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Raanan Geberer: Are we becoming Solarians?

Isaac Asimov. AP photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Back in 1986, when I was writing back-cover and inside-front cover copy for paperback science fiction books, I was chosen to write the promotional copy for Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation and Earth,” which dealt with several different planets and the civilizations that had sprung up on them.

One of these planets was called Solaria. Solaria had a very sparse population, with a small number of humans and large armies of robots working the humans’ estates. The peculiarity of the Solarian lifestyle was that the humans had a strange distaste for being in each others’ company.

In Solaria, all transactions and communications were done by means of two-way telecommunication by use of sophisticated television sets (while personal computers were already in use at the time, the internet was still about five years away). That, of course, included all trade and commerce. 

The only time Solarians got together was to have sex for the purpose of procreation, and in time, that was resolved by genetically engineering them to become hermaphrodites who reproduced by a form of asexual reproduction.

When a visitor from Earth came to Solaria, a peach farmer who owned a large estate, Sarton Bander, came out and secretly enjoyed talking to the visitor, although the encounter was against the grain of his culture. “It has been many years since I’ve been in the same room as an actual human being,” Bander said.

What strikes me is how prophetic the book was. Already, many forms of commerce are done mainly over the internet. Yes, people still go to Macy’s to buy clothes, P.C. Richard’s to buy air conditioners and to auto showrooms to buy cars, even if they use the internet as a buying tool before they go. 

But many more people buy books and CDs over the internet than in book or record shops—or what remain of them. This robs people of the experience of going to the record store, discussing music with the person behind the counter, and talking to other people who share your interests. 

Also, I find myself going to the library much less than I used to. Online databases can give me the same information that reference books used to, and as for books, if I can buy a used copy of a book for, say, five dollars on half.com, why reserve it at the library and wait two months for it?

Almost anything can be done on the internet now—paying phone bills, managing your bank account, taking classes, ordering food (although in most cases, you still have to use the phone for that). And a rising percentage of the American people now work from home. It’s probably difficult to spend a year totally inside your apartment or home, but it’s getting easier.

Everything, however, comes with a price, and the price may be human contact. Are we becoming Solarians? Is that what the future holds in store for us? It’s too soon to know, but our society today is a very disturbing parallel to “Foundation and Earth.”

November 26, 2012 - 9:51am


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