Science fiction played a large part in my upbringing. My parents let me watch “Star Trek: Next Generation,” which is one of the first TV series I remember watching, and read science fiction short stories. I later graduated to weirder stuff like “The [reimagined] Twilight Zone,” “The X Files” or “The [reimagined] Outer Limits,” which was very freaky for a 12-year-old, but also very engrossing. I still have a very long “to watch” and “to read” list.
In fact, many people of my parents’ generation – friends, former university mates – had an interest in science fiction. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that they grew up in the Communist era, and this type of fiction provided a reminder of the fact that the human mind is essentially free and limitless. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” like Oscar Wilde said.
Either way, it’s no surprise that I was left with an interest in everything that is related to possible developments for the future of humanity. Nowadays, we seem closer than ever to science fiction scenarios. Bionic limbs are a reality and nanosurgeries are being performed. Gravitational waves have been detected. A robot has passed the self-awareness test.
It almost feels as if we are on the brink of something that will completely transform life as we know it. In fact, during the past few decades, the intellectual movement known as “transhumanism” has gained a lot of ground. Transhumanism looks into the possibilities of transforming the human condition through the development of widely available sophisticated technologies that aim to enhance human physical and metal capacities. In other words, actual research is being carried out to make possible things that, only a few decades ago, only happened in science fiction stories or constituted the theme of Kraftwerk albums. The Man Machine or cyborg seems closer than ever. In fact, people with bionic limbs can be called cyborgs, or at least pre-cyborgs, as they are part human and part machine. Artist Neil Harbisson, born color blind, had an antenna integrated into his skull in 2004. He can now hear the light frequencies of the entire color spectrum, including infrareds and ultraviolets, both of which cannot be perceived via the senses. Harbisson is also the first person to have been officially recognized as a cyborg by a government.
At the same time, we live in a world where poverty is rampant, education implies huge costs, obstacles are being placed in the path of basic rights, people mindlessly consume fast food and synthetic soft drinks and hate speech is being spewed by everyone from internauts to political figures. Given this context, another, opposite scenario for the future emerges.
This scenario was explored in the 2006 movie “Idiocracy,” which, while a comedy movie, is not funny at all, precisely because the society it presents is a plausible one. In “Idiocracy,” the main character, played by actor Luke Wilson, is a man of average intelligence who is pressured to take part in a suspended animation experiment. After the experiment goes wrong and is completely forgotten, he wakes up by accident in the year 2505, to a world dominated by cheap entertainment, commercialism and anti-intellectualism, where people have only basic language skills. The protagonist’s simple question of “Where am I?” is met with brutish laughter and the remark, “You talk like a f*g.” Soon, he finds out how people live in 2505 and it’s not pretty. For instance, everyone has a toilet in their living room, so they can sit on it while eating and watching TV. No one even drinks water anymore – water is only used for flushing the toilets, while everyone drinks something called “Brawndo,” a synthetic sports drink. On top of that, the President of the United States is a porn star. In this context, the perfectly average protagonist is a genius and dubbed the most intelligent person on Earth.
All in all, the movie is a cautionary tale. This type of dystopian scenario that presents a humanity that has de-volved instead of evolving is not new or unique, and it has its roots in the jarring contrasts that we see in everyday life. A society like the one presented in “Idiocracy,” that focuses solely on instant gratification, would be a dead end. It would be an entirely passive society, one that would be unable and unwilling to care for its more vulnerable elements, one that would merely exist instead of living.
In short, it would be a great shame and an awful waste of potential. I’d rather believe in a humanity that is capable of overcoming internal and external obstacles. I’d rather believe that the future holds possibilities, instead of further limitations. In short, I’d rather keep looking at the stars.
Anca Rotar is a Romanian-born writer, over-thinker and caffeine addict. She is the author of two books, Hidden Animals and Before It Sets You Free, both available from Amazon.com. Among her interests, which she finds it hard to shut up about, she counts fashion, yoga, city breaks and deadpan sarcasm. She is also currently studying Japanese, so wish her luck. You can sample bits of Anca’s creative writing here.