Why Isaac Asimov's famous dystopia is still relevant today

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There's a must-read piece at Slate on Isaac Asimov's classic novel The Caves of Steel, part of a trilogy of novels about societies where everybody lives hundreds of years and relies on robots for everything. After a terrific summary, Konstantin Kakaes explains why it's all still relevant.


In a nutshell, Caves of Steel is a murder mystery about a "spacer" visiting from Aurora, where everybody lives 300 to 350 years. And as in many similar long-lived fictional societies, creativity is stifled by the long lifespans and progress slows to a crawl. In the sequel, The Naked Sun, Elijah Baley visits Solaria, an even longer-lived society where the population size is tiny and everybody is isolated from everybody else.

Obviously, a lot of people nowadays are predicting that human lifespans will soon be extended way past the roughly hundred-year limit that most humans currently face. Kakaes explains why Asimov's warnings are still relevant:

Nobody now lives in the isolation of a Solarian, and yet my office is filled with people who prefer to send emails to one another instead of walking 10 seconds to briefly converse. (I suspect this is not atypical.) The children of the privileged are raised in structured, sheltered environments that have more of a common feel with Asimov's Aurora, filled with individualistic strivers, than they do with the Earth of Caves, in which kids roughhouse harmlessly, blowing off steam in a shinier version of the 1950s.

His books are useful antigens to Whiggish ideas of technological progress. Earth will never become Aurora. But the tonier parts of Silicon Valley are already starting to resemble it. Asimov viewed part of the task of science fiction as accustoming readers to the idea of change, to the knowledge that "things will be different," and so to help them plan for change with wisdom. Part of that wisdom is undertaking a healthy skepticism of technological fixes to problems like aging.

The whole thing is well worth reading. [Slate]



The observation about people being more likely to email someone within shouting distance hits close to home here. I've long preferred to get up and discuss things with my neighbors F2F whenever possible, to expedite things and put a face on it. This was the subject of a later job evaluation where I was criticized for doing that very thing!

Mind you, I've always been as courteous as possible, and if someone said they didn't have time for an F2F I'd take it right to email, no problem. But, there you go, even ASKING if someone had a couple of minutes to discuss something directly was considered by some to be disruptive. I was asked to stop doing that.

Even without walls dividing us, we build our own.