Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Stripped to zero

This week, the focus turns to the consumer world in Stephen S. Power’s debut Futures story Stripped to zero. You can catch up with Stephen’s work on his webpage or by following him on Twitter. Here, he explains what inspired his tale — as ever it pays to read the story first.

Writing Stripped to zero

Stripped to zero began with a line that I just heard in my head one night: “My son mistakes the soda machine for his mother.” I spent the rest of the night trying to figure out why.

The initial draft was far shorter and took place only in the 24Shop. It was built around my take on Clarke’s maxim because what’s true of any advanced technology is also true for parents. To children they can do magic. They make things appear as if out of thin air. They speak without moving their lips. They defend you with their superpowers. And it’s all a con as parents desperately attempt to keep their children from looking behind the curtain for as long as possible. In this case what’s behind the curtain is resentment and a need for control.

What expanded the story was my then thinking: why didn’t the mother show up? I realized that she saw the same dynamic at work between the Internet of Things and the citizen consumer, the former hiding its mundane self behind the miracles of a networked world.

So in writing the story, I wondered: How soon would an actual Shop24 begin to take data from our kids’ protective bracelets, then tell them what they should eat? When would mirrors and toilets become data-collection centres? At what point would TVs start recording and repurposing for profit what we watch in our homes? How soon would consumers become the real products and citizen always live, not just communicate, in plain view of the authorities? And how could we escape — or would we want to?

Of course, this led me to wonder something even more disturbing. Did the line that started my story come from the Muses, or was it directed at me by an audio spotlight?

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