Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Technology in the LookingGlass World (pt 3 of 3)

Politico-cultural impacts on technology and vice versa.
Other factors that have limited the growth of computing technology in the LookingGlass world are the destruction of the American economy, both in terms of dollars for R&D and in terms of dollars to purchase the end-user products. The domination of nations by large corporations will also serve to stifle the growth of technology, as discussed in part 1. Companies in the world of Looking Glass work very hard to stifle smaller, hungrier companies’ access to the market, their ability to develop new technologies, and so forth. Small, hungry companies work very hard to push technology forward and beat the large companies. Corporate espionage is exceedingly common. Corporate life in the world of Looking Glass is an exaggeration of today. It’s paranoid, cannibalistic, short sighted, and destructive, and above all, wasteful of human resources.

One of the big questions I asked myself when I put the LookingGlass world together, both in 1991 when I originally came up with the bones of the world, and in 2004 when I wrote Looking Glass, was “What would the world look like after the fall of the United States?” This begged the question, “What would the world look like after going through the fall of the United States?” and of course, “What made the United States fall?” As with the fall of other great empires, Rome and the Soviet Union, there are no simple answers to any of these. Looking Glass presents one engineer’s impression of what happened, and her memories of passing through that time. Subsequent books in the story present a different view, rather like the old story of the blind men trying to describe an elephant. What the political changes that made our world into my world looked like depend a lot on what part of them impacted your life. And, like the fall of Rome and the fall of the Soviet Union, the average joe (or joanne) still had to earn a living, still had to put food on the table, and so on. By virtue of having survived that time, all the characters in the LookingGlass world found ways to do those things. Not everyone did.

From an economic perspective, as well as a cultural perspective, the great money-generating engine of the United States of America is gone. Only recently, in the history of the Looking Glass world, have the nations of the former United States emerged from the shadow of hunger, so the amount of capital available for luxuries is considerably lower than in the real world. Electronics are the most common, and in more depressed areas, one frequently sees equipment dating all the way back to the present (real world) day, if it still works, and if there’s been no need to upgrade. The pursuit of the shiny and new has slackened considerably, at least in the former United States. This becomes much more important in subsequent books, where the main characters are not corporate employees.

This, then, is the technological picture of the Looking Glass world. Start with the technology of today, add a couple quantum leaps in human-interface technology, and then de-capitalize the picture with the collapse of the United States. It’s a varied technological picture, a weird polyglot technological front where a given character may have technology spanning half a century on their person. This, too, is very much how it is in the real world.

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