Sometime in the 1950s one of the last houses in Cornwall (a country in England) to be connected to electricity was owned by a lady. Up to then she had candles for light and fires for heat. The electricians carefully checked everything was in working order before they left. After about six months, the electricity company noticed that hardly any electricity was being used by the lady. They checked the meter was in working order and could not find anything wrong with the supply to house. So they asked if the lady was happy the electricity supply. She said she was very pleased because she could light the candles later in the evenings by switching on the electric lights for a minute or two.
This, I’m told is a true story. In fact I even know roughly where the house was and yes it was in the backwoods, near Norway Inn (previously Norway Hotel).
So why am I telling you this story? Because it shows that people are reluctant to change their habits once they’ve settled into a certain routine in life.
Fast forward to last month. I attended the Future Technology Summit in London. What struck me was there was so much technology about to
hot hit the streets I could not take it all in, let alone work out the implications of how those technologies would combine into something else useful.
But what was brought home to me was that the data technology we are using is changing the way we will lead our lives. A good example is 3D printing. There is a network of people who are willing (for a price) to 3D print various designs. It’s almost as if the cottage industries are coming back to life, using modern technology. But it’s different from the traditional cottage industries in that knowledge of developments are being shared very quickly.
But there is more to it than just knowledge sharing. Another speaker indicated that manufacturing was based on the same principles that the Victorians used, which required what he called ‘linear thinking’ – basically one thing leads to another that leads to yet another type of thought process. The distributed networking via the Internet leads us to work and think in a more distributed way.
A new way of thinking? Whoa… hold on a moment. Has this ever come up in science fiction?
Well, not to my knowledge.
The more I thought about it, the more I realised how much of a rut science fiction had got itself into. What science fiction has done is take technology trends, extrapolated or otherwise manipulated them and put the same type of humans into the new situation. Science fiction changes with the changing technology, but not with the changing humans.
And when it does come across different kinds of behaviour, it turns them into aliens. A good example is Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes turning turning up as Mr Spock in Star Trek. (Doyle got away with letting Sherlock be human because he had based the character on one of his medical professors.)
Interestingly, the stories I have difficulty selling are the ones where I’m introducing new-ish characteristics into my humans. I’ve known beta readers get terribly confused by this. They are looking for the same old types of reactions and emotional resolution to problems. I had been driven to writing such stories because I put people in situations where they had to change their behaviours in order to survive. All I did was answer the question: “What traits would make lives easier in the environment?”
Not only are we on the cusp of a change in way society lives and operates, we are about to start colonising space which will make its own demands on way humans live.
What will happen is that society will break up into many different cultures – a kind of fragmentation. At the same time information will act as the glue to keeping the human race reasonably cohesively working together.
And I keep coming back to – where are the science fiction books that describe these possible changes?