Saturday, July 10, 2004

Against the winds of change

I first read - and loved - John Wyndam's novel The Chrysalids when I was thirteen, and I picked it up again this morning only to get stuck thinking on something I read in the introduction:

[Two decades after World War II] it had finally occurred to us that the modern world was neither a found object nor one forced on us by governments. We were responsible for its condition at any given moment; and with the entry into the equation of an element of choice, an admission of complicity, the winds of change, unpredictable, unbiddable, were no longer an apt metaphor.

Originally published in 1955, The Chrysalids is a classic example of exploring contemporary fears through futuristic science fiction - but I think John Harrison's introduction is over-optimistic. What I mean is that I'm not sure we have actually realised what he says we have.

Think about the rhetoric around new technologies: we still talk about them as if they are inevitable and somehow outside of our control. We like to say that people will make of them what they will - a seemingly liberating position for both users and designers, but one that simultaneously lacks accountability. I have yet to hear one person tell me that these brave new technological worlds are their responsibility instead of someone (anyone) else's - a position that I believe teeters dangerously between complicity and duplicity, although few are likely to admit that is how they express their agency.

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