Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 4, 2011

Buy this! Buy that!

I’m sure a lot of this is sounding familiar to you. As our own technologies have advanced we have seen how it has impacted our lives. For example, as the internet has becomes more and more accessible, from home PCs to laptops to phones with internet capabilities, we seem to spend more and more of our time online.

So what’s the hitch with Feed? An invention that makes a faster, better, stronger version of the internet so accessible that it becomes a part of ourselves sounds pretty convenient. Is the government controlling the feeds? Well, not exactly.

But the braggest thing about the feed, the thing that made it really big, is that it knows everything you want and hope for, sometimes before you even know what those things are … Everything we think and feel is taken in by the corporations, mainly by data ones like Feedlink and OnFeed and American Feedware, and they make a special profile, one that’s keyed just to you…

-pg. 40, Feed

Facebook Advertising

Okay… creepy! I already have a hard enough time with the way companies keep track of my browsing history and that’s not even in my head. A few years ago I bought a 25 gallon bag of packing peanuts on Amazon for a design project. For quite awhile (aka before I requested that Amazon discontinue emailing me) I received emails like, “Take a look at our Duck CareMail Biodegradable Peanuts, 0.31 Cubic Feed” or “We suggest: Sealed Air Recycled 5/16 Inch x 12 Inch x 100 Feet Bubble Wrap”. Even worse than poorly targeted advertisements for office products is the advertising on Facebook, perhaps because it sometimes works so much better. On Facebook the “self-service ad system” allows a company to select a very specific target audience for which their advertisements will appear. As the New York Times explains,

…a promoter can advertise tickets to a band’s concert to the select group of Facebook users who live in the area and have mentioned that band on their profile page or status updates. Or a wedding photographer can show ads only to people in a certain city who have switched their relationship status to “engaged.”

Brad Stone, New York Times

I can only imagine what advertising companies could do with knowing nearly everything about me from what I’ve previously bought to what I’m looking at or even what I’m thinking about. Well, I don’t really have to imagine, since Anderson does a pretty good job of describing that. From mindless televisions shows such as “Oh? Wow! Thing!” to upcars to blue jeans, Titus and the majority of the world live with this constant stream of information. Information overload, heavy on the advertising. Advertising heavy on the consumer stalking.



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Posted by: dystopiandaze | February 1, 2011

Information overload

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Feed by M.T. Anderson is probably one of the many books I’ll talk about that has much less emphasis on the young in young adult dystopian fiction; M.T. Anderson’s characters are sometimes in less-than-respectable situations and speak with less-than-respectable language. Perhaps because of this lack of a sugar coating, Feed depicted a possible future with such a vivid realness that I couldn’t stop from reading, despite the difficult family situations and rocky romantic relationships.

The book starts with our main character, Titus, beginning a spring break trip with his friends. He’s unsure if all the girls will get along with the guys and whether or not they’ll find somewhere cool to hang out. Normal, right? According to him,

We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

-pg. 3, Feed

Quickly I realized that this book was not only in the future, but in a future much more technologically advanced than today. Anderson never directly describes these new technologies or how they work, but rather leaves his readers to pick up on the subtle details and hints that he scatters throughout the first few chapters. At first I found this annoying, but eventually I began to appreciate his technique; trying to decipher the unfamiliar lingo and unbelievable advances in technology pulled me into the book long enough to make me feel invested in Titus and the other characters.

Titus lives in a world in which the majority of people are hooked up to the “feed”. Instead of needing a computer to search the internet (aka the feed) you can use the chip installed in your brain to access the feed, seeing and understanding information in your head instead of on a screen. Instead of opening a web browser, going to Google and typing in your question, you would simply think a question and have thousands of hits with the answer popping into your head. Titus eventually rewards us with a bit of background on the feed:

People were really excited when they first came out with feeds. It was all da da da, this big educational thing, da da da, our child will have the advantage… That’s one of the great things about the feed – that you can be supersmart without ever working. Everyone is supersmart now.

