43) My Past Is a Dystopian Future
I recently began watching the Netflix series, Black Mirror. The first season, episode three, The Entire History of You struck me on many levels. As part of the last generation to experience a full childhood before the Internet, I could not help but think of movies throughout my life that hit on similar themes. Often, these movies coupled with my reading of dystopian novels and intersected real life, affirming my darkest suspicions and creating a mantra: That’s not going anywhere good.
…buckle your seatbelt, Dorothy because Kansas is going bye bye. ~ The Matrix
We’ll start with The Matrix. It’s a big one. It threaded together a cohesive realization that the world was transitioning into the unknown territory of virtual reality, surgical cognitive manipulation, and the impending death throws of a fading private life. Released in 1999, through the main character, Neo we experience an awakening that the world is not what it appears. The people glom onto consumerism and creature comforts absorbed in daily routine, oblivious or willfully ignorant to the proverbial man behind the curtain. Food, sex, and entertainment are the default control mechanism for those in power. Our human compulsion evokes another dystopian nightmare in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Throughout my own life, I recall particular moments of existential hyperventilation. That is to say, certain shifts in society that I balk in horror—an Orwellian realization of humanity cannibalizing itself, dumb and blind walking through minefields of conformity. The masses deprived of critical thinking. A world where facts are turned upside down by those in power. Sound familiar? We’ve been here before.
Viagra For Everyone
I saw the first pharmaceutical advertisement sometime in the last few years of the 20th Century and the Y2K panic. That’s not a good idea. That’s not ethical. Someone is really going to screw that up, I thought. The fact that one of the first drugs advertised was Viagra just made it even more sinister. No lifesaving medication? Nothing that would help depression or help someone with diabetes? No. Just the welfare of post-retirement dicks.
Today, like Huxley’s novel, we take pills for everything. The pharmaceutical companies market to the populous with endless commercials presenting idealized scenes of perfect life moments rattling off a long list of disclaimers and threatening side-effects as pretty people take their golden retriever out for a walk on their pristine, richly landscaped backyard patio holding hands, as if everyone who takes the pill will never suffer alone, without a dog, without a patio and nothing peripheral to worry about other than taking those pills and avoid vomiting blood or experience hallucinations while shopping for turquoise jewelry.
There are more drug advertisements than any other product. In March 2017, spending on advertising grew by 62% since 2012. You get caught up in them—always the same perfect people, careful to include diverse ethnic backgrounds. You want to have their experiences. Their life looks so much better than yours even though they have fibromyalgia or cancer. If you watch too many at once, you can feel the manipulation on your brain. Constant advertising and promotion, samples from your doctor you can ask for. Drugs for the masses to keep us at a comfortable notch below revolt levels. Who wants to revolt when you can have opioids?
The world forgetting, by the world forgot. ~ Alexander Pope
Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, another movie that hit me while watching Black Mirror—the idea that we could erase our memories and become blissfully happy, which in the bigger picture would destroy any democracy. The sober, resisting sort of humanity declares, Oh, HELL NO!
In the movie, James Carrey and Kate Winslet star as a distraught couple who choose to erase the other from memory and subsequently fall in love again. The harrowing nightmare that unfolds takes you through a psychological landscape that would make Salvador Dalí a nervous wreck.
Given the choice, I’d rather stay grounded in layers of collective knowledge gleaned over years of experience, world events, bad choices, and yes, even my most painful moments. I refuse to let that go for in so doing, I will invalidate my own existence. Those of us who care to leave behind a roadmap for others battle against the ease of consumerism and fight to stay relevant, stay authentic, resist against apathy of the citizen to hold the government in check. That leads me to another dystopian future—my past.
I remember using the Internet for the first time in the mid-1990s. Newspapers had few articles online. Most people read printed newspapers and checked the Classifieds for jobs. The O.J. Simpson trial was on every television in every break room in America and the housing market was experiencing a meltdown.
A few years later just before the President Clinton/Monica Lewinsky controversy, we searched for college paper topics on Yahoo search engine using NetScape Navigator, listened to the “Bing-Ding-Bong” of the connection, hypnotized by Flying Toasters and Bad Dog screen savers, learned how to create rudimentary webpages in HTML, scanned through websites with simple layouts and Comic Sans typeface, emailed jokes, played solitaire, and sent college applications through fax machines.
I began college in 1997 and tutored in the computer lab with apple crate sized monitors the color of bleached sandstone, 3-inch 1.44MB floppies or zip disks that stored a whopping 250MB. HP printers were the best on the market and checking your email between classes was the thing on every student’s mind. I would email back and forth to my boyfriend. We sent a lot of jokes and chain letters through email. It was fun and something you looked forward to: You’ve got mail. This was pre-9/11. Most people read the same news and nothing felt menacing in the world except for Comic Sans. We left the computer lab with our printed emails stuffed in spiral bound notebooks, called home on pay phones, hung out at Blockbuster Video, used Thomas Guides to find street addresses, and had coffee in places with people having face-to-face conversations. There were no cell phones except for yuppies with Nokias in slick, leather-seated Infiniti J30s, invested in Enron and dot-com stocks.
iPhone Killed the BlackBerry Star
After college, I worked for several years at a bookstore during the most volatile technological shifts of my time. One day I saw this book in the bargain section entitled, Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit? written by two notably annoyed GenXers. I stared down at the book cover. A man pointing his index finger at me while holding an ear to his cell phone.
We were in that pre-zombie phase when everyone was just beginning to expose their private phone conversations in public spaces, eyes were still making eye-contact (which later, whole faces would never be seen again upon arrival of the iPhone in 2007) but the non-verbal and oh, so courteous index finger ‘hang-on-I’ve-gotta-take-this-call’ gesture began to happen. I had noticed it in the bookstore and in other public spaces.
Just for the record, I took the plunge in 2006 and purchased my first cell phone, a Motorola flip phone for $12. Still in use, it is the first and only cell phone I’ve purchased to date. I witnessed people dangling their elbow out the window, one hand holding the phone yapping one-dimensionally audible conversation at stoplights, everyone within range now privy to where they go for family vacation or an epic business deal with a reluctant client or their worried the stock market might take a dump, all the while waiting for traffic to move and when the light turns green, they forget they are engaged in this driving thing and someone behind honks a “dude, get off your BLEEPing phone” sense of urgency. Soon, texting while driving would render the freeway as lethal as the scenes in The Matrix Reloaded.
Opt In/Opt Out—Reality is the Same
The consequences of this age, though intriguing and useful in the way of information, one cannot help but see the darker realities of life inside the matrix of our own making, the endless newsfeed of Facebook, impending cyber warfare, dwindling privacy, and future generations growing up dependent on technology. Mind control and submission of critical thinking is a pioneering feature in the coming years. Of course, this is nothing new, just better tools for future dictators. By the way, I’ve added some flowery language to my original mantra.
17 Ancient Abandoned Websites That Still Work
13 Things You Were Doing on the Computer in 1997
Comic Sans: The Man Behind the World’s Most Contentious Font
Renting VHS Tapes in a Minnesota Video Store in 1991
The Untold Story of TV’s First Prescription Drug Ad