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Ansvar väger tyngre än frihet - Responsibility trumps liberty

4 jan. 2016

Neal Stephenson's remarkable inconsistency

Square meter for square meter, this was the finest shopping district in the human universe, drawing its stock from every habitat visited by the Eye, attracting the sophisticated and well-heeled natives of the Great Chain as well as tourists from whichever habitats were currently in reach. 
She was feeling a kind of vague ambient pressure - enhanced, no doubt, by the advertising that walled her in on all sides - to buy clothes, or try on jewelry, or get a hairstyle that would make her fit in better on Cradle. [...] Kath One had been much more susceptible to those kinds of social influences and would have been emptying her bank account at this moment, trying to silence the little voice in her head telling her she wasn't pretty or stylish enough. [...]
(p. 638-639)

[...] smartphones and tablets and laptops that had been manufactured on Old Earth [...] did not work anymore, but their technical capabilities were [...] impressive compared to what [...] modern people carried around in their pockets. This ran contrary to most people's intuitions, since in other areas the achievements of the modern world [...] were so vastly greater than what the people of Old Earth had ever accomplished. It boiled down to Amistics. [...] 
Blue, for its part, had made a conscious decision not to repeat what was known as Tav's Mistake. [...] 
Fair or not, Tavistock Prowse would forever be saddled with blame for having allowed his use of high-frequency social media tools to get the better of his higher faculties. [...] 
Anyone who bothered to learn the history of the developed world in the years just before Zero understood perfectly well that Tavistock Prowse had been squarely in the middle of the normal range, as far as his social media habits and attention span had been concerned. But nevertheless, Blues called it Tav's Mistake. They didn't want to make it again. Any efforts made by modern consumer-goods manufacturers to produce the kinds of devices and apps that had disordered the brain of Tav were met with the same instinctive pushback as Victorian clergy might have directed against the inventor of a masturbation machine. [...] 
The end result [...] was that she was dwelling in habitats, and being moved around by machines, far beyond the capabilities of Old Earth. She was being served and looked after by robots that were smarter and more robust than their ancestors [...] And yet the information storage capacity of her tablet, and its ability to connect, were still limited enough that it made sense for her to download books over a cable [...] and to make room for them in the tablet's storage chips by deleting things she had already read.

(p. 640-642)

Quotes from Neal Stephenson (2015), Seveneves.

Stephenson is a self-professed "sociomediapath", but I can't help wonder why his concern for keeping the mind uncluttered - his own as well others' - doesn't extend to the "vague ambient pressure" of advertising, high-tech or not.


Stephenson is clearly a technocrat of some sort, exhibiting an unsentimental, if not callous, attitude towards many "Old Earth" features, including - it would seem - most things biological *. Perhaps he is being hyper-rational. Or perhaps he has all but given up, and is merely bracing himself.

More generally, Stephenson seems conflicted when it comes to politics. Sometimes he appears to advocate free enterprise, bordering on anarchy. Other times he implies the need for collective action, top-down control, and mass surveillance. Maybe pragmatic is the right word: In interviews published online he comes across as neutral and balanced, almost to a fault.

You cannot help but be amazed by the scope of Seveneves. It is truly epic. And the research behind it is as wide-ranging as the storyline. Stephenson deals with a host of current technological, sociological, and philosophical issues, in effect practicing a scenario-based, thought-provoking, and accessible form of futurism that complements the non-fiction.**

(Also, he is clearly fascinated by chains and whips.)


(*) I guess I'm Doob

(**) A perfect companion read would be, e.g., Häggström (2016), Here Be Dragons: Science, Tecnhology, and the Future of Humanity.

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