Hah – it turns out that the online course I’m taking through coursera is going to talk about some of this same stuff, in an albeit more roundabout way. The course starts out by giving us a brief introduction into technology as a phenomenon, familiar territory to geeks like me but perhaps new stuff for those who aren’t, and then quickly proceeds into a discussion of utopias and dystopias.
This is an interesting turn, and one that the course designers and facilitators don’t take a lot of time to justify. I’m not sure that they need to, but I’d have appreciated a bit more discussion, because while there are complex approaches that can be taken in setting up this dialectic, using it to drive a discussion might well be reductionist (in a way they accuse others of being).
The first film they showed is called Bendito Machine (we watched the third one), and it immediately dove into these issues I’ve been obsessing about, including matching ancient rites and worship with machine technology. I’ve written more about it in class, but the way it approaches technology felt utopian/dystopian in a Herland or Lost World sense, but with machines replacing the dinosaurs and big mammals and other scary critters, complete with a sole person (who is John Galt?) climbing onto the peninsula where all this is happening. My guess is that these folks (the course designers) know exactly what they’re doing, and that pushing of boundaries fits in with their themes, which focus relentlessly on education.
As I type this, though, I’m reminded of that scene that keeps going through my head from Neuromancer. While there are a bunch of scenes that stick with me, in ways that are almost seared in my mind (and I’ve only read these books twice), the beach scene with Case and the junkie that he fell in love with is a powerful one, as it invokes loneliness and basic needs (companionship as well as sex, shelter, food, warmth) and yet it happens completely in Case’s mind, even with the woman being completely and utterly believable. Meta-fictionally, Case *knows* that this is happening in his mind, and yet the scene keeps unfolding and he can’t completely escape it, at least until Wintermute needs him again.
I see that scene as one that is dark, stark, and a bit too cool for a geek like myself. The sci-fi fascination with ruins goes back to Bradbury, with his Mars one that is full of civilizations that were far greater than we ever hope to be, and that have left for reasons we’ll never discover. And yet, the sadness that those thoughts evoke come to seem as sci-fiish as any of the techno-utopians counter-images of endless bright lights and food pills.