Sifting through the unorganized pile of miscellania and bric-a-brac that is my memory, I recall a half-forgotten short story I read many years ago.
As I ponder what I remember of it, i realize it holds the keys to understanding so much of what constitutes the isolation and alienation of today's
I read this story sometime in the late 1980s in an anthology of science fiction stories from the late 60s or early 70s. I don't remember the author or
title -- it wasn't one of the big names from science fiction. I realize this gives us very little to go on, but there is always the off chance that
one of you will recognize the plot and be able to identify this forgotten gem.
The story opens with a woman sitting in a kitchen and eating breakfast with her family. It's a cheerful, heartwarming family scene. Then there is a
burst of static and the scene starts to repeat itself, like a scratched record. The woman slowly remembers something she has forgotten: She is in a
virtual reality world, and this happy breakfast is a memory of her real family she keeps on a kind of infinite replay. She has been alive for hundreds
or maybe thousands of years (she doesn't know how long) on suspended animation, replaying the same memory over and over. She had been doing this so
long that she had forgotten it was a fake world. Only now there is a malfunction in the memory causing it to "skip" like a scratched DVD, making her
to remember that it is an illusion.
Keep in mind this story was written at least 40 years ago, long before ideas of virtual reality or "Matrix"-like illusory worlds were commonplace. Or
even before there was such a thing as a DVD, scratched or not. In this, it was remarkably prescient.
Anyway, after sluggishly remembering she is in a dream world, she realizes she needs some tech support to get her dreamworld back on track, so she
uses some kind of communication means to reach out to her real, living family members. They are also still alive absorbed in their own virtual reality
fantasies. There is a lot of trouble communicating with them, and the connection is fuzzy and patchy. They are resentful of being disturbed and snippy
at her. After much effort, she can only coax them into barely, hazily remembering that they are even related. But it is not enough. They sort of drift
off back into their own little worlds, losing patience with her unwanted intrusion. The story ends with her trapped in an infinite loop of a damaged
illusion she can't escape from, ironically a fantasy of a perfectly happy family life, when her real family is shattered and isolated.
It is a horrifying, nightmare vision...and it seems to be coming true.
I think of this story when I think of the zombie hordes shuffling along with their faces focused on their smartphones. Or a couple in bed, each with
earbuds in and zoned into their separate tablet computers. Perhaps they used to watch movies together and laugh; now they each watch their own movies.
Or when I think of people who have a zillion Facebook "friends" but only send their own relatives christmas cards once a year.
The family is collapsing, friendships are collapsing, social interactions are collapsing. People are sinking into their own private, technologically
mediated dreamworlds. It's ironic that this process is being speeded along by technology designed for "communication" that is really bringing us
deeper isolation. People realize this, they know it -- loneliness and neediness are worse than they ever have been. People know technology is
isolating them, yet like alcoholics, they can't tear themselves away from their gadgets. Like the woman in the story, it's easier to create a virtual
fantasy of a family than to wrestle with your real family...and yet it's not ultimately satisfying. People know what they have to do, but somehow they
can't do it.
What a mess.
edit on 18-3-2014 by Never Despise because: (no reason given)