You Can’t Have One Without The Other
Because the future is a constant unknown, various scenarios are constituted in literature as science fiction that portray different visions of what the future could hold. Different scenarios such as high-tech & virtual reality and low-tech & actual reality shape the future as depicted in the narratives House of Bones, Chocco, The Onion and I, and Drapes and Folds. These two scenarios are individually on complete opposite ends of the spectrum, but you cannot have one without the other. In each of the narratives, there is always a shift from one to the other constituting in a change or an adaption, also known as evolution. And isn’t evolution the main theme in science fiction scenarios of the future? The only constant in life is change and the reader begins to see this recurring theme throughout each of the “literature of the future” narratives. Each new scenario involves a shift into a utopian world, where the world is evolving for the better, or a dystopian world, where the world is rapidly declining. Each has different literary appeals to different readers that teach very different lessons.
When the reader thinks of the two terms high-tech & virtual reality and low-tech & actual reality interchangeably, there is a correspondence between the two, despite the fact each are totally different scenarios. Virtual reality coincides with terms such as high-tech or cyberpunk which are set in a plot that is far fetched from reality. According to Dr. White, virtual reality is specifically a media simulation of actual reality. Basically, virtual reality is a world (or state) virtually created by technology and can be manipulated by man. Virtual reality is on the opposite end of the spectrum from actual reality. Actual reality is the ecological world we, as humans, live in. This reality is not tangible and cannot be entirely manipulated by man. Dr. White contrasts the two realities by stating, “in place of virtual reality’s escapism into a fantastic cyberspace, low-tech science fiction and speculative fiction encourage a re-engagement in actual reality” (White, 2015). Though high-tech and low-tech scenarios are certainly different, they need each other to exist.
In each of the narratives, there is a shift from one scenario to the other in some fashion. Without high-tech, there is not a low-tech scenario because each are dependent on each other. For example, in the narrative House of Bones, Robert Silverberg’s main character Gebravar makes the shift from a future technological world to the primordial past reflecting an alteration from a high-tech future to a low-tech past. There would not be a shift to a low-tech or primordial past if a high-tech or technological future did not exist. Now Gebravar is faced with living tribal and assimilating to the lifestyle of Zeus’s tribe, along with learning a new language and adapting to life in that period of time. The reader sees the same shift in The Onion and I except in this narrative Thomas Averill sets up the plot to shift from low-tech actual reality to a high-tech virtual reality. In this narrative, the entire family assimilates to a virtual reality lifestyle, some voluntarily and some not. The mother of the story is technologically advanced and convinces her entire family to dissolve their actual life in reality and conform to their new life in virtual reality. Each cannot exist on their own, but rather they coexist together. The significance of shifting from high-tech to low-tech or vice versa is the constant evolutionary aspects each one portrays. The characters in each of these narratives are having to adapt to their new environment whether it is voluntarily or involuntarily as we see in Drapes and Folds where Pearl is against forming to the new world that is becoming high-tech.
When dealing with evolutionary conditions, the general goal is to move towards a utopian society, where things are changing and adapting for the better. We see this in the narrative Chocco where the world shifts from high-tech to a low-tech society, where the people of Chocco worship Gaia, the living earth-world. After the devastation of the machine people, the people of Chocco have stripped away all technological and physical artifacts to live earthly and respect the biological remains of the world to keep their life intact. Ernest Callenbach used the transition of a high-tech world into a low-tech world to demonstrate the dystopia our present world is heading into. Callenbach uses the fall of the high-tech world to lead into the adaptation of the low-tech world to exhibit evolution. Another example of this transition is demonstrated in the narrative Drapes and Folds except the world is moving from a utopian lifestyle into a dystopian lifestyle. The catch is that one person’s utopia may be another person’s dystopia. For example, in Drapes and Folds, Pearl is one of the elderly who lived in the world before it morphed into a high-tech reality. She struggles to adapt to her new environment and tries to hang on to artifacts, such as her fabrics, to cling to her utopian life before it changed into such a dystopian world. While Pearl is living a dystopian life, her granddaughter, who was born in the new generation, is living a utopian life and could not imagine her life any different.
A dystopian narrative can appear as a warning of the direction the world can change into in the future and lend itself as a what-not-to-do in a sense. For example in the narrative Chocco, where the world ended for the machine people who relied so heavily on technology, is a warning for the technological present world we live in currently where technology is increasing at an exponential rate. Shifting from the wipe out of the machine people into a utopian world based on a lifestyle that revolves around preserving the earth can be a warning of our disconnect from the real world in our present time. A utopian narrative can appear as what-to-do in a sense where the world is not completely doomed and we still have hope for a better world. The narrative Chocco is also an indication of a utopian world, or a what-to-do in that type of situation. Utopian narratives have literary appeal to many readers because it instills a sense of hope. Just as high-tech cannot exist without low-tech, a utopian world cannot exist without a dystopian world. The two go hand in hand with each other even though they are polar opposites. In Rachel Jungklaus’ Does Utopia Exist, she explains how one cannot exist without the other and how “every utopia has an underbelly or an outside where those who do not cooperate go” (Jungklaus, 2013). The world will never be in perfect harmony, because every individual has individual wants and needs that will never be satisfied. Veronica Nadalin, in her final essay One and the Same, makes a great statement when she states, “thinking that there is one utopia that would make everyone happy is far-fetched and, with the reading of this course, impossible. No matter how hard a person, group, or government tries, not everyone can be pleased” (Nadalin, 2009).
Nobody can foresee the future, so what do we do? We create the future in literary terms with different scenarios of what could happen. Whether that is done in a high-tech virtual reality or a low-tech actual reality, each has different literary appeals. Each narrative displays a shift from one to the other, because each cannot exist without the other. Just as high-tech and low-tech coexist together, a utopia cannot exist without a dystopia and vice versa. Each narrative shapes a utopia or a dystopia in which they lend themselves to different end goals. What is your end goal?