Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: The many media hypothesis

Marissa Lingen makes a welcome return to Futures this week with her story The many media hypothesis. Marissa has previously given us stories that have delved into the robotic psyche, explored the ethics of time travel, wrestled with entanglement, examined genetic modification, toyed with artificial intelligence, introduced us to Mr Astounding, provided a glimpse of a temporal exam paper and taken a bet with Maxwell’s demon. You can keep up-to-date with her activities on her website or by following her on Twitter. Here Marissa explains the origins of her latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing The many media hypothesis

My grandmother doesn’t really get social media.

She’s an intelligent woman; she understands the theory. But on an emotional level, it doesn’t really register what it feels like. And we had supper together every night when I was a teenager, so she’s known a great many of my friends — so every once in a while she’ll ask: “Do you every hear from so-and-so?” And usually I’ll be able to answer: “She had a pirate-themed birthday party for her oldest last weekend,” or “He went to Yosemite on vacation this year.”

And … that kind of detail doesn’t mean I actually know what’s going on in the person’s life, what’s important to them or what’s going on in their innermost heart. But it’s the sort of detail that would have gone in a letter, in years past, or a phone call; it would presume an actual friendship rather than a constant stream of context-free pictures and comments.

So sometimes when I’m reading my social media, it feels to me like a glimpse into alternate worlds, where I stayed (or became) close friends with someone, where we would be in genuine contact, where we would write each other letters confiding our dreams and our problems.  The person who saw your vacation snaps is me.  The person who knows what they mean to you, well, that’s someone else, and so The many media hypothesis was born.

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