Evolution of the Future:
Too Close for Comfort
In my midterm essay “Evolution of the Future”, I wrote over the progression of man, evolution, and how it is all represented in narratives of the future. Mainly I wrote over instances of evolution occurring naturally with or without man. Since the midterm I have read texts that are primarily high-tech, or “cyberpunk”, and I was able to obtain a new perspective of evolution by looking at possible futures that deviate from nature and are fully immersed in a world of technology. In regards to narratives of the future that inherently embrace high-tech, or “cyber-punk”, the new what if question becomes: what will become of us, our world, and how close are we to these “cyberpunk” realities? With the rapid advances in technology, it doesn’t seem so far off that the world evolves into a cyberpunk world of hackers and partly-robotic humanoids. Even while I write this, I am listening to techno remixes of classical pieces. Technology has seeped into our everyday lives, into our bodies, and into our art. While I felt that the future is essentially a mystery, I do believe that narratives of the future, such as The Onion and I, Johnny Mnemonic, or Burning Chrome, each depicting a society living someway in a virtual world, may not be as far-fetched as we would like to believe.
One of the many drives of humanity is the desire to belong and to fit in. We’ve become oblivious to the ads around us that tell us to lose weight, look this way, act this way, etc. The fact that we have become so oblivious is because, society telling others how to look and behave has become the norm. While uniqueness may have once been a desired quality, the desire to meet the cookie cutter standard is now all the rage. In the story The Belonging Kind, the main character follows a woman throughout the city and watches her physical transformations that allow her to blend into her surroundings everywhere she goes. He describes her not as a human, but rather as “the belonging kind” (42); creatures that make their “nest” at bars and sip on their cocktails like “insects feeding on nectar” (47). Throughout the history of mankind, we have evolved in ways that we find desirable. Our ancestors mated with those they felt would create viable offspring, and now we mate with those we find attractive. We choose our partners because they have desirable qualities that we want in our offspring, usually. The concept of adaptability and a sense of belonging isn’t unlike humans, it is an inherently human desire. When we see diet pill ads or hair color ads, we see the desire to change and meet a status quo, as well as the desire to change quickly.
Like the “belonging kind,” humans want their change, and they want it quickly. Humanity isn’t satisfied by gradual changes that occur within evolution; the desire is entirely egocentric. If narratives of the future are accurate depictions of what the world may come to, then it can be assumed that in the future, the natural process of the world won’t be enough for people. Perhaps the world will take a turn for virtual reality like in The Onion and I; people will want accessibility to travel whenever and wherever they please with no limitations. In The Belonging Kind, we see that being human and evolution aren’t enough anymore; it isn’t enough to belong to one group, and it isn’t entirely human to be easily adaptable. Perhaps Gibson wrote this as a way of saying that it is human to not fit in, and altering ourselves to change with our environment is morphing us into bar-dwelling creatures, searching for a mate; the concept sounds uncomfortably normal.
Virtual realities have been talked about for so long that it is only a matter of time before humans are able to achieve virtual reality that one is able to live in. Looking at young people today, we see that their heads are buried in their phones. They have multiple lives outside of their real world life, for example: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all other forms of social media that are widely used by people of all ages today. These are our forms of “virtual realities”; not quite as technologically advanced as the virtual world in The Onion and I, but for our time, they occupy the best of us. If given the opportunity to live in a world that is essentially limitless, I doubt there are many that would say no. I would feel the same uneasiness as the narrator’s father about the ordeal. I would miss the real world, much like he did. The narrator tells us that his father informs him that the real world will “always be [there]” (Averill 21); I believe the father and son found solace in the dependability of the real world, while living in the virtual world. The narrator states that living in both worlds was similar to a boy sitting between “a mother and a father, learning to grow…” (21). The narrator was able to live freely in cyberspace, while having the Taking a hard look at society today, it isn’t hard to see the similarities between the world we are living in now and the imaginative world of The Onion and I. Most of us have online profiles where we interact with people we barely know, post opinions freely, write whatever is on our mind, and essentially create an artificial world where we can be whoever we want. We are living in a world with a backspace button; reality is more digital that ever.
William Gibson has the amazing capability of using metaphors; these metaphors allow for the audience to identify with the characters as well as to understand the overly advanced technology that is presented to us. In his story Burning Chrome, the younger people have an obsession with digital eyes. The concept of people undergoing risky surgeries to obtain the same eyes as celebrities sounds completely insane and also completely plausible. Jack tells us that these eyes allow for the wearer to transmit what they see to a virtual reality for the audience to watch. There is not much of a difference between Tally Isham and her “Ikon eyes”, and the people who run their own YouTube channels and record their everyday lives with their cell phones. Rikki, according to Jack, “spent hours jacked into [her simstim deck], [with] the contact band across her forehead like a gray plastic tiara” (113). The only real difference I see between the world today and this story is that the recording is done through the phones, not through the actual eyes. Our society today lives vicariously through one another; mostly those who have less (fame, money, etc.) want to watch the world of those who have more. If we aren’t watching each other live, then we want others to watch us live. There is this eerie desire to live in unison, like one unified consciousness. What is more unified than a virtual reality in cyberspace where everyone can live?
The future becomes worrisome when it comes to elements that are out of our control. Octavia Butler has the ability to create a future world that doesn’t have to dive into cyberpunk to become frightening. In the story Speech Sounds, she creates a world where there is no language, only obscene gestures and symbols used to represent names. Due to an unforeseen epidemic that left many dead, the survivors live in a world without language. The loss of language would mean the loss of our humanity. But how close are we to this haunting image? The easiest way to determine that is to ask someone to make a call. Now when we see the phrase “call or text”, we are greeted with a sense of relief that we can simply text someone rather than face the dreaded phone call conversation. Humans are losing their ability to have conversations with one another. Language arts is just that, an art, and we are losing this art form rapidly due to the rise of social media and texting. Before we know it, we will be living in the same world as Rye in Speech Sounds, making due living in a world of ambiguous gestures.
When I take a step back and really look at the world we are living in today, I am amazed at the technological advances that man has made in the last few decades. With all this new technology in the works, the future of the world and mankind has become very unclear. The future is the biggest mystery that we have been trying to solve for as long as anyone can remember. I think that there are many possible outcomes that could turn our world into a utopia or a dystopia. It’s hard to say, but there is always the possibility of the world of machines dying out, like in the short story Chocco. We, the “machine people” could eventually destroy ourselves and bring about a new age of a people who live in a utopian society. Currently we live in an egocentric, overpopulated world, and we are killing the planet for the natural resources like we have another planet to go to. In my previous essay I stated that mankind has a natural curiosity and a thirst for knowledge that remain unquenched, and while the natural curiosity of the world has helped us advance as a species, it is possible that our curiosity may end up being our demise.
Averill, Thomas Fox. “The Onion and I”. Virtually Now. Ed. Jeanne Schinto. New York: Persea Books, Inc. 1996. 8-21. Print.
Bulter, Octavia. “Speech Sounds”. Virtually Now. Ed. Jeanne Schinto. New York: Persea Books, Inc. 1996. 91-108. Print.
Callenbach, Ernest. “Chocco”. Future Primitive. Ed. Kim Stanley Robinson. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc, 1994. 189-213. Print.
Gibson, William & Shirley, John. “The Belonging Kind”. Online Texts for Craig White’s Literature Course. Web. 9 July 2015.
Gibson, William. “Burning Chrome”. Online Texts for Craig White’s Literature Course Web. 9 July 2015.