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All Big Ideas in Tech

BIT – Week 3 – Connections

(Note: This was written at the end of chapter 11. Plot may change.)

Parable of the Sower is unavoidably, incredibly uncomfortable to read at this point in 2020. It’s not because the world is so extreme—it’s because the world in the book is a clear continuation into the future of the most disturbing trends of our society. The plot doesn’t reference a major apocalyptic event like WALL-E or other dystopias imagine, only the continuous progression of trends (we can tell from the referencing “when they drove with gasoline-powered cars,” etc). But so many of those trends are clearly, undeniably present in our current society. A brief list, though there are many more:

  • The rich getting special treatment in emergency services, and the privatization of those services. This is our reality in California with private firefighters, and it’s likely only to worsen.
  • Food prices continually rising.
  • Water shortages. Cape Town has already faced “Day Zero,” and it’s bearing down on other cities quickly.
  • Rainfall becoming less frequent, more intense, and generally more erratic. It’s at an extreme in the book, where it doesn’t come for years at a time, but that’s not unimaginable in California right now.
  • Walls standing as answers. The current political rhetoric around the United States’s border wall proves human nature has absolutely not moved beyond an interest in concrete barriers. In the book, every community is walled off, as well as every state, and certainly every country. Walls, walls, walls.
  • Resorting to religion for all answers, because there’s nothing left to believe in. Many people have already lost faith in politics, and faith in other institutions is quickly degrading. Antivax conspiracy theories prove hyper-religiousness is an undeniable response to calamity.
  • The complete collapse of non-religious institutions. “The college” is one remaining, though fairly culturally unimportantly it seems. Emergency services, the government, the public education system, the postal system, departments of transportation, government space exploration programs, etc. All gone or majorly declined.
  • This pattern of reversal is mirrored with the home/community security, guns, squatters, etc. As technology progresses and becomes more ubiquitous, but safety declines, we’ll slip back into the cultural behavior of previous eras/centuries, fighting for our basic freedoms & safety on a daily basis.
  • Lack of interest in new technology. Even as recently as a few years ago, new smartphones and tablets being released were a big deal in culture. Now, we’re so oversaturated with new devices from every direction that new iPhones, TVs, cars, whatever seem to make less & less impact every year. Played out for a few more years, and the disregard for technology we see with the TV walls in the book seems completely natural.

Of course, Parable of the Sower wasn’t written in 2020, it was written in 1993, nearly 30 years ago, which makes author Octavia Butler’s foresight remarkable. It was written before the internet was widespread or social media or smartphones had been invented, but a slightly-updated version would surely include devolving versions of these critical constructs.