Technology, Society and The Individual: Huxley, Orwell and Atwood

In a recent article in The Guardian by Margaret Atwood she acknowledges her debt to the writings of George Orwell. Talking about the writing her The Handmaids Tale[1] Atwood says,

The 20th century could be seen as a race between two versions of man-made hell – the jackbooted totalitarianism of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty=Four, and the hedonistic ersatz paradise of Brave New World. […] But with 9/11 all that changed. Now it appears we face the prospect of two contradictory dystopias as once  – open markets, closed minds – [because] state surveillance is back with a vengeance.

User is the first in what I hope to be a series of 3 books that follow the same protagonist, Rubi, and explore how technology increasingly shapes our lives. The Binary Futures Trilogy[2] draws on Atwood’s idea cited above that in the 21st century society will have to face the prospect of two contradictory dystopias at once and the role technology[3] will have in that possible world.

As Atwood acknowledges her debt to Orwell The Binary Futures Trilogy will undoubtedly owe a debt to Atwood, starting with The Handmaid’s Tale, which I read at fifteen and which has stayed with me like few other books have, and in addition, significantly, Atwood’s more recent futuristic narrative projections Oryx and Crake and The Flood, which share certain thematic concerns with the next two books, The Wisdom of Clouds and People Architecture[4]

The author humbly hopes that User in some small way continues the discourse on technology, society and the individual with its readers and that it opens up new stories that reflect the fast personal and social changes that media technology advancements bring to all our lives.

[Read Atwood’s article here www. ]


[1] Which she began not uncoincidentally in 1984 and where she also sought to describe a future dystopia but with a feminine protagonists’ perspective guiding the reader, a project of point of view and voice that is also very much the concern of User. So often books about technology and its impact are driven through a male lens.

 

[2] For more information see Authors Note.

[3] That entirely operates with the language of binary code, and has to translated on trust, [by those who in the know – Super Users] into the natural languages we use in our daily lives before we can even interact with it.

[4] Again refer to Author’s not page for more information on these proposed texts.

User: A book of Ideas

New theories of networked culture and society are taking off in a number of directions and are increasingly cross-disciplinary, drawing on expertise from a number of key subject areas including politics, psychology, philosophy, ethnography and media theory. I have learned much from readings of the work of Dana Boyd with regard to networked teenage sociality in America. As well as X Richardsons paper Face to Facebook published in BT journal last year that provides an enthnographic study of the issue of individual [and group] reputations or saving face in Facebook user profile presentations. Lev Manovich seminal paper that explores how data is non-reductable? [nor amplifiable] to narrative interpretations is persuasive. I do however believe that in this stage in the history of social media in particular, narrative adaptation and interpretation is the way most people [users and super users alike] interact and respond to the data they come into contact with, that is to say by organising it cognitively and systematically into stories. Facebook now even offer new tools to Import Your Stories [they actually use the word stories] from other social media sites to enhance your Facebook account pages. Despite the seeming fragmentary and dislocated arrangement of data that sometimes appears on users profiles there is a narrativisation at play in the presentation of selected data that constructs and impression of self that denotes a particular individual identity. Thinking about data displayed in social media contexts in this way is not only illuminating but essential to understanding how SNS work. It is this view underpins the narrative of User [plot, character development and setting]. I intend to write a paper reflecting on this subject for a forthcoming journal Book 2.0 later in the year.

About User

User has been developed through a new writers’ mentoring programme called Gold Dust and supported by Arts Council East. The story was originally inspired by a newspaper article the author read in the summer of 2006. Death on MySpace reported on the phenomenal online memorial and mourning outpourings following the tragic murder of teenager Anna Sverdsky. At the time the author was not participating in social media culture and the phenomenon struck me as both as surprising and yet familiar. We’d seen these mass outpourings of grief before consider the death of Lady Diana. xx working for government think tank Civitas even published a slim volume on the subject describing the phenomenon as a new development in British culture one for which he coined the term conspicuous compassion. Conspicuous compassion was certainly what was happening in the Anna Sverdsky case but with two important differences: new technology and no one had even heard of Anna S until her death. She only achieved her celebrity status upon being tragically randomly murdered, before that she was known only to a family and friends in the small northern American town where she was born and lived.  The fact that Anna S’s murderer escaped only added to the sense of seeming arbitrariness with which Big Events on the Internet seemed to gain momentum. The author has been unable to find any further information as to whether he was ever captured.

[read the article here http://www.]

User is in part a response to the phenomenon of online memorials and how users connect with the loss of people they never knew in life. What is it that makes us want to connect with these loses so affectedly? It is also, more generally, an exploration of the way social media has impacted our lives, the way our social network stories are constructed by us and in turn construct us. It examines some of the consequences of our online digital identities and asks how as we increasingly define ourselves as users [of services, computers, networks, people] what consequences may there be for our perceptions of self, interactions with other individuals and our participation in society.

User Synopsis

Is anyone online now? Cyd you online? I really need to speak to someone now. A friend in need. L x Lesshasworld1

A few hours after posting this message seventeen-year-old Aleesha Stone is brutally murdered and the life of twenty-one year old Rubi Millar is changed forever.

Synopsis

When a talented and troubled teenager Aleesha Stone reinvents herself online she makes new friends and connections that seem set to help her move on in life, but it’s not long before her old identity is recovered from the deleted data of her old social networking pages and her life begins to unravel.

On a weekend break home film and media student Rubi’s life changes when she stops for a snack at the all night cafe where Aleesha works. The two young women chat briefly, Rubi collects her order and goes on her way, but forgetting her phone returns a little while later to find Aleesha brutally murdered. Haunted by the dead girl and driven with guilt at not staying when Aleesha asked her too, Rubi starts to ask questions. Rubi is drawn deeper into the dead girl’s life and death when an old family friend is accused of her murder.

In her search for answers Rubi follows Aleesha’s digital echo and finds herself walking a tightrope of truth between our virtual and actual worlds and as she embarks on the tricky business of working out what’s real and what’s pretend she must decide who she can trust. Rubi’s journey takes her through the dark and sinister side of social networking, of indelible digital identities, small town drug dealing and childhood betrayals. It is a world where you win or lose, play or be played, use or be used.

As a young adult about to enter the world and facing difficult decisions about her future Rubi’s murder inquiries also force her to confront some uncomfortable personal revelations about her own past: Questions of neglected friendships and childhood rivalries.

In the face of Aleesha’s difficult and cut short life Rubi reviews who she is, what she values and what kind of person she wants to be.

User is a story about childhood betrayals, death networking and our as yet consequence-untested world of social media. It is a story about friendship beyond the grave and the widening gap between society’s haves and have-nots.

It’s a story about lives created and lives lived in the intersections of the real and virtual worlds we inhabit everyday.