Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Guest Post: Unplugging Society

Joining me today are Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion, who write together as M.H. Mead. The two writers are touring the local blogosphere to promote their new book, Taking the Highway, available now at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I met Yang on Twitter, where she maintains an active and friendly presence.

One of the most interesting questions science fiction asks is, “What will this technological change do to the way we live?” Trying to answer that question is what we like to do best. When we recognize the potential effect of a technological innovation, we’re excited. When we get it right, we’re absolutely ecstatic.

But is it really that hard? When science fiction writers speak of the future, it’s always code for today. Writers imagine a future setting in order to point to a failing in today’s society in a sideways way.

One of our favorite novels is Robert Heinlein’s FRIDAY. The characters are all progressive, enlightened people who wouldn’t dream of being racist. Yet, they look down on genetically engineered people as “artificial” and treat them like property. It’s a way of sneaking up on the racism of present-day society—the bigots don’t see it coming until it’s too late.

And how about THE HUNGER GAMES? Nothing like a televised fight to the death to show how reality shows have gotten out of hand, not to mention how the desperate have-nots are manipulated by the haves. Anyone who doesn’t see parallels to our own times isn’t paying attention.

Our own novel, TAKING THE HIGHWAY, tackles less dire, but perhaps more universal themes. We can’t deny that we’re pointing fingers at our own society when characters in our novel are shamed for using cell phones and computers in public. “Keep it real” has become the catch phrase of the day, and nobody wants to be caught touching technology in front of their friends. In the high-tech world of the future, technology has its place, but that place is not everywhere.

How many of us hate the electronic leash of the cell phone, yet are unable to leave home without it? Technology pervades every aspect of our lives, sometimes to the point where it seems our humanity is in jeopardy. We’ve batted around the idea that the backlash against the ever-engulfing social media will grow teeth and find its way into law, but right now we’d settle for some vindictive peer pressure.

Don’t get us wrong. We use—and love—all the technology we can get. We text more than call, use hashtags like they’re our first language and complain that there’s nothing to watch on our 200 cable channels. But all of that is meaningless when telling bedtime stories to our kids or having coffee with a friend.

One of our favorite scenes in TAKING THE HIGHWAY is when our hero, police detective Andre LaCroix, goes out for lunch. The restaurant hostess offers to seat him in the tech or no-tech section. After all, diners wouldn’t want their nice meal spoiled by someone using a cell phone at the next table.

We don’t know how many people would really choose the “no tech” section of the restaurant, but we hope it’s a lot. Society always changes with new technology, but it doesn’t always have to change for the worse.

About the authors: Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion write near-future thrillers under the shared pen name M.H. Mead. To learn more about them and their stories, or if you have a great key lime pie recipe to share, please visit their website

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