Dear Tech: Stop Chasing Dystopia

People read dystopian sci-fi for fun. The tech industry seems to be reading it for ideas.

Info Glut, by Laurie Lipton


Tell me if this sounds familiar:

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk-that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh-a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

This is from E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops, a gut-wrenchingly lucid prediction of the Internet age. (Throw it in your Instapaper queue, it's fantastic.)

Now, consider tech's Big Ideas in 2012:

-Augmented reality
-Constant, full connectivity
-Big/infinite data
-Engineered health
-The quantified self
-The complete redefinition of privacy

Taken together, do they not sound a little foreboding? Or at least worthy of pause? We aren’t just becoming more like the fungus-faced woman in her little tiny room, we’re aspiring to be like her. So many of the tech industry's goals reek of dystopia, of loss of humanity. Our most powerful companies are working toward our grimmest fantasies. Dystopias are for avoiding, not for chasing.


Google’s Project Glass project was received as a joke, and rightly so. There is no chance — none, zero — that the first version will be good. Google doesn’t release completed products. They do, however, release completed ideas. Google Search is a product-in-progress, but it’s a clear expression of the ideal of instant, full recall. Google Books, Scholar and Patents are miles from completion but the core idea — that there should be a place to house and serve up the entirely of world knowledge — is there. Android, clunky as it can be, is an earnest step in the direction of always-on connectivity, and Project Glass is by-the-books augmented reality, straight out of sci-fi. Just, not the nice kind.

View Entire List ›


BuzzFeed - Latest