls a ‘system’ in his debut novel LOVE MINUS EIGHTY (UK | US | AUS).
Systems are lightweight and near-invisible personal kits that envelop your entire body, allowing you to overlay your world with virtual reality. This virtual overlay has become such a part of individuals’ daily life that the characters in LOVE MINUS EIGHTY (or the ones wealthy enough to afford them, anyway) feel stunted and naked without it.
These systems give users the ability to open a floating virtual screen anywhere in front of them and talk ‘face-to-face’ with multiple people at one time, to mute other people’s conversations on the street, to access personal information about anyone they pass in the street.
It’s possible to build your number of ‘followers’ in the near future too – but this no longer just means your fans will see everything you post in your stream. People can now genuinely ‘follow’ you around, with floating virtual screens that can wink open at any moment, anywhere, to hover around you as you go about your daily business, watching your life actions in real-time. You can follow others in the same way – if you care enough about what they’re up to. And if someone manages to gain enough followers, that’s when the advertising credits start to roll in . . .
The way Will McIntosh chillingly blends concepts from reality TV and social media highlights certain truths about how interact with one another: that the actions we take online are performed for an audience, and that our tendency toward voyeurism is increasing. As social media develops further and increases its prevalence in our lives, so too the implications of these changes will leach outward in speculative fiction.
In science fiction today, gone are the adorable sentient toasters of Red Dwarf, replaced with figures representing something much more sinister . . . Think of the chilling episode “Be Right Back” from Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror – where after a loved one’s death, reincarnation is possible by uploading their online persona into a disturbingly realistic organic robot. This reality really isn’t far away, given that tech such as Liveson exists now to look after your social afterlife – a service whose slogan is ‘when your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting’. It makes Will McIntosh’s musings about social media and reanimation after death feel chillingly real . . .
With the mind-blowing advances in technology and the explosion in the amount of time we spend on the internet in recent years, it’s not so much of a stretch to assume this complete integration of our on and offline lives could happen well before LOVE MINUS EIGHTY predicted in 2103.
Read more about where social media is taking us in LOVE MINUS EIGHTY.