10 Sci-Fi Dystopias That Are Everyday Realities Todayby Mark Oliver
Ray Bradbury once said, “I wasn’t trying to predict the future. I was trying to prevent it.” Really, that’s the whole point of science fiction. The genre has never been about predicting new technologies. Instead, its purpose is to warn us about the dark future to come, if we don’t change our path.
Occasionally, we listen and learn, and then society improves. But other times, we don’t. And while the present day seems quite ordinary to us, the reality is that our modern era was once a horrible, terrifying nightmare that sci-fi writers desperately tried to stop.
10 ‘Number 12 Looks Just Like You’ Warned Us About South Korea’s Plastic Surgery Obsession
When The Twilight Zone first aired on TV, cosmetic surgery barely existed. It was only used for the absolute worst medical cases. The idea of someone getting their face restructured just for the sake of looking pretty still seemed outlandish to most people.
But not to the writers of The Twilight Zone. As it turns out, they knew exactly what was coming.
In the episode “Number 12 Looks Just Like You,” we’re taken to a future where every person is expected to go through a “transformation” at age 18. This surgery completely changes their face to resemble one of a small number of gorgeous models. It’s such a big change that teenagers are appointed therapists to deal with the stress of waiting to become beautiful.
When they wrote it, the Twilight Zone writers were just worried about girls using too much make-up. But in South Korea, the world is more like “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” than even the writers could have predicted.
A shocking one in three girls in South Korea have had plastic surgery, and just like in the story, the results are drastic. So much so that plastic surgeons now have to hand out certificates proving that the attractive girl in question is really the same drab-looking person on her ID.
Just like in the story, plastic surgery is a common graduation gift for girls after high school. It really seems like they’re living in the Twilight Zone. Girls suffering through high school, unable to live up to the unreal standards that adults have created, and then conforming to one of a few faces as soon as they turn 18.
9 ‘The Veldt’ Warned Us About Video Game Violence
When Ray Bradbury wrote his short story, “The Veldt,” televisions were just coming into homes for the first time, and these inventions changed everything, especially parenting. It’s kind of hard to imagine how parents did it before Dora the Explorerwas around to help out. Raising a child was a much different thing back in the day . . . and Bradbury was terrified about how it might change.
In “The Veldt,” Bradbury writes about a family that uses a “nursery”—basically, an interactive TV—to keep their kids entertained. The children end up being raised more by the nursery than by the parents, and that’s when the kids start going savage. It gets so bad that, when the worried parents finally shut the nursery down, the kids murder them.
Perhaps Bradbury’s story sounds kind of far-fetched. How could TV make a kid murder his parents? Well, the thing is, it actually happened. The exact events of the story played out in real life.
A 14-year-old boy named Noah Crooks was obsessed with video games, and just like in the story, his mother began to worry about how it was affecting him. His grades were going down, and he was becoming more and more prone to violence. And just like in the story, his mother decided to shut the video games down.
Noah didn’t take this well. He erupted in a fit of rage and murdered his own mother.
Sure, Noah isn’t exactly normal, but neither are the kids in the story. They’re portrayed as an extreme symptom of a larger problem. Ray Bradbury wasn’t saying everyone would murder their parents. Instead, he argued that children would lose enough parental guidance that it could possibly happen. And maybe Bradbury was right. Maybe TV and video games have really messed us up, but we’re just so used to them that we don’t even realize it.
8 ‘The Machine Stops’ Warned Us About Facebook Friendships
When it came out in 1909, “The Machine Stops” seemed like a bit of an overreaction. The telephone had just started to enter into people’s homes, and E.M. Forster was already worried that society was somehow ruined. He imagined a ridiculous future where people would spend all their time indoors, sitting at machines, while sending short, pithy thoughts to thousands of “friends” they’d never met, and “liking” things as their main source of human interaction.
Sure, this probably sounded paranoid in 1909. After all, it was just a telephone. But today, our reality is almost exactly like the world in “The Machine Stops.” The story’s depiction of long-distance interactions is eerily similar to social media. The idea of having thousands of online friends you’ve never met is a terrifyingly dead-on prediction of Facebook. And the way people in the story send out short, one-sentence thoughts is basically an old-timey Twitter.
But it’s more than just the inventions, though. The whole culture Forster predicted in 1909 is just like ours. For example, Forster portrayed social media as a form of distraction. When the protagonist of the story starts to feel sadness for her son, she’s immediately pulled out of her thoughts by the ability to “like” things. And according to some people, that’s exactly what happens in real life. Some claim that social media really does distract us from our families and emotions by giving us hard-to-ignore jolts of stimulation.
There’s also our attitude toward the outdoors. In the story, going outside for pleasure is considered weird. Now, most people won’t say that out loud, but it does seem to be our view today. According to one study, only about 1 percent of Americans actually participate in nature-based activities.
The final message of the story is that our connection to nature and our families is what brings us happiness, not social media. Similarly, a study of college students showed that heavy Facebook users are more likely to be depressed, so maybe that message hits home for us, too.
For a story written in 1909, the overlaps are incredible. The only thing Forster got wrong was that he thought some robotic dictator would force us into this scenario. In reality, we were happy to do it ourselves.
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