Here at the beginning of the “winter” television season, as SF favorites THE EXPANSE and COLONY are coming back for another few episodes, I had thought to whine a bit about how nearly impossible it has become to do what I once so enjoyed: review SF shows on television.
With the creative blossoming of SyFy Channel and more than a few innovative programs to talk about (anybody following INCORPORATED?), I could once have had a lot of fun parsing the latest in SF TV. But even professional television critics are finding it impossible to keep up nowadays, between the split seasons of the broadcast networks (fall, winter and summer), an infinite number of cable networks and an uncounted number of offerings from streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. There are only so many hours in a day, people! And I do occasionally get up from my couch and write a word or two. Or sleep.
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But as I was concluding that I couldn’t keep up—and so couldn’t be considered a reliable guide to what was “good” on TV—several otherwise trivial news articles merged into one big, fat clue that what was happening on my flat screen was just a sign of something much more insidious.
The articles were featured in a single recent issue of THE WEEK, a nonpartisan magazine combining news from a variety of sources from around the nation and the world. They were in different sections of the magazine, and seemingly addressed different topics. But as I read, an underlying theme began to emerge. See if you can pick it out.
--In San Diego, a newscaster read a story on the air about a little girl who used her family’s Amazon Echo to order herself a dollhouse, simply by saying, “Alexa, order me a dollhouse.” Echoes in many of the houses of those watching the broadcast promptly ordered dollhouses.
--French cosmetics company L’Oreal has introduced a “smart” hairbrush to the market (for the low, low price of $200 U.S.). The computerized gadget is capable of analyzing not only your brushing technique, but also ambient temperature, humidity and wind conditions, presumably for those whose bathrooms lack, uh, walls or a roof. Of course, once the brilliant thing has detected the flaws in your hair due to your brushing, it can also recommend the appropriate L’Oreal product to fix them.
--That moment of triumph you experience when you finally reach a real, live human at the other end of your customer service call may be short lived when you realize the company you’re dealing with has analyzed your social media presence and chosen a particular representative to “serve” you based on your special characteristics. Think that means you’ll get better service? Oh, honey . . .
If only all this time, money, energy and technological advancement could be used for good.
I just saw HIDDEN FIGURES, the film story of Katherine G. Johnson and her female African-American compatriots at NASA in the early days of the U.S. space program. Like Laurie (see her excellent post here) I was thrilled and inspired by this unknown piece of history, blown away by how these women helped send Alan Shepherd and John Glenn into space with nothing more than a pencil and a slide rule.
What they had—along with their very impressive brains—was a common goal, set by the president and supported by the nation. There was a sense of urgency, despite very real social divisions.
In those days, we faced a threat from the Russians, who were beating us in the space race. Today, we face global warming, fisheries decline, extinction of species, the threat of pandemic. And on top of all that, now China and Europe are beating us in the space race. Where is our sense of urgency? Where are our common goals?
I can tell you. We’re too busy developing $200 smart hairbrushes that no one needs. And wasting our huge computing power monitoring the personal habits of our citizens so we can sell them the next thing. And imagining, not a new and better world, but so many television shows that no one could possibly watch them all.