I’m sure by now you’ve heard about Ryan Fitzgerald, the guy who posted his phone number on YouTube and unleashed a media firestorm, inviting everyone who had something to say to call him. That offer seems to have touched a nerve, and he’s had a lot of phone calls since then, mostly from people who just wanted to talk to someone.

I’ve been reading the book The Shockwave Rider* recently, and it’s eerily prescient about a whole bunch of internet-related things, eerie because it was written in 1975, when the internet was not-yet-dreamt-of by most of us. The basic premise is that the people in the world of the novel live in a ‘plug-in’ society, where everyone’s lives are in unceasing upheaval–they move in and out of jobs, houses, relationships, families–with little constancy from one year to the next.

The main character grows up as a sort-of-rent-a-kid, hired out to couples that are in town for a year. At about age 11, his intellectual powers win him a spot at an elite institute, where he is indoctrinated as a future leader, but he eventually sours on the place and escapes. He survives underground by programming new identities for himself through dial-up telephone lines.

The book features a utopian community, Precipice, which survives financially by providing a service called Hearing Aid to the rest of the society. It’s Hearing Aid that reminded me of Ryan Fitzgerald. The people of Precipice make the same offer to their society that Fitzgerald has made to ours–they’re there to listen. You can call them, at any hour of the day or night, and talk. You don’t have to worry that they’ll report you to the government, or that they’ll judge you. They’ve hacked the system, so their calls can’t be monitored. The phones are always ringing, because there’s always someone with something to confess, some secret to share.

The Shockwave alluded to in the title is the dislocation that the world’s residents feel, due to their plug-in lifestyle. Reading about Fitzgerald this week made me wonder how far from that world we are now.

*BTW, I’d never heard of this book until Comfort Addict mentioned it in a comment he left here a while ago. CA, if you’re out there, come on back and tell me about some more obscure science fiction novels that will blow my mind.


April 25, 2007. books for grown-ups, meta. 3 comments.