Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lamenting Science Fiction's Failures

My genre of choice, science fiction, has given a lot to the world. It is the red-headed stepchild of literature, but it is responsible for important cautionary tales, cultural and political allegories, and discussions of the human condition. Aside from these social services, science fiction has also contributed a long list of now ubiquitous words to our technological lexicon.

From Karel ńĆapek’s robots in 1921, to Heinlein’s grok, Gibson’s cyberspace, Vinge’s singularity, and even including less well attributed terms such as hyperspace and meatspace, or phasers and warp drive from Star Trek, science fiction has a record of introducing terms - and sometimes ideas - to the world before the rest of us have found suitable syllables. And this is an important function. Without science fiction's anticipatory naming, novel ideas thrust upon us by confused science reporters acquire clumsy monikers that sometimes have the misfortune of standing the test of time.

But science fiction is not perfect, and there is one particular domain that crept up on us so quickly and changed us so profoundly that all but a few of the most prophetic science fiction writers failed to see it coming: this here internet. The revolution of personal computing and the interconnectedness that followed blindsided many a science fiction writer, leading to Asimov's room-sized computers in a future galactic empire or Back to the Future Part II's preponderance of fax machines.

Because of this collective failure of the science fiction genre to foresee the internet, the neologisms that arose to describe it are some of the worst created by the human imagination. The earliest incarnation of these terrible descriptors is probably "the information superhighway," for whom we have the internet's inventor, Al Gore, to thank. Fortunately, humanity's decreasing attention span discarded this bloated appellation; unfortunately, the trend swung too far in other direction, giving rise to a series of awkward portmanteaus that persist to this day: netizen, webisode, infornography, etc. There are a few good ones, such as podcasting and emoticon, but the vast majority are tacky and superficial.

The worst one of all, of course, which I'm sure anyone reading this meandering monologue has already guessed, is blog. An amalgam of web and log, this term is used to describe the publishing of anyone's inane inner thoughts onto the internet. In the mid to late 90s when this medium of expression was just beginning, there were plenty of common synonyms for blog - journal, post, diary, site, page - but none of them managed to catch on. Perhaps they were too mundane to be ascribed to what many considered to be a new and important form of communication.

Nevertheless, blog stuck and it has spawned further linguistic monstrosities from its loins: blogger, blogging, blogosphere, blogrolls, moblog, etc.; the list goes on. This term is serviceable when used as a truncated word to ease internet communication, but it has broken free of that role in a way that lol and n00b never have. Now newscasters and journalists spew this ugly creation with every report, clinging desperately to any semblance of modernity and relevance in an environment in which breaking news is so last week before the talking heads have time to reapply their makeup.

Alas, this being the internet - where everyone is given a chance to voice their unique worldview - I'm a little late to the scene. A quick googling of I hate the word blog reveals that many others have embarked on this rant before me, and some have even done it better than I. Nonetheless, this futile rebellion against our memetic culture and an acknowledgment of the limitations of a genre I hold dear to my heart shall serve as an introduction to protoPosthuman. I'm an avid science fiction fan, a writer, a gamer, a philosopher, and a futurist, and I've decided that it's time to unleash my particular brand of cynicism on the internet.

This is my blog.

Tune in next time for a radical proposition regarding the impending technological singularity!

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