Guest Post: “Travel in Both Directions” by Malka Older

OlderM-AuthorPicInfomocracy takes place across 17 different locations, only one of them in the United States. This is largely a function of the fact that, as someone who worked or consulted for international organizations for years, that was what my life was like. Over one ten month period in 2011-2012, I went to eleven different countries – three of them twice. So it made sense to me, while I was writing, that activists, anarchists, and political operatives working on a global election would have a similar itinerary.

It was also important because this needed to be a global election. In the Infomocracy future, countries no longer need to be geographically contiguous, and so a government might have constituents on five different continents, with no physical borders connecting them. Exploring how this plays out, how a single governmental philosophy manifests in very different contexts, is one of the fun parts of the conceit, as well as one of the challenges for those governments. I also wanted to be sure “global” did not mean “the United States and the major capitals of Europe, with East Asia for exoticism.” As our world grows more and more interconnected, it is harder to ignore the impact that our actions have on those in places where James Bond doesn’t go, and vice versa. (Infomocracy does have a pretty strong urban bias, because of the political economy of the population-based administrative units used in their system.)

Travel is, I believe, a kind of time travel. William Gibson famously noted, “the future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” I experienced this numerous times while living abroad; at risk of sounding like a hipster, I was texting on cell phones in Japan before texting happened in the US (if that doesn’t sound impressive, consider that texting in Japanese requires kanji conversion; the programmers, at least, were impressive). This displacement is neither unidirectional nor consistent, however: Japan isn’t always the future for us, or at least not in every technological arena. Traveling there a few years ago, fifteen years after I returned to the US with my fingers twitching, I learned to carry an ethernet cable because most hotels and offices had LAN instead of wifi. (In fairness I should note that part of the reason for this is the ubiquity of cell phone-based email and web surfing, which is more common, particularly among the elderly, than computer use.)

OlderM-InfomocracyUS

Time travel, as that suggests, can go the other direction. In Los Pasos Perdidos Alejo Carpentier imagined traveling almost literally to the past by visiting a remote society. Isolation has kept Carpentier’s home country of Cuba a patchwork of past and present: places without internet access and horse-drawn buses sharing the roads with decades-old cars as well as modern ones. When I lived even further off the grid, in Darfur, where donkeys are a common mode of transportation and nomads live as they had for centuries, it was easy to imagine that I had leaped a thousand years into the past.

Time travel is notoriously tricky, however, and it’s hard to know sometimes whether it’s taken us backwards or forwards. Another way of looking at the unevenly distributed future is that there are many different futures, and some of them are here already. The United States might get a Tokyo-style future of high-speed trains and disciplined recycling, but it seems unlikely. We also have on offer, for example, a Jakarta-future, with unchecked urban sprawl and privatized services offering the rich security and transportation unavailable to the poor. Those distant places we like to think of as our past might also be our future: if we degrade our environment badly enough, we could face a biblical desert lifestyle of the kind being lived today on the edges of the Sahara.

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Malka Older’s Infomocracy is published by Tor.com. Here’s the synopsis:

It’s been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global micro-democracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything’s on the line.

With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information operative, the whole situation is a puzzle: how do you keep the wheels running on the biggest political experiment of all time, when so many have so much to gain?

For more on the author’s writing and fiction, be sure to check out her website, and follow her on Twitter and Goodreads.

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