From a life lived in virtual reality to an extreme evolution of social media, WGSN Lifestyle & Interiors Editor Sarah Housley picks the novels that should make your tech reading list.
It’s my job to think about the future, but it’s also my personal passion – which is why about 60% of the novels I read are sci-fi, the genre of literature that is focused on thinking about the future, albeit usually through a parallel lens.
Science fiction (or speculative fiction) novels don’t generally set out to ‘predict the future’; instead, what they’re often doing is projecting into a possible future to explore what that tells us about ourselves. Sometimes, though, these projections turn out to come true. If you’re interested in thinking about how the tech of today will shape the world in the next few decades, these five books each bring a perspective that is becoming more prescient by the day. They all also happen to be brilliant reads.
Ubik by Philip K. Dick (1969)
Read it for: Insight into the Internet of Things & the connected home
If you’re at all into technology, Philip K. Dick’s entire oeuvre should be on your reading list, but shuffle Ubik to the top (followed by the brilliant Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) Ubik is ‘about’ lots of things – cryonics, immersion, memory and the illusion of reality – but the stand-out passage that speaks most closely to today’s tech occurs when the protagonist tries to get in to his connected home, which won’t let him do anything until he’s paid the bills for his IoT subscriptions. Funny, thoughtful, extremely gripping, and gorgeously written.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)
Read it for: Virtual reality as it could play out
If you’re concerned that virtual reality will lead to deeply isolated, antisocial societies, Ready Player One will not help. Set in a dystopian future where world economies have crumbled and equality and enrichment are pretty much limited to the virtual world, it’s nonetheless considered the most convincing portrayal of how life will be lived in VR simulations. The novel is also set in a future that’s in the midst of an analogue revival, with 1980s films, songs and TV shows back in favour thanks to a contest set up by an eccentric tech billionaire. Director Steven Spielberg is currently adapting this novel for film, with Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg among the cast, and a release date set for 2017.
The Circle by Dave Eggers (2013)
Read it for: Data privacy and live streaming
Along with the 2013 film Her, Dave Eggers’ book The Circle was the most-referenced work of fiction by far at this year’s SXSW Interactive conference. Set in a future where an omnipresent, omnipowerful tech company with a wacky campus is eroding our private personas further and further, and encouraging everyone to broadcast their activities constantly, it’s a gripping look at how much of our identity should be lived online, and whether anything can remain behind closed doors in the digital age. A film adaptation of the book, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, is coming this year.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (2010)
Read it for: The evolution of social media
Plot-wise, I found Super Sad True Love Story a challenging read – it took me a while to empathise with the characters, and the dystopian world it’s set in can be grating to spend time in. But ideas-wise, and particularly with regards to how social media might progress if it keeps on its current trajectory, it’s brilliant. Social media personalities climb to a whole new level, and the human rating system popularised by companies like Uber reaches its logical conclusion. Dark, biting, and convincing.
Speak by Louisa Hall (2015)
Read it for: AI and bots, bots, bots
I’ve only just started reading this, but it’s already proved one of the most beautifully-written books I’ve read in years. If you enjoyed Channel 4’s TV series Humans, or Alex Garland’s 2015 film Ex Machina, Louisa Hall’s Speak explores similar territory – what happens when machines become a bit too human, and humans become a bit too machine-like – with absorbing results.
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