-pg. 39, Feed

What started out as an advancement in the educational sector of technology soon turned into a standard for daily life; being connected to the feed meant being connected to everyone else. Have you ever felt as if you were on an information overload? Just imagine what being connected to email, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Youtube, etc all simultaneously could do to your sanity. We’re pretty close. (Which is probably why I enjoy reading Pioneer Woman’s blog; once a city girl living the life, she fell in love with a cowboy and has lived on a ranch ever since. If you want to read more about her slower-than-Feed-paced life, check out my blogroll to the right.)

Posted by: dystopiandaze | January 28, 2011

Hoverboards, interface rings, surges, oh my!

One of the most interesting aspects of the Uglies is the technology described by Westerfeld. From hoverboards to surges (additional cosmetic surgeries that pretties often apply for) I was amazed at Westerfeld’s creativity. However after reading his blog and doing some research of my own, I’ve discovered that the technology in Tally’s world can sometimes directly translate to our own current technologies.

Airboard by ArborTech

In Uglies, hoverboards are a popular mode of transportation among both the uglies and the occasional pretty. It looks a lot like a skateboard without wheels and operates by using nearby magnetic force fields to hover above the ground (a grid of magnetized metals was installed under the city for this purpose). The user mounts the board and can accelerate, change direction and change altitude by balancing on the board appropriately; as a safety feature, the user wears wrist-bands that will stop the user from crashing fully to the ground in the event of falling off the board. Unfortunately we just don’t have the technology to make hoverboards a reality right now; I’ve complained to my Aerospace Engineering friend, though. There is, however, a pretty cool thing called an Airboard which instead of using magnets, uses the same principles of conventional hovercrafts to float above the ground on a “cushion of air”.

Bracelet Phone by Nicolas Nicolaou

The interface rings worn by all of the citizens can do many things; receive messages, transmit messages and (gasp) keep a record of what’s been said and where you’ve been. They can also control the settings in a room, much like a remote control to a television. Our cell phones seem to save much of the same functions, minus the style and functionality of fitting around a finger… but what about a wrist? Apparently there’s a new phone design being tossed around that’s a voice activated, touch screen-touting bracelet… I want one! On the flip side, it’s a bit scary to realize that this sounds like such a good idea to me because I take my phone with me everywhere. Pardon the paranoia, but with all these conspiracy theories out there about the government tracking us with our cell phones… well, keeping our phones with us at all times via a bracelet/ring/whatever sounds pretty convenient.

Without giving too much away about the next book in this trilogy, Pretties…

Tally took a steadying breath, the room spinning again, but in a good way. She gestured for the windows to transpare a little more, and in the sunlight she saw the new additions.

“Ooh, pretty-making.”

Bolder than all the other implanted glitter, twelve tiny rubies ringed each of Shay’s pupils, glowing softly red against emerald irises.

“Bubbly, huh?”

Pretties

Yes, even some of the most ridiculous cosmetic surges of Tally’s world have become a reality in ours, as seen below in the contact lenses developed in the Crystal Vision competition that really do feature Swarovski crystals.

Swarovski Crystal Contact Lenses

Posted by: dystopiandaze | January 26, 2011

Ignorance is bliss … right?

I was fascinated by Westerfeld’s dystopian world in which everyone is beautiful and having fun. But you might be thinking, where is the dystopia? This sure sounds utopian to me!  (Well, except for whole eliminating any sense of diversity or celebration of differences.) Turns out there’s something even more sinister about the surgery that makes you pretty… lesions.

After Shay’s mysterious disappearance and talk of the “New Smoke”, a rebel group forming in opposition of the city’s authorities, Tally is sent on a mission by her city’s authorities to find Shay and the rebel group she is staying with. Once there, one of the rebels, David tries to explain to Tally that the surgery is not what she thought it was.

“And now everybody is happy, because everyone looks the same: They’re all pretty. No more Rusties, no more war. Right?”

“Yeah. In school, they say it’s all really complicated, but that’s basically the story.”

