This is the sixth installment in a set of blog posts about my current science fiction series. The first book, THE SILVER SHIP AND THE SEA, is now available in paperback. The sequel, READING THE WIND, came out on July 22ndin hardback. Each post explores one way the books address problems that also affect us now, will affect us in the future. I hope you enjoy this one: The Information Society: Hide and Seek.
This post, and my ideas about living in an information age, started with David Brin’s decade-old book, The Transparent Society, which helped me understand the power and peril of an information based economy. Of course, I’ve also evolved in my ideas as technology has evolved, but I did want to take a moment to give that book homage and recommend that you read it.
While the colonists described in THE SILVER SHIP AND THE SEA do have networks, in READING THE WIND, our heroes will encounter a new world so rich with data that Joseph nearly passes out the first time he’s exposed to even part of its complexity. On Silver’s Home, everything is described by streams of data, down to the blades of grass in a garden. Biology and nanotechnology have mixed, which is part of how Joseph and Kayleen became Wind Readers in the first place.
While our own data availability is closer to that of Fremont than of Silver’s Home, we’re beginning to feel some of the challenges that exist on a world like Silver’s Home.
First, it’s no longer possible to hide much of anything. A person who is trying to hide from the vast information grid we live in can’t fly, can’t cross borders, and maybe can’t drive. There are financial transactions they can’t complete. And even if they manage to stay on a cash economy and avoid the financial North Shore Advisory credit databases, Google is probably going to map their house. So will their local city, county, and state. The feds do more. So the only way to really hide is to be as average as possible. To have a median income and median buying habit, to fit right in the fat of the bell curves of the automated systems that work tirelessly to mine data and gather business intelligence. There is an upside: We’re more accountable since we’re pretty much visible everywhere. If you can’t drive through a red light without getting a ticket from an automatic camera, you stop driving through red lights or you go broke.
Second, if you are vying for attention, it’s hard to get. We’re seeing that now – how does one blogger (like me, with this column) get the attention of readers? Information consumers are flooded, and the current models suggest that the more people like something, the more other people will like something – we’ve used popularity of an item to drive it up from the mass of posts (Digg, for example).
Third, if you do get attention you don’t want, it’s hard to make it go away. If a story gets picked up by a major blog, others pick it up, too. It gets recommended to sites that rank the news and push it out to other sites, so now the process of the building buzz has become somewhat automated. It’s hard to stop. Time and the next big news story will eventually send it to the background, but it will remain available to deep enough searches, and never really go away. Your story, whether you want it to or not, becomes part of the fabric of the world; an underpinning of popular culture.
In WINGS OF CREATION, the power of story is used to affect the society and culture. This moment – the Presidential election of 2008, which may be the first largely won or lost by Internet and bloggers and popular culture – is a good time to watch closely and see how spin gets spun in the infosphere.
As always, please feel free to comment on this.