Americans want choice. Anyone might conclude this by walking through retail stores, grocery stores, or gazing up at the marquee for the neighborhood multiplex. We want choice in our health insurance options, our presidents, our cars, and where we live. Try taking our freedom of choice away from us — just try! — and our high decibel response will drown out any rationale offered for depriving us of our choices. Everyday, we make choices about what clothes to wear, what to eat, etc. and decisions about how we will conduct our lives.
Years ago before the USSR disintegrated before our eyes, I met a Russian family that had immigrated here. They’d been here long enough to be overwhelmed by the number of decisions required of them and the plethora of choices they had. They didn’t know what to do. Their way of life in Russia had been controlled, their options limited, the beauracratic red tape endless. They knew how to work that system to get what they needed. They assumed life in America would be the same. Sometimes it is, but for the most part, they were overwhelmed by the number of decisions and choices required of them. One said to me, “I come here and I feel that I have lost all my experience.” He was afraid of making the wrong choices.
The America of 2048 resembles more closely the USSR of 1948 than the America of today, with some Capitalistic twists. Evan Quinn is told where he’ll live, where he’ll work, what doctor he’ll see, whether he’ll own a car or not, where and when he can travel, and so on. The New Economic Party government (the parent) treats him (the little child) well as long as he does what he’s told. His life is fairly simple as a result: he eats, jogs, goes to work, sleeps. Ownership and/or use of personal computers, televisions, telephones, vehicles, and most of the electronic gadgets we’re used to today are restricted and monitored closely. Only those lucky enough to be in the NEP elite or favored by them have unfettered access to what we have access to today. The borders are closed. Everyone must carry a government-issued chip (RFID) somewhere on his physical body, usually embedded under the skin, that contains all essential personal information available for police to track or scan at any time. We’re accustomed to thinking of orchestra conductors as a glamorous bunch, well off; but Evan is poor, wears old, fraying clothes, and haggles on the black market for books and music as well as food.
Europe in 2048 is much like today, a blending of the future and the past in the present. The amount of choice available to him shocks Evan, confuses him, and he gravitates to what he knows in order to gain his footing in this new place. Through him, I’ve tried to show a culture and society that believes “the next big thing” is great but they’re happy with the last big thing, too, and they’re not about to throw it out. Landline phones provide the security that cell phones cannot. Even though homes are run by computers, including locks and security, people can have another lock installed in their front doors operable only by a metal key, or an “old fashioned” security system. They have the choice. As a result, “old” things that still work, have value, are not deemed obsolete and discarded. Evan buys CDs and DVDs but his home computer is perfectly capable of downloading and saving music and movies he wants. He has a landline videophone at home. He doesn’t like cell phones and carries only a very basic model, one that only makes and receives calls. No text messages, no video or photos (at this time, Europe has outlawed phones with video/photo capability), no internet, no games. He doesn’t need a PDA. E-mail drives him crazy because he lets it pile up. He continues to receive postal letters from colleagues all over the world, read paper newspapers and bound books.
Choice, a precious thing to hold and never let go. Evan gradually assimilates into the Europe of 2048 and exercises his freedom of choice although the American government tries to continue to control him….