William Gibson saw it, although not completely clearly, this future—this present—filled with self-obsession and knowledge at our very fingertips. I'm not sure Bill was the first to see it—I know Algis Budrys saw miniaturization and small computers long before anyone else—but I know this: When I first read Neuromancer, I thought Bill's future sounded awful.
And now I'm living it.
Yeah, I know, the computer isn't jacked into my brain—yet. But I have more information at my fingertips than I could ever consume. And I'm in minute-by-minute contact with people all over the globe through various social networking sites, if I so choose to be.
I'm halfway through my life, raised in an analog world, so I've only partially adapted to this one. Yet I loathe it when I can't log on at the minute I want to, and I love to whip out my iPhone to answer some trivia question. I took one look at the Kindle Flame and decided it wasn't for me. Not because I think it a bad product—I don't. But it runs on wireless, and my experience with wireless, particularly in remote places (like the town I live in), means that I won't be able to download something the moment I think of it.
And I hate that.
I couldn't do it four years ago, but now, I really don't want to live without it.
But I'm not a sharer. And by that, I'm not talking about all those folks on Twitter who feel compelled to tell me what they're cooking for dinner.
By that, I mean I don't use half the commands on my phone or in Facebook or on my Kindle. A year or so ago, when Amazon upgraded my ancient (!) three-year-old Kindle's operating system, it added a feature that to me, looked like those used textbooks I used to buy when I had no money. Every sentence in the John Grisham novel I had been reading was suddenly and inexplicably underlined.
If I moved the cursor to one of those sentences, the device would tell me that 85 people liked it. Or it would ask me if I wanted to share that sentence with my friends.
Um, no. I like keeping my reading private. Although I do underline when I read. Nonfiction. For research. Using a pen and a real book.
It took me a couple of hours to figure out how to shut off that feature. Then I mentioned it to another Kindle-owning friend who is older than me (but not by much) and he had a visceral hate-reaction to that underlining feature, and choice words for the folks who use it.
But these options are proliferating. When Google Alerts sends me an obligatory mention of my name on the web, sometimes my name is attached to a random quote from one of my books, often on Good Reads. People will quote one line from my 600,000 word Fey saga, and other people will mark whether or not they like that one line.
Never mind that it's taken out of context. Never mind that it might be the opposite of what I personally believe. It's there, I wrote it, and people like it.
I find it all weird.
When this whole sharing thing started, it blindsided me. Now I have little links to all the various sharing services on my blog, and I know folks use them. Heck, I've used those little links lately on other people's blogs, because the dang things are convenient, even if they do mean that some cookie somewhere has linked my Twitter account to that blog or hacked my Facebook account (is it hacking if they have my permission?) so that I can post on Facebook without logging onto Facebook.
Privacy advocates tell me I should be offended by all of this sharing, but I'm not. It's convenient sometimes, and creepy sometimes, and Just The Way Things Are.
Big Brother isn't watching, not really, but it is data mining—mostly stuff we've already put out there.
See? Not even Orwell predicted that.
I do read all the privacy articles, and I keep my location finder off. I don't put personal information on the social networks such as the dates of an upcoming trip or when I'm away from home. I check my privacy settings often to make sure some change in one of the social networking sites that I use doesn't suddenly turn on my location finder or something that I want off.
And I dip back into the analog world a lot. My office—where I'm writing this right now—has no internet connection. It also lacks a telephone. There's an iPod in here, but no iPhone. You can't reach me when I'm working, unless you walk directly into my office and knock on the door.
That's not because I'm anti-technology, but because my superhero name would probably be Distracto-Girl. I could waste days tracking down a piece of information. For example, I just got a copy of one of my stories in Russian, and I would love to know what they changed the title to. But I don't read the language. So I'd have to log onto the magazine's website, copy the information, put it in a translator program, and see. And if I did that, then I might translate the whole story. Or the footnotes (yes it has footnotes—one of which explains what the Ohio Buckeyes are. I can tell that because “Ohio Buckeyes” happens to be in English).
So Distracto-Girl keeps distractions to a minimum so that she can get things done. Maybe that's why I didn't like the sharing program. I have books in my library filled with other people's yellow highlight marks, and I often stop when I see one, trying to figure out why someone would highlight that particular sentence.
If I saw a sentence highlighted on my Kindle, I could ask the Kindle itself why the sentence got highlighted. I'm sure in that Grisham book, on that one sentence, there are 85 different reasons for the highlights. And I could spend an hour tracking them all down.
Science fiction from the past assumed that we as a culture would always want the same level of privacy, that folks who told you unnecessary things like what they ate for breakfast bordered on rude. Reporters felt that the sexual affairs of politicians were none of our business. Now we see people's business (and their junk) on various social networks (and regular networks) whether we want to or not.
I know some of this is cultural. I also know it's generational. I still believe there's such a thing as sharing too much. I actually shut a guy down the other day with shouts of “TMI! TMI!” because I didn't want to know half of what he was telling me. (I will never be able to scrub my brain of those images.)
But the sharing isn't always sexual or about bodily fluids. It's often as mundane as a sentence, taken out of context from a book I haven't read. I really don't care that 85 people liked that sentence in that John Grisham book. All I care about is the story, and whether or not I get propelled from page to page, losing myself in a different world.
The cacophony of voices appeared in Neuromancer, but they weren't “liking” and “friending” and “sharing” things. Maybe the science fictional imagination is by definition a dark one. Or maybe that's just the function of a good storyteller.
Whatever it is, I don't think any of us saw this level of minutiae inundating us like it has. Nor do I think we (the sf writers) saw the advent of data mining to cull out opinions, like a recent study did. The study, done using a key word data mine on Twitter, tried to see whether people in different cultures had the same moods at the same times of day.
The study found that humans are generally happier when they wake up and when they find time to relax. Gosh. Data mining and Twitter told us that, because we overshare.
Or maybe, because it's just plain common sense.
Well, I'm done sharing for the day. Now I'm toddling off to the couch in my analog office to read a pristine book just waiting for my underlines. Which I will share—with no one.