There’s an ad pitching for people to write and submit short stories; the genre being dystopia. I’m attracted to this and think it over outside in the afternoon sun, but then mild panic sets in: either my imagination has failed or the reality of 2017 is already so dystopian that I don’t know where to begin. Context: it’s the day after the Westminster attack in London and my second month in the UK.
I already feel so disconnected from anything resembling normality: my own private dystopia.
In a foreign country, I’ve gone from someone who always flew quietly under the radar to being triply documented in every possible way. I speak to people all over the world via a keyboard and purchase items via the same route.
The food I eat is at least 5 steps away from wherever it once grew or grazed; the same can be said for the clothes I wear – the parts of it that aren’t woven from chemicals, that is. Weird elixirs govern my days: what I put on my skin, what I use to keep myself clean and even the medication I use to ward off ordinary ills. Tiny mechanisms that I don’t understand (and which I couldn’t repair if they failed) are vital for all the functions and transactions of my day, even the telling of time. I can still gauge the hour by looking at the sun, but for accuracy, I have to use my phone – it’s almost impossible to find a simple wind-up watch.
It’s difficult to line up the fact that somewhere in the world small children are hand-mining cobalt so that I can send this dark, but frivolous story out into the ether – even harder to face that all the gadgets in my small office will live longer (in one form or another) than this civilisation. But I have to use them, I have almost no choice.
So, while there’s electricity pulsing through the sockets; I can eat, wash, work, purchase, sell, tell the time, communicate or access heat and running water, but this makes me incredibly vulnerable. Flick the switch and where am I then? This feels like dystopia to me, a comfortable dystopia.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not planning to fashion a dress out of a home-woven hessian sack and live off the land, but I wish there was a choice. I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to. Where would I go? Almost every inch of this planet is marked out on Google maps and spoken for – the only way back to the land is via a TV reality show: just you, the land and about 20 TV crew-members. The lack of options is so real that people are truly investigating the possibility of other worlds. I know, it used to be joke; a plot-device in sci-fi stories, but in 2017, the move to Mars is actively being researched.
Like: we’ve lost so much confidence in our ability to rehabilitate our mess on this world that we’re considering leaving altogether, but only those who can afford/qualify for the ride. If that doesn’t sound a bit dystopian, what does?
And, not to bring you down or anything, but radiation from Fukushima is making landfall right now, so there’s a bit of a cataclysm hitting the oceans and what they yield for us to live. Also, the oil is running out while sustainable plans to maintain our weirdly artificial lifestyles are lagging way behind – so that’s something to think about.
As if that weren’t enough, the planet is changing under our feet. Whether it’s caused by the amount of carbon and general crap generated by 8 billion humans or it’s simply a turn in the multi-millennial cycle of planets, something is changing in the atmosphere and seasons of our planet, even though we try to pretend it isn’t (mostly by screaming at one another).
So, as I said, it all feels like dystopian fiction to me. Except, it’s real.