When Fiction Becomes Reality

By • Jan 12th, 2010 • Category: 26th Story, Books, Technology

Over the holidays I caught up on some of my recreational reading and read Ender’s Game, the scifi classic written by Orson Scott Card and published by TOR in 1985. It only took me ten years to get to it–I first heard about the book in high school when my friend Dash gave a book report on it in Freshman English. Light years ago, right?

What surprised me most about the book, though, was how accurately Card predicted future technologies: all the recruits have desks (touchscreen laptops), when they’re not studying or practicing they have time for free play (video games), the school has a system the students can send messages through (email), and back on Earth people communicate across the globe on the nets (the internet).

If anyone still doubts the power of Twitter and the blogosphere, this passage from the book, where Ender’s siblings back on Earth, Patrick and Valentine, take up the personas of Demosthenes and Locke on the nets in order to amass political influence, reads almost as prophecy:

With false names, on the right nets, [Patrick and Valentine] could be anybody. Old men, middle-aged women, anybody, as long as they were careful about the way they wrote. All that anyone would see were their words, their ideas. Every citizen started equal, on the nets.

Of course they were not invited to take part in the great national and international political forums–they could only be audiences there until they were invited or elected to take part. But they signed on and watched, reading some of the essays published by the great names, witnessing the debates that played across their desks.

And in the lesser conferences, where common people commented about the great debates, they began to insert their comments. At first Peter insisted that they be deliberately inflammatory.

The responses that got posted were vinegar; the responses that were sent as mail, for Peter and Valentine to read privately, were poisonous. But they did learn what attributes of their writing were seized upon as childish and immature. And they got better.

Peter took careful note of their most memorable phrases and then did searches from time to time to find those phrases cropping up in other places. Not all of them did, but most of them were repeated here and there, and some of them even showed up in the major debates on the prestige nets. “We’re being read,” Peter said. “The ideas are seeping out.”

In an age when Ashton Kutcher has more followers on Twitter than CNN, this scenario couldn’t ring more true.

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  • kingrat

    I have doubts we'll ever see the day where the world begs anonymous teens to take over world government because of the cogency of their writing. The comparison to Ashton Kutcher and CNN Twitter accounts is specious.

  • http://lionel.valdellon.com/ Lionel Valdellon

    It's not that teens may take over world government, the point was that the technology and the culture now exist where teens can post ideas that go viral immediately.

  • ksalisbury

    a comic take on the rise of Demosthenes and Locke: http://xkcd.com/635/

  • Sharon

    It's a fascinating book, but the novel was first published by Tor in 1985. 1977 is for the rather different novella of the same title, which appeared in Analog magazine.

  • ksalisbury

    Thanks for the correction, Sharon. We'll change that in the post.

  • http://www.mopjockey.com/ Jaycee

    His name was PETER, not PATRICK.

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