Thursday, 10 December 2015

Real life can be stranger than science fiction.

My daughter some time ago started to use "Jesus God" as an expression of surprise, astonishment and a little bit of mild reprimand. It was a surprising thing for her to say, she who has never been to Sunday School and has had her religious education, if such it can be called, through school, reading and general conversation with us. It's not an expression I have heard anyone else use. At least that was the case until today. 

I suppose it still is the case because technically I did not hear someone say it. A character in a Ray Bradbury short story used it. So I read it rather than heard it. But, of course, that is just nit-picking. 

The short story, called "The Murderer" is about a man explaining to a psychologist that he had "murdered" all the electronic appliances in his house, his workplace, his whole life. Well, not so much the electrical appliances like washing machines and other such useful gadgets, rather the communication and surveillance devices. He pours drinks into such systems, clogs them up with ice cream, stamps them to pieces and crushes them. Even on public transport he uses a gadget to stop other people's technologies from working. This is what leads to his being arrested. 

In many of Ray Bradbury's short stories he describes a future world where houses are computerised and are run digitally. Sometimes the technology starts to get too big for its boots and begins to have independent thoughts and tries to boss its people around, rather like the computer in "2001, space odyssey". In this story the protagonist feels too observed, too closely monitored and is trying to get away from the electronic hurly-burly. By messing up the system. 

What is really interesting is that the story was written in 1953. In other words well before we had CCTV cameras all over the show. Mobile phones were not around but all the characters in the story wear a wrist radio so that they are contactable everywhere. Even cars have gadgets which communicate with their drivers, not just the kind of things that we have such as lights that go on to tell you that a door is not dully closed and reminding you to fasten your seat belt, but telling the driver to get a move on if he is too slow returning from paying for fuel at the petrol station.

How prescient! 

Back in 1953 Ray Bradbury foresaw our 2015 world with its talking lifts ("Going up! Doors closing!"), its constant safety reminders ("Stand away from the doors! Mind the gap!"), its overuse of security cameras and, of course, the ubiquitous communication devices. He even foresaw the characters who might object to that constant presence. 

In the published story the psychologist just goes back into the noise-filled world and almost dismisses the "murderer" as a crank but when Ray Bradbury re-worked this story for his TV program Ray Bradbury Theater, in the 1980s, he changed the ending. In the revised version, the psychologist returns to his office and, barraged by noise and electronics, destroys his newly replaced "lapel phone" and asks his secretary for a chocolate milkshake (to pour into his fax machine). 

I wonder what he would make of the current situation, where you sit on a bus or a train and every third person is busy with a phone, an iPod, an iPad or a laptop. This is a world where even what you are doing on your busy mobile devices is judged by those around you. Just this morning I read about a young man who was forced off a tube train because he closed his iPad when he realised that someone was reading what he was typing. The iPad user was Moslem, looked different, possibly Arab, which apparently explains the suspicion (perhaps, although I am not convinced) but does not excuse the action. I would object to someone reading what I was typing. I HAVE objected to someone commenting on my neat writing as I made notes in a notebook on a tram one day. 

Who gave us the right to oversee the actions of our fellow travellers to such an extent? Fear makes bullies of us all!

1 comment:

  1. Your blog today was very interesting. It reminded me of my days before I retired when I commuted to London and every morning when I boarded the train I often saw the same people because the last car on the train usually had empty seats. People came on with laptops and mobile phones and it was just like an office. I couldn't help but notice when people spread files on the table while they checked work. Some were working on papers from insurance companies and I thought it was not the thing to do outside the office. One woman got on and proceeded to put on her make up which she did every morning without fail. We live in a very strange world today.