Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, February 19, 2018

My Tidiness Singularity

I strongly disapprove those who pretend science fiction as a genre is about predicting the future rather than testifying and responding to the futurity in the present like every other real literature does -- sf that peddles predictions is just one more variety of the deceptive, distractive, disruptive advertising and public relations genres that have come to suffuse the norms and forms of public and civic life to our near and utter ruin. That said, it turns out that an obscure passage in Bruce Sterling's Holy Fire was weirdly prophetic for me, and in a way that never once occurred to me before back when I cherished and re-read and even taught the novel a few times over the last couple of decades; although I should have known it would be a passage with only incidental reference to "technological" change:
"It's so neat and clean here," Brett said, sweeping through Mia's front room almost on tiptoe. "Does it always look like this?"

Mia was busying herself in her kitchen. She had never been a tidy person by nature, but during her seventies, the habit of untidiness had left her. She'd simply grown out of messiness, the way a child might shed a tooth. After that, Mia always washed the dishes, always made her bed, always picked up loose objects and filed them away. Living that way was quicker and simpler and made every kind of sense to her. Litter and disorder no longer gave her any sense of relaxation or freedom or spontaneity. It had taken her seventy years to learn how to clean up after herself, but once she had learned the trick of it, it was impossible to go back.

She had no simple way to tell Brett about this. The profundity of this change in her personality would never seem natural to a nineteen-year-old.
I think Sterling is underestimating the imaginative capacities of a lot of nineteen-year-olds here, and I would personally hesitate to describe such a change in terms of a developmental narrative of natural maturation toward an obviously superior way of life -- via the image of a shed child's tooth -- when the freedom and spontaneity messiness presumably delivered at an earlier phase of life is not exactly to be sneezed at, after all. But I do like the way he captured the profundity of quotidian abiding life-changes like this one. And I can attest to exactly this own shift in my own life, in my own fifties not seventies, and occasioned by a life-threatening illness and attendant anxieties which made business and tidiness assume a vast importance I had not hitherto lived with or expected, but, yes, here I am, tidy as hell now who was always an untidy mess before. All my long-suffering past boyfriends and room-mates are shaking their heads in disbelief, but Eric is certainly thrilled.

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