December 8, 2017
Ways of Life in High Tech & Low Tech Futures
Speculative fiction literature offers vast ideas and suggestions about what the world might look like for future generations. More specifically, high tech and low tech scenarios contain comparative and contrasting details that relate to readers as human beings with needs, wants and emotions. Although the stories vary greatly in content and styles, they all seem to offer similar appeals that draw readers in and make them relatable to current life on Earth.
I found it very interesting that the needs for survival stayed mostly the same across the future scenario texts that we explored. For example, humans need nutrients to live and while that typically comes in the form of food, these options were extended and broadened among narratives. In high tech stories like The Onion and I by Thomas Fox Averill the focus was on conserving food through high tech virtual reality. While the experience of onions didn’t produce watery eyes, it did fill bellies and suffice as edible food. In Drapes and Folds by Audrey Ferber we find a similar scenario where nutrients are being provided by “attaching at the navel to a sup-pump and filling up,” (VN, 128), but some humans missed the flavor of food and were offered a “system of synthetic flavor delivery” (VN, 128) called TasteLik.
While sources of nourishment were widely available and necessary in high-tech narratives, a major focus of low tech texts was also the growing, gathering and preparing of food. In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower we saw a lot of effort put into finding water sources, conserving food and gathering information about how to grow various foods. In Butler’s Speech Sounds we see a similar pattern. Gardens and livestock seemed to be the main food source with Rye counting on “what she had scavenged, what she had preserved, and what she grew” for food (VN, 103-104). In Chocco by Ernest Callenbach we also see gardens being grown and “hunters returning home with . . . deer or some rabbits” (FP, 190), but this was more of a shared society as opposed to the other post-apocalyptic narratives where survivors fended for themselves and protected what they had.
In addition to the necessity of food, we also see that the human need for clothing is apparent in both high tech and low tech stories. The Onion and I tells of a family that moves into the virtual world of Bidwell and leaves behind all of their belongings, including their clothing, as it is all scanned into the computer. However, we know that the characters still wear clothing, including a virtual reality helmet, because the father “reached down for an onion and rubbed it against his pants leg” (VN, 20). His pants even have pockets, which he later pulls seeds out of! This whole exchange made me wonder if people who live in a virtual reality world still shower and put on clean underwear. Thus, the need for clothing must still exist! Drapes and Folds contained a character who had a supreme attachment to clothing and fabrics. While fashion was banned in this high tech future vision, people were still expected to wear suits called Bracies that made every body equal and without unique shapes and curves.
In low tech future visions the necessity for clothing remains, but it is, well, low tech. For example, in Robert Silverberg’s House of Bones we are introduced to people who resemble cavemen in our historical context. They have houses made of mammoth bones where “nobody wears very much clothing, because the structure is well insulated” (FP, 90). So, in low tech narratives that encompass our evolutionary history clothing is a necessity, but future low tech texts contain the same humanistic requirements. In Chocco the people “knew how to weave cloth from cotton and wool, and also from yucca fibers” (FP, 197). This allowed them to thrive and survive through various seasons and weather conditions.
High tech and low tech future visions also both seem to hold out a hope for survival and growth. High tech narratives such as The Onion and I and Drapes and Folds both seem to be focused on down-sizing unnecessary belongings, increasing longevity and conserving resources for future generations. Even when the future vision contains both low tech and high tech societies within the same story there is still a yearning for improvement in the future. For example, in Paul Di Filippo’s Stone Lives we see a low tech community that is struggling to survive among a high tech society that is trying to figure out how to improve living conditions for the masses. Despite the poor conditions in the Bungle, people still look for work so that their life might be a little more bearable. We later find out that in Citrine Tower Alice Citrine is trying to help all of the people, even the lowly Bungle citizens. Being human, no matter what your living conditions may be, includes a built-in desire for improvement. We also see this principle in low tech future scenarios. Parable of the Sower is entirely based on post-apocalyptic survival and the beginning of a new community called Acorn. While Lauren and her comrades are having to fight for survival, supplies and safety, they still remain very focused on progress and their future. Chocco is also a community focused on the well-being of its citizens and the survival of future generations. They use what they know of the past Machine People to avoid their mistakes and therefore, avoid their demise and survive.
Another humanistic trait that is relatable and repeated in future scenarios is the need for companionship. In William Gibson’s high tech cyberpunk narrative Burning Chrome we see the complex relationships between Bobby, Rikki and Jack. Jack reminded me of a wounded warrior with his mechanical arm, and the exchange between him and Rikki made me think what it must be like to lose a human limb and have another human accept your replacement. While Rikki and Bobby seemed pretty disconnected, Jack clearly craved both love and friendship despite the technical world around him. In Somebody Up There Likes Me by Ralph Lombreglia technology is used between Snookie and Dante to make human connections. Although abruptly confusing at first when Dante is scrambling emails and wondering why his love is misconstruing their meaning, it ends well with the duo ending up together. Even in narratives where high tech and low tech societies coexist, we still see that relationships are necessity. In Bears Discover Fire by Terry Bisson we learn that bears too have the need for companionship. We also get the impression that our human need for company can even be filled by animals when Mother disappears to befriend the bears. We know this to be true in real life with the affection that people show for their pets. Even when people don’t speak the same languages they still seem to form meaningfully relationships. In House of Bones the main character and Sally become quite fond of each other even without the ability to communicate deeply. Friendships also flourish under these same conditions. In low tech, post-apocalyptic narratives it is proven time and time again that people need people. Speech Sounds and Parable of the Sower each have their own examples of love, lust and compatibility.
When a storyline contains relatable topics like survival, hope and relationships it makes them more appealing to a wider range of readers. I think, in general, that text becomes more interesting when it connects to emotions and personal experiences. I enjoyed many of the high tech, low tech and combination tech narratives due to their appeal of humanistic desires because, as a human, I also have a strong ambition for a future that thrives and excels. Reading about the future allows me to picture what might be, what we can do about it and how I fit into those different scenarios.