Yesterday’s science fiction is tomorrow’s every day.
I remember when my dad brought home our first family computer. I had to use stacks of floppy disks to install games that I can now download onto my phone in less than a minute. The tower itself was about eight inches wide, eighteen inches deep and two feet tall. By comparison, the tablet I’m drafting this post on is a little less than eleven inches wide, seven inches tall and a third of an inch deep. The kiosk at the movie theater has more processing power than that old machine.
Technological advances are made for one of four broad reasons, all of which can be summarized by the pursuit of power, money or sex. First, the technology is designed to fill a need. Second, there was significant potential to make money with the new technology. Third, the discovery was an accident. Finally, the inventor was inspired by speculative fiction and wanted to create the device the writer had brought to life.
Star Trek is often credited as the inspiration for several modern day technologies, such as transparent aluminum armor, the Taser and cell phones. Though an extraordinarily popular milieu, the Star Trek universe and the gadgets within represent only a single property, and it is not unique in its ability to inspire. Authors, therefore, hold the power to indirectly reshape the world.
As I world build, I remind myself of three consequences of technology.
First, the technological life cycle is Darwinian in nature. Market selection will promote new technologies with valuable traits, causing them to multiply. Imitators will try to capture the essence of that success, and copies will be created with minor variations to challenge the original technology. Eventually, as technologies are improved through market selection, obsolete technology will effectively go extinct.
Second, successful technologies, especially first in class or best in class products, will be integrated into milieu. Looking for an example? Google’s search algorithms and simple website design made for fast, comprehensive searching. As a result, the use of Google as a verb has become colloquial.
Finally, technologies will almost never be used solely for their intended purpose. The internet was originally created as a collaboration tool between researchers. These days, most of the internet’s mass seems to be pornography and cat pictures.
In the last hundred years, the pace of technological advancement has accelerated. What makes this both very awesome and a little bit terrifying? Technology is power, and power can be, and is, abused. As a writer I always need to be mindful of technology in my worlds, how it is actually used, how it is abused and how those with the power to do so will use it to abuse others.
“We have a device, in our pockets, capable of accessing the entirety of human knowledge, and we use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers.” ~UnknownTags: Sequence 03: Musical Musings