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Thursday, 22 April 2010

iSociety #fridayflash


Not that long ago it had been overpopulation that had roused the passions of the worlds environmentalists, sociologists and thinkers. With an ageing population hungrily consuming the earth's limited resources and Government funded education programmes and free contraception doing little to halt the spiralling birth rate, many agreed that the future looked bleak.

The 2015 Global Internet Initiative was lauded as the greatest development project of the 21st century; the opportunity to close the divide between the riches of the west and those nations formerly known as third world. It would create entrepreneurial opportunities in communities that had historically been isolated from the global marketplace. It would beam world-class educational materials direct into the homes of children who had never set foot in a school. It would, in short, be the greatest thing since sliced bread, and perhaps most importantly would enable the countless politicians, businessmen and shady oligarchs who had supported and funded the initiative to pat themselves on the back and say what a great job they'd done in bringing ebay and facebook to all those poor people.

Whilst the joys of social networking and skype no doubt enhanced many third world lives, it was the pornography industry which reaped some of the greatest rewards. By appealing to the most basic of instincts many smut peddling billionaires were born. It was however the worldwide launch of the synaesthesia chip in 2020 which heralded the next major step in the evolution of the 'Adult' market.

The Synaesthesia chip, implanted into consumers at a bargain price thanks to huge subsidies from advertisers delighted at the opportunity to beam their messages straight into their targets skulls, enabled individuals to become fully immersed in the Internet. What had previously been a purely visual and aural experience could now stimulate every single sense; a coffee advert would beam the smell of the freshly ground beans into consumers noses, whilst numerous health spas found themselves going out of business now that a pampering massage could be experienced without anyone having to lay a finger on your physical flesh. The border between the virtual and 'real' worlds began to blur and come the launch in 2115 of the sixth generation chip the ability to virtually 'eat' any meal of your choosing on demand even put the food industry out of business, with liquid 'food' (pumped straight into their homes through the system that historically provided that now passé substance 'water') containing the perfect mix of nutrients required without the need for a single minute of preparation the new fuel of choice for the Virtually Human population.

Every new technology from the cave painting onwards has been put to intimate use by some individuals but until the Synaesthesia Chip was launched none had really been considered a preferable alternative to the experience of an actual physical coupling. Although the Daily Mail had initially hailed it to be a greater danger than crack cocaine, before long the online 'romance' experience had moved from seedy to mainstream, millions delighting in the joys of an experience tailored to your own personal needs without any of the risks or emotional hang ups associated with real life. It wasn't even all about sex; many subscribed religiously to the software which would give the consumers a permanent sensation of being in the first flushes of love.

And so it was that the world came to reach a dire state of crisis. As humanity retreated into its virtual shell the act of actual reproduction became a niche activity. Those who felt the primal urge to become a parent could do so in the Virtual world without having any of the agonies of childbirth. There was no need to ever fear for the safety and health virtual offspring due to their immortality - unless, of course, you'd had enough of the digi-child in which case you could simply uninstall the software and get on as if they had never existed (which, strictly speaking, was true). If current trends continued then within 50 years the average age of the population would be over 80, a situation that would clearly be unsustainable given that the vast majority of the rapidly shrinking younger population had no interest at all in a 'real world' profession such as nursing or care, and had even less interest in providing support for their own forbears. Life 'offline' held no appeal anymore; what was the point of accepting anything less than your very own idea of perfection when it was available to you simply with a blink of your eye?

Whilst most scientists agreed that it was a giant meteorite that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs, it was something considerably more mundane that thinned to human herd. On April 23rd 2125 a small earthquake - quite inconsequential in richter scale terms - erupted beneath Japan and cut the power to the Synaesthesia Lifestyle Systems servers that nestled at the base of Mount Fuji. With the power cut, the whole world suddenly found itself plunged back into reality, a place most citizens had not visited within the past decade. Hearts that had over time slowed to fewer than 30 beats a second could not cope with the sudden shock and at least 30% of the population dropped dead in an instant. Many more sent themselves to a grisly end within minutes of the awakening as they hacked away at their own skulls in an effort to bring their short circuited chips back to life. Their bodies weak and malnourished, the citizens of iSociety were no longer fit for life in the physical world, and given the underdeveloped - neigh, nonexistent - immune systems that they possessed as a result of their lack of exposure to anything other than a sterile home environment, an outbreak of influenza quickly killed most of them within weeks of them having tentatively ventured into the outside world.

In a perfect realisation of Darwin’s principals, by 2126 only 144,000 humans remained, all but the very fittest having perished. Many had mocked their ways over the past century but it was the TechnoPuritans who truly had the last laugh.

iSociety had had its day - it was time to return to a life of honest labour and embrace the realities of human nature and the infinite joys and disappointments of messy, complicated, population growing human love.


  1. I liked this. In fact I like all of these sorts of stories. A tad on the sci-fi side, but just realistic (and scary!) enough to make you really think. Well-done.

  2. Thanks - sci fi really isn't my usual kind of thing but felt inspired to give it a go...

  3. There are lots of really strong and stimulating ideas in this. Love the fact that many died from the shock of re-exposure to reality. Also that it was a small earth tremor that sparked it off - Mother Nature's ultimate revenge a la icelandic volcanos. Also loved the darwinian conclusion.

    There's a novel by Greg Egan, a bit top heavy on quantum mechanics, but he posits humans installing 'mods' (modules) in their skulls to regulate all sorts of thoughts and behaviours and his protagonist has one keeping his dead wife alive inside his head. Fascinating ideas all...

    marc nash

  4. What a nice idea. It's never the big catastrophes that end life as we know it.

  5. Fun idea to explore. And you wrote this all on your IPhone?

  6. Coool! A very realistic sounding world, I must say. The "human herd" - oh yes.
    I would so like a synaesthesia chip, but only for massages :-D

  7. This reminded my of the movie "the Surrogates" but in a completely original way. I like how you take that most human tendency to be self serving and make it the thing that ruins humanity. Realistic concept.

  8. You see, I knew we were all going to end up with chips in our heads.

    Very imaginative and interesting ideas here, and I also like the way Mama Nature gives the whole thing a kick.

    Good story.

  9. This felt similar in style to A.C. Tilyer's A-Z stories, which is meant as a compliment.

    The matter-of-fact, documentary tone helps ground the sci-fi elements and make it believable. Good work.

  10. While enjoying coffee on an lazy Saturday morning I read this piece. It is longer than blog posts I normally give time to, but I was swept along by increasing interest. When I got to your parenthetical comment about uninstalling digi-children, "which, strictly speaking, was true," I truly laughed out loud. Fascinating, well-written, highly-entertaining and thought-provoking. Great things are in store for you. I expect to see you with thousands of followers on Twitter eventually.

  11. Loved the progression of this and the final mundane wiping out of the less fit humans. Well done.