Monday, July 19, 2010

The future of Americana

What I write here will be significantly influenced by what I'm reading at the time. So, here's an excerpt/parable from Ernest Callenbach's Ecotopia Emerging published in 1981:

"Once upon a time, I have heard, there was a country entirely made up of lazy people. At first they were just ordinarily lazy. If they had the chance they would always sit down rather than stand up. And if they could get somebody else to serve their food, they'd prefer that to dishing it out for themselves. But they were also an ingenious people, and they soon realized that (since slavery had gone out of fashion) they could build machines to serve them. They invented machines to wash their dishes, and dry their hair, and stir their batters, and saw their wood, and dig their holes. Slowly, decade by decade, they grew lazier and lazier. After somebody invented a machine called an automobile their laziness increased by a great leap. They began to be so lazy that the idea of walking a block to buy cigarettes fatigued them terribly, and they would drive to the corner in their cars. They also invented a machine called the television to amuse themselves. Generally they watched television in a half-sitting, half-lying slump, and they designed sofas to make this slumping position as comfortable as possible. Soon the lazy people learned that if you bought prefabricated meals called TV dinners you could even eat in this TV slump and hardly have to move at all for an entire evening. Even their mouths grew lazy, since they didn't talk much when they were occupied watching television-and most of them watched it all evening long. And their eyes too grew lazy, since watching television they just focused their eyes on the screen and didn't have to move them around to look at things, the way we do in real life.

"These people soon grew fat because they almost never got any active exercise. They died of heart attacks in great numbers and had many other diseases caused by their lazy habits. But they didn't care; they thought this was natural, and it just made them want to be lazier still. If anybody mentioned their terrible health statistics, they told them to go away and peddle their bad news someplace else.

"In time a brilliantly lazy inventor contrived the ultimate machine for lazy people. It was a large egg-shaped wheeled vehicle, just big enough to hold one person, made out of clear plastic. It had a slump-shaped seat in it, and it was called a 'char' because it was half chair and half car. It had an electric motor of the kind that had first been used in motorized wheelchairs. Now the lazy people didn't have to use their legs at all, and could still get around quite well, even in bad weather, using ramps and curb breaks and elevators originally designed for handicapped people. The chars were equipped with individual television sets and microwave ovens that could heat up a TV dinner. They had chemical potties under the seat so you didn't even need to go looking for a toilet. There was a radio intercom so you could talk to people nearby encased in their own chars, and a stereo system could play you Mozart or rock. A computer console connected you to the central communication grid.

"These chars came in many brilliant colors and you could get them with air-conditioning and many optional chrome-plated accessories. They soon became immensely popular. After a while it was rare to see anybody on the streets or in stores or offices who was actually walking. Little prehensile tools were added to the chars, which people could manipulate from the inside so they could continue to preform necessary tasks. And the lazy people felt that, at last, they had achieved the kind of life which the universe owed them. They were very happy.

"For a while. Because it soon turned out that there were drawbacks to the system. Deprived of exercise, their legs withered, and in time the lazy people found themselves unable to extricate themselves from the chars. Thus they never touched each other, and never developed physical bonds of confidence and trust, or fell in love, or indeed even expressed any lust; and so they produced no children. When they got sick, others were unwilling to get out of their chars to help them-they were all now too totally lazy and selfish. Indeed they hardly ever helped each other at all, and sometimes they would get so provoked at each other that they would ram their chars into each other until one of them tipped over, or cracked like an egg, and its driver would lie there on the ground kicking feebly with withered legs, like a little baby.

"Now if anybody criticized the char way of living, they lazy people were furious and pointed out that they had achieved the highest level of civilization the world had even seen and they were not about to give it up..."

For something similar, read The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

A primitive char prototype from the early 21st century


  1. Cody! I just found this awesome blog. Very interesting stuff. I took a utopian/dystopian literature class for my masters degree and we read Ecotopia. Great book. Have you also read We by Yezgeny Zamyatin or Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy? Both are fascinating in that they were written so long ago, but accurately predict so many pitfalls of today's society.

  2. Sounds like a fascinating class. Turns out that I like Ecotopia better than Ecotopia Emerging, but I would suggesting reading Emerging first. Anyway, I haven't read those two books, but I'll have to add them to my list. Thanks!