He smiled grimly. “Maybe it’s not so complicated. Maybe the reason war and all that other stuff went away is that there are no more controversies, no disagreements, no people demanding change. Just masses of smiling pretties, and a few people left to run things.”

“Becoming pretty doesn’t just change the way you look,” she said.

“No,” David said. “It changes the way you think.”

-pg. 267-268, Uglies

David explains to Tally that in addition to all the superficial products of the surgery, each pretty ends up with lesions, abnormal brain cells. This brain damage keeps you from thinking too deeply about any one subject or feeling any sense of disagreement; as Westerfeld describes it, your world become “bubbly” and you become a “bubblehead”. The city authorities maintain order and control by occupying the masses with numerous superficial entertainments. There’s nothing to preoccupy their bubbly thoughts but the upcoming party, the newest fashion trend, the next greatest pleasure that New Pretty Town has to offer.

"Amusing Ourselves to Death" by Stuart McMillen

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that even without the government-issued lesions that Tally and co. have to deal with, we are becoming bubbleheads. Many people have become so concerned with superficial things that it has entirely consumed their lives. Instead of thinking about ways to end poverty or how to improve international relations, people are debating between the mustard and the argento D&G pump or who Brad Womack will propose to at the end of this season of The Bachelor.

I’m not trying to guilt-trip anyone, because I’m definitely guilty of getting wrapped up in the insignificant as well. And I don’t think that we should become work-obsessed zombies without enjoying any of life’s pleasures. I doubt that Westerfeld intended us to think either of those things; he wasn’t being nearly as dramatic as Aldous Huxley. I’m just thinking that the next time I’ve been on facebook for who knows how long, I might just log off and go read the news. (Or another book perhaps?)

Posted by: dystopiandaze | January 25, 2011

Uglie Truths

You are ugly. Your friends are ugly. Your whole life is ugly. That is, until you turn 16.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

This week we’ll be looking at Scott Westerfeld’s The Uglies Trilogy. I’m so excited to be talking about this series with you since it’s one of my all-time favorites. Our main character is Tally and she lives in a world very different from ours. There are no wars or food shortages. There is no such thing as debt or homelessness. And the people are separated into two classes, the ugly and the pretty.

Everyone is born ugly, but once you turn 16 years old you undergo a life-changing experience: (mandatory) extreme plastic surgery. After the surgery a person is a “pretty” with perfect proportions, flawless skin and carbon steel-reinforced bones. As a new pretty you are moved to New Pretty Town, where the partying and socializing never end. Tally can’t wait until she turns 16, especially after her best friend Peris has already left her behind with the other uglies; even though her new-found friend Shay is fun to hang out with, she’s still an ugly like Tally.

At first I thought the entire concept for this book was a bit ridiculous. Sure, it’s the future, but why would the government ever mandate (let alone, fund!) that every citizen undergo something as invasive as an extreme plastic surgery?

Tally and Shay have a bit of an argument that clarifies things for us readers. Before the operation, many uglies spend their free time making “morphos” (morphological models) of themselves, altering their “ugly” faces digitally to guess what they will look like after the surgery. One day Tally and Shay get into a heated argument about Shay’s morpho:

“Shay! Come on. It’s just for fun.”

“Making ourselves feel ugly is not fun.”

“We are ugly!”

“This whole game is just designed to make us hate ourselves.”

“Right, and things were so great back when everyone was ugly? Or did you miss that day in school?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Shay recited. “Everyone judged everyone else based on appearance. People who were taller got better jobs, and people even voted for some politicians just because they weren’t quite as ugly as everybody else. Blah, blah, blah.”

“Yeah, and people killed one another over stuff like having different skin color… So what if people look more alike now? It’s the only way to make people equal.”

-pg. 44-45, Uglies

Woah. Would that really work? Would eliminating the physical differences in a population really lead to the “perfect” society in Tally’s world?

I’m sure that there’s some truth to what Shay suggests, that everyone has at some point, judged someone else based on appearance. Have you ever found yourself trusting someone more or paying more attention to what they said not because they deserved it, but just because of their looks?

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