Vicki Rosenzweig is running for TAFF; Plokta is supporting her campaign, and we asked her to produce a short article on a superfluous theme.
My everyday life -- like that of most people I know -- is full of odd science fictional moments. It's not the headlines: we all grew up expecting to be exploring Mars by now, and the reality is overlaid by everything from Barsoom to Kim Stanley Robinson. And exciting as that is, it isn't how I'm living, it's just what I'm hearing about from time to time: Mars has a magnetic field, rattlesnakes can give birth to sons without ever having sex, and so on, the world continuing to be more complicated and wonderful than our expectations.
It's the little stuff. I turn on my computer and read tomorrow's newspaper. That's the premise for plenty of stories, and daydreams of wealth: the next day's stock market report would make me rich. Alas, it isn't so: this isn't a time travel story, just the way dates work on a round planet. By the time I get home from work, it's the next morning in Hong Kong. If I want to see what's going on there, or check on the state of the smoke hanging over Southeast Asia -- with whole islands on fire as corporate greed collides with large-scale weather patterns, an end-of-the-world scenario I don't think Brunner ever wrote -- the paper I look at will be officially tomorrow's.
Kill Your Speed. Not A Princess
The odd thing is, I grew up getting tomorrow's paper. My parents used to listen to WQXR-FM, a classical music station. Every evening at 9:03, they would introduce the news with "these are the headlines from tomorrow's New York Times." It was a nice way to package the news, and they could be sure of their accuracy because the paper owned the station. The science fictional part isn't that I'm reading tomorrow's paper, it's that I'm tapped into the information network I daydreamed of when I was ten, the machine in every home that would include the world's largest encyclopedia. I was a shy, bookish child, the typical protofanI imagined the computer network as a library and never thought of email.
Now, I look at the ads on the computer network. Why did I never expect that it would be full of ads? An odd omission, for someone raised in the United States in the age of television. Wishful thinking, I suppose. Over and over, someone tries to sell me the Microsoft Network by telling me I could use the encyclopedia there to learn about platypuses. I like platypuses, but I don't even bother clicking to see the details. I had an encyclopedia CD-ROM for my home machine, but the software went missing (I suspect one of us deleted it to save room) and it won't reinstall. I'm vaguely annoyed, but only vaguely -- at 33, I know how much is left out of an encyclopedia, and I remember how brief many of the articles in this one were, and how weird the connections seemed to be. I had fun, seeing it give me arbitrary links, using a mode that tries to find four other articles connected to any given subject. In the whole world -- in a big enough library -- that wouldn't be difficult, but if you limit yourself to the contents of one encyclopedia, sooner or later you follow byways that don't connect to anything else in your couple of thousand pages. Worse, they decided pictures would sell. They're nice pictures, but most aren't worth the tens of thousands of words they displace on the disk. The whole network is coming close to what I wanted all those years ago, but Sturgeon's Law still applies, the cataloguing department is staffed by a few well-meaning but hopelessly overworked eccentrics, and most of the books are in piles on the floor. Still, it's fun to wander around.
But the very ordinariness of the whole thing convinces me I'm living in science fiction. No personal flying belts, no actual time machines, we're mostly doing the same things faster. I have a household robot, but so did my mother twenty years ago: it washes the dishes, with a bit of human help because it has to be told where the hot water is. I talk to the elevators at work, asking if this time I can get from the lobby to the 17th floor without stopping six times. I don't expect it to make any difference; that thing that looks like a speaker might be, but the elevator doesn't take voice input, it gets its instructions from the buttons on the panel. Nonetheless, I talk to the elevators, and even say "thank you" if I get an express ride, because politeness never hurts and who knows, maybe the elevator controller does have a microphone input. If they ever make voice recognition systems good enough to install in elevators, or on ordinary desktop computers, some of us are in big trouble.
-- Vicki Rosenzweig
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