Tales of Slow Time

by Peter Saint-Andre

I've been thinking about writing a set of linked short stories provisionally entitled Tales of Slow Time, set in the 22nd century. As I see it, this will be a time of extremely rapid change and constant flux. Because humans won't be able to absorb change at that rate, they will be even further dumbed down and domesticated compared to today, living as they will in a culture of convenience, pleasure, entertainment, and post-literacy. The influence of raw intelligence will be even more keenly felt (cf. the seven tribes), resulting in extreme inequality. Governments everywhere will have implemented a universal basic income to placate the great mass of people who would otherwise have no livelihood. However, most people will therefore have too much free time: some will use that time to cause trouble, meddle, protest; others will play immersive video games or plug into virtual worlds; others will engage in simulacra of productivity (incubators of nothing). The human population will be both smaller and older. Information technology will be pervasive: robots will perform many routine and non-routine tasks; algorithms will rule the day; people will be subject to ubiquitous tracking, profiling, surveillance, and manipulation through advertising, marketing, nudging, and helpthink; we will experience the gamification of all activities and human/machine interactions; news, information, audio, video, AR/VR, holography - anything presented or represented through networks or computers - will be essentially made up (fiat everything); people will have little certainty about what is real. Everything and everyone will be mapped, tracked, annotated, recorded via the hypermap and the ledger. Robots will be our friends and teachers; machines will perceive our moods; all of our choices will be "suggested" by algorithms. Corporations and governments will engage in lifelong observation and manipulation of each and every individual. There will be no privacy, no autonomy, no serenity, no humanity. We will live in a materially abundant spiritual wasteland ruled by impersonal forces of government, science, technology, corporations, insurers, medicine, politics, even the arts. This might sound horrific, like the subsistence of Nietzsche's Last Man, but there will be one great and almost irresistable compensation: immortality, provided via continuous upload of the individual's psychological experiences to the cloud (for the accuracy of which a complete record from birth will be required).

But there will be a significant minority of dissidents and refuseniks, called slowtimers or more simply mortals, who will prefer to interact in human ways, unmediated by computers and robots and algorithms. Mortals will do things in old-fashioned ways: they will prefer bicycling and walking; engage in farming, gardening, and cooking; cultivate the arts of reading and conversation; pursue careers and hobbies as artists and craftspeople and storytellers and tinkerers; labor in cooperatives and other human-scale organizations; produce live music, plays, dance, readings, and other in-person events that can’t be faked; feel a veneration for what is old (rivers, trees, mountains, temples, festivals, pubs, books, music, wisdom); create structures, establish institutions, and plant things that are designed to last. Mortals will persist in all parts of the world and will be variously tolerated, segregated into certain localities, even forced onto reservations. They will exist in shadowy areas on the hypermap where people mostly live off-ledger with no Internet and no computers, communicating in person and by pre-net methods like radio and letter. Slowtimer communities will prize localism and will be largely self-sufficient. Religions and philosophies of various kinds will play a prominent role through contemplation, retreats, churches, prayer, and liturgical time. Although I associate slow time especially with Taoism, slowtimers will cleave to no one creed because there are many varieties of personalism. Mortals will seek out deeply active and personal antidotes to impersonalism: callings and creative pursuits, close relationships, learning and inquiry, involvement in community, and the like. They will also seek longevity not through pills and advanced medical technologies (and the intrusive monitoring that big data requires), but by slowing down the experience of life, by living authentically, and by treasuring each moment of existence.

There will be many sources of conflict between the fast world of the future and the slowtimers who live within and aside it. A coordinated array of impersonal forces will make life hard for mortals by denying them job opportunities, advanced technologies, insurance, government benefits, medical care, the ability to travel, even the right to equal justice under the law. All too often, mortals will be treated as subversives and enemies of the people; in order to survive, they will need to develop alternative economic and political structures based on mutual aid and free association, such as fraternal societies and cooperatives. The physical and emotional borders between fast and slow will be difficult and even dangerous to navigate (how do you transfer wealth from the monitored economy to the free economy? what happens if the child of slowtimer parents wishes to join the fast world, and is this even possible beyond a certain age? what heartbreak ensues when an immortal falls in love with a mortal? etc.).

As with any small group, slowtimers will be subject to infighting and schisms, which will be exploited ruthlessly by the authorities. But maybe, just maybe, by thinking eternally and acting presently they will find a way to overcome the forces of impersonalism and build a more human world. They'd better, because they're our only hope.

Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Tales of Slow Time