Everything, All of the Time

Thoughts going through my head on the home-run to finishing The Thousand Emperors: if I had it in me to write some vast, sprawling thousand-page novel taking in everything that mattered about social chance and technology in the 21st Century, it would be called Everything, All of the Time.

I'm not sure if I heard that phrase somewhere before and picked it up, but to my mind it pretty much sums up where things feel like they're going, particularly given my acquisition in the past few weeks of my first smartphone.  Such questions regarding the increasing density of available information can also be a problem in fiction, when plots are often defeated by the increasing and immediate availability of the same.

Most often plots are about what people don't know, and their subsequent search for enlightenment. It's something that occurs to me as the fatal flaw at the heart of any science fiction novel set more than thirty years from now, including my own: that given sufficient time and progress, anything anyone wants to know will be available to them, everywhere, immediately.

Everything, All of the Time.

Describing such a future with any prospect of accuracy whatsoever would, I suspect, require the kind of indepth technical knowledge of how networks operate, interface and connect with their users that simply isn't available to those of us lacking the time, means, motivation (or funds) to absorb a PhD-equivalent body of knowledge: so that leaves you, the author, with the choice of either a)ignoring the question or more often b)trying to find ways to restrict the flow of information between characters in a story.

Which, again given the way things are going these days, leads you into encryption, a science as important, if not perhaps more important, than the development of the networks and databases it's used to protect. It's all terribly complicated, and attempts to create any future containing even a whiff of plausibility inevitably gets washed up on the shores of real-world technological evolution, rendering all your carefully extrapolated work within a few years into little more than one more nostalgic tour of past visions of the future (witness the lack of mobile phones in Stephenson's Snow Crash).

Perhaps that, it occurs to me, is why fantasy is so popular these days. But that's a thought for another day. Let's just say that the point of this post is that if I had the necessary understanding of the system of the world and put it to use writing a book of the near-future, it would be called Everything, All of the TIme.

1 comment:

Andrew Neil Carpenter said...

And yet there is an alternative: imagine a future, or an alternative world, where all information is available to anyone who wants it, whenever they want it. Of course, the story has already been written as the Library of Babel by Borges, and the only conclusion one can draw is that having access to all possible information is equivalent to having access to no information at all; thus, 'Nothing, none of the time', is an equivalent concept and title...but that in itself may simply be a matter of semantics, depending on how one defines such a thing.

In conclusion, then:

Everything, all of the time. You are quite correct