Feeding the mind

Living in the digital ageLiving in the digital age

Nick Clark Windo is author of The Feed, a novel about the technology we use and how it affects us. Join him at Wanstead Library this month for a discussion about what it is to be human in the digital age.

The rate of change for technology is rapid. On the one hand, that's fantastic – my word count won't allow me to list the innumerable wonders that new tech brings – but on the other, there doesn't seem to be the time or space to discuss it anymore because, whoosh, it's already happened.

Genetic testing, GM foods, artificial intelligence (AI)... I know we can do this, but should we? It used to be that AI was the stuff of sci-fi, the backdrop to Terminator or I, Robot, but now it's on the verge of happening. And those worries that previously made great fiction are unresolved.

The Feed is an implant in the brain. Infinite knowledge and immediate communication at the speed of thought. Nearly everyone gets it, it's brilliant, we become dependent upon it and then it goes down. Think you'd be in trouble if you lost your phone? Try losing the technology that's given you access to everything you know, that has allowed you to upload your memories and communicate your emotions to people without having to bother with words. That's when we realise quite how much one of humanity's most useful tools has started to control it.

Of course, a concept isn't a story. All of this is a backdrop for what happens in the book, for Tom and Kate and the search for their abducted daughter – drama happens as we see the human impact of something. But it raises, to my mind at least, dramatic questions about how we're living.

There's some great writing about how technology affects us – Nicholas Carr's The Shallows, for example, looks at how tech changes the physical make-up of our brains – and it's the job of art (in which I'm including novels, film, TV, graphic novels – anything that's consumed and considered) to look at how we live and question it.

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Cormack McCarthy's The Road, Danny Boyle's film Sunshine, The Walking Dead... all these pieces of entertainment are looking at what happens to humanity when it's under pressure. And as pieces of entertainment, that usually means that while a dark point of view is a foregone conclusion, things turn out okay. But it feels like art is changing too: happy endings aren't a foregone conclusion anymore. Maybe that's to do with the low-level concern most people seem to have now. There are lots of options for what could take us into a post-apocalyptic world, and unhappy endings in art might be a reflection of what we're worried by in real life.

The important thing is to discuss it. So, please do come along to Wanstead Library this month for an old-school, tech-free chat!

Nick's talk will take place at Wanstead Library on 27 February from 7pm to 9pm (tickets: £3; booking required). For more information, visit wavidi.co/windo

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