I’ve written about the film I, Robot in a previous post. I liked the film, even though it was so different from the novel that it wasn’t the same story. I’m reading Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series this summer, and it has been a very welcome escapism. The policeman Elijah Baley and his robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw are the main characters in I, Robot (1950), The Caves of Steel (1953), The Naked Sun (1955), The Robots of Dawn (1983) and Robots and Empire (1985).
I’m currently reading The Naked Sun, and I can not help but think of today’s social media while reading. In this universe people live on 50 planets, and there is a conflict between the “spacers” (descendants of people who colonized other planets) and the people living on a very overcrowded Earth. In this book, Bailey is sent to the planet Solaria to investigate a murder, but is also expected to spy, because this planet is very hostile toward Earth.
Solaria is a very unusual community. They have a strict population control, which is why only 20,000 people live there. These few people, however, have 200 million robots, and they abhor human contact. Imagine millions of machines with a strength and intelligence we can only dream about. It is one thing that the robots can turn against their owners, but this allows even small countries to be a threat. The people on Solaria own properties large enough that it is almost impossible to encounter other people. They communicate only through “viewing.” It would have been equivalent to us communicating only with Skype and webcamera. When Baley spoke with a man to get some information about this community, this Solarian had to cancel the interview. It was too disgusting to think that he breathed the same air as others, and they continued the interview via screen from different rooms in the same house.
I sometimes wonder if we are heading towards a society like this. I like, in many ways, the possibilities of today’s technology. I had difficulty expressing myself verbally as a young man, and often found that I couldn’t say what I had planned. The right words wouldn’t come out. That made me quite isolated, but it was a completely different story with the written language. That has always been my strength.
I gradually learned some verbal skills, but I sometimes wonder how my adolescence would have been if the internet had been available in the 80’s. I could probably have managed very nicely without twitter and facebook, but it is very convenient with an e-mail and blog I can access on any computer.
It has made life easier and removed some frustration for many people with various disabilities, but on the other hand, it may be a disadvantage with too many options at a young age. For some people with an autism spectrum disorder, communication is very difficult, and it is tempting to choose the easy way out. I imagine that many people choose text message, facebook, twitter, email etc. if they have that option. It is as children/youth we can learn communication and social rules. That is a lot harder to learn later. It is therefore important to have a lot of practice during that period of life.
There are many parents today who do not get much support from the community they live in. It makes it difficult, because it is not easy to follow up and to have strict rules for the internet and mobile phone at home if most other kids have a great deal of freedom. I may be too pessimistic, but I have a suspicion that communication and closeness can be more challenging in the future. I do hope, however, we don’t become completely like Solaria.
But I must admit that I, having associated with people for a while, find an imaginary planet like Solaria quite attractive.