Thursday, January 2, 2020

Quick Sips - Terraform December 2019

Vice’s Terraform closes out the year with two near-future SF stories about technology and injustice. In one, the epidemic of mass shootings in America is addressed and the cause identified, the infectious agent confronted…or perhaps misdiagnosed. In the other, a chilling look at the future is revealed through the rather innocuous lens of a holiday gift guide. Both stories look at the ways the future must wrestle with personal liberties versus institutional corruption, and especially with “free” capitalism versus human lives and suffering. It’s an on brand way for the publication to close out the year, and I’ll get right to my reviews!


“Mothers Against Sinister Technology” by Rose Eveleth (2616 words)

No Spoilers: The story spins out of a near future where Cindy Williams is the mother of a boy who commits mass murder at his school. Convinced that his actions are the symptoms of a sort of moral virus, she traces his life through the internet and ends up starting a movement to do something about what she sees as happening. The piece jumps forward in time, showing the progress of this movement through the speeches its members give, all mothers of mass shooters, all convinced that there is a source of their sons’ actions that is spreading through the internet. It’s a piece that’s chilling in how logically it lays out its case, on the way that it seems to make sense. Except that the measures still only attack the vector of this “illness,” not its source. And it doesn’t actually reveal how effective these measures are in the future the story imagines, leaving to the reader to parse and judge her legacy.
Keywords: The Internet, Regulation, Infection, CW- Mass Shootings, Technology, Family
Review: I think the direction that the piece takes the main character, takes Cindy Williams, makes a lot of sense. Struck by the enormity of what has happened, of what her son has done, she goes looking for answers and finds that the reason he was able to do what he did, and the reason he did it, was because he found a community online that encouraged him to. A toxic, virulent rhetoric that is like a virus, like an illness. And it’s true that a lot of the structure and “freedom” of the internet makes these kinds of connections and cultures possible. The idea that cutting people off from the internet, then, would solve these problems, would “cure” the illness, is a tempting one. And I really like that the story targets the internet, because that’s something (unlike guns) that a lot of people still distrust. Not so much the younger generations but I think the story delves into the way that time can make people who were more open minded and liberal more conservative. And that’s by giving them children they want to control. That they want to “protect.” But in an ultimate show of “this is why we can’t have nice things,” it opts to gut the entire internet because some people can’t be trusted with it. And it plays so well with that because it’s impossible to argue that a lot of mass shooters are radicalized and groomed and encouraged on the internet. And there’s even something to be said about the reluctance of people to take measures to reign that in, to regulative hate speech and activity, to truly be proactive about promoting the public good. But the internet, unlike guns, has so man benefits that cutting the whole thing also acts as doing hate’s work for it. Because for me, what has to be remembered is that part of what creates these kinds of people is progress. Progress that the internet helped to enable and speed up. Saying that progress needs to pump the breaks for the benefit of boy and men who would think it okay to kill people is no way to protect people. But the story really does show how this issue is so hard to approach, especially with people like parents with a vested interest in finding blame of their sons’ behavior that also absolves them of wrongdoing and makes their actions merely the symptoms of a sick mind, rather than an evil one. A difficult but fascinating read very much worth spending some time with!

“The 2030 Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide” by Tim Maughan (1839 words)

No Spoilers: Framed as a sort of online gift guide, this story explores a future that probably seems fairly familiar. With a tone that looks upon what to the reader is probably supposed to seem a dystopian hell with the rose-tinted glasses of capitalism, the piece reveals this future through the things people might aspire to get as gifts. From day passes into exclusive neighborhoods to vouchers good at FEMA relocation centers and camps, the items on the list tell a dire but familiar story about the trajectory of the country. One where more and more only the extremely wealthy will be able to afford things like international travel and daily access to clean air and water. It’s part humor in its satire, but also part earnest message in its warnings over what might be should current trends continue.
Keywords: Holidays, Gifts, Capitalism, Disasters, Class Divisions
Review: Online gift guides are often telling about the culture they come out of, and with the ones I see year after year, many of them aren’t telling stories with happy endings. Because the guides cater to very specific audiences—those with the money to be able to afford things that help to cover up how much consumerism, how much capitalism, has destroyed and is destroying the planet and most of the people living on it. Already there are virtual reality headsets and other ways to try and escape the more grim, polluted, congested reality that many people live in. So what might the future hold that would seek to address the very problems that capitalism creates? Here, much of the things involve getting people who are already poor to dish out money to be able to temporarily enjoy things that the wealthy get for free. Essentially, most of the items on the list aimed at those who aren’t the super-rich are to help to treat the stress and insecurity that comes with not being the super-rich, but only for a moment, all the while draining them of money so that the super-rich can maintain their lifestyles and everyone else is stuck at best rending by the hour or by the day. Until they’re out of money again and have to start all over. For me it really does show how rigged the system is, how baldly corrupt. How much it not only allows but revels in the vast wealth gap, holding the trapping of wealth as the carrot the middle class should run toward rather than seeing that the whole system is bent and the dream of rising up has just been made into another exploitable resource that funnels power and influence to those very few already hording it. It’s a clever and fun story, for being at the same time bleak as hell, a wake-up call wrapped in a bit of capitalist propaganda so integrated into our ideas of the holidays we don’t bother to question it. A great read!


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