A glimpse of the (networked) future

You have to love a guy who envisions IT as "applied demonology"

One of the signs of getting older is the feeling that things were better "back in the day." I've been lucky enough to avoid it, most of the time. OK, I'd like to have tasted Coca-Cola back when it had the original ingredients. And I'll admit to being a bit nostalgic for the days when you didn't have to take your shoes off to get on a plane. But overall, it strikes me things are generally better today, from medical advances that didn't exist three years ago to being able to Google on your mobile phone.

Except in one area: I've occasionally wondered why there don't seem to be any great new science fiction writers anymore. I'm talking about folks who can paint thought-provoking visions of how technology and society evolve -- and still tell a darn good story. My personal pantheon includes writers like Robert Heinlein, Ursula LeGuin, and Philip Dick.

More recently, there are guys like Neal Stephenson, who popularized the notion of online avatars and advanced our understanding of network-connected life. (Side note: I still think Stephenson's 1988 novel "Zodiac" is highly underrated, and once convinced his publisher to re-issue it in paperback. Seems the rest of the world didn't agree with me -- so much for my career giving publishing advice.)

Still, the apparent scarcity of writers who could tell meaningful stories, particularly about how networks will evolve, had been bugging me. I finally came close to having to admit that maybe when it comes to science fiction writers, they don't make 'em like the used to.

Boy, was I wrong. Turns out I just hadn't been paying attention to one of the new, brightest luminaries in the field: Charles Stross. You have to love a guy who envisions IT as "applied demonology" (one of the benefits of IPv6 is apparently its superior ability to contain the risk of demonic possession -- who knew?) And you really don't want to know what happens to Fred in accounting, who keeps calling the help desk with annoying requests for spreadsheet fixes.

But it's Stross' vision of how networking -- the human kind and machine kind -- evolve that's really thought-provoking. If you've read his work, you know what I mean -- and if you haven't, you really should check it out. His ideas on privacy and identity authentication alone are worth the price of admission. Like most great science fiction writers, he illustrates his ideas with real humans that you truly care about -- even as he's pushing the outer boundaries of what it means to be "human."

If I still haven't convinced you, have a look here. It's a recent essay by Stross about some future trends, and I won't spoil it by describing it, though I have to brag that one of the trends he mentions -- lifelogging -- was something my colleague and fellow Network World columnist Andreas Antonopoulos first proposed to me about six years back. (It almost made my head explode).

Anyway, I'm happy to report that it's true that they don't make science fiction writers like they used to -- they're even better these days.

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