Not unlike the open lid of Pandora’s Box, the days before internet and mobile phone technology seem an unfortunate act away. Not unlike the Great War, within a few decades, nature will have claimed all human beings who lived BTI (before the internet). Train journeys spent looking out of the window or walks home from the station unchaptered by collisions with lampposts, rucksacks or children in stationary pushchairs will be no more. Even the sounds of the street will be shut away from people by their noise-reducing headphones. All we will have left is smell. We may well evolve to be more like dogs, our noses in touch with the outside world around us more than our eyes or ears. One day we may all need guide dogs.
In the novel ‘Mercy’, just released by Zitebooks, Alan Dacres is one of the last people to discover the new world in later life, his joy in 1995 pronounced at finding the internet just at the moment when he is embarking on an act of revenge against five people who bullied him at school. His memory, ignited by a return to the town where all of this happened 45 years earlier, is stimulated by the realisation that this new unpoliced and unrestricted computerised access to people’s personal information can give him addresses and the backstory he requires to put into action his plan for revenge. The puppets that will facilitate and satiate his great thirst for retribution are the young who will do whatever seemingly harmless act they are asked to, his money the currency for his malevolence. He seems strangely unaware of the consequences of his actions, even uncaring, but reading the book in 2018 this feels normal. It wouldn’t have been in 1995.
The novel examines the first fatal steps of the new world information width. When the control is taken from the state and left in the hands of skilful amoral opportunists, a new world order is established. The filleting of choice into segments so tiny that generalities come rare and thin out actions on culture. Culture comes from shared ideology, a love of belief and an investment in a notion of truth. In a world where truth has been cremated, its ashes fill the air. To breathe them in is to accept a dim floating future of communication nothingness.
Up until the end of the 1980s there were four television channels to choose from in the UK. Now the satellite dishes and freeview pedlars give us untold selection choices. What kind of choice is it when we merely choose our own access through YouTube or Instagram, through catch-up or fire stick. Anything that might have kept us together now separates us. The water cooler stands in the corner of the office, untouched. The only people who still talk are the smokers, and their conversation invariably turns to death, like the printed messages on their cigarette packets. This is a world without sweet cigarettes, a staple joy from the 1960’s newsagent sweet counter. No promise of the liberating rush of sugared products.
Alan Dacres chooses control over his world, only to find it disintegrating in his hands. When everything is accessible, nothing is too. When you can talk to someone on the other side of the world as if they were in the next room, then that is where they are. Like free thought, travel will become unnecessary. All that will be left is fiction, and soon, untouched by human experience, that too will become banal. The imagination is our last refuge. Whether it is developed by nature or nurture may not matter in the years ahead.
History will be accessed by those who still read, those who let words on a touched page dance in their head.
In the end, Dacres finds that having everything at his fingertips is useless if his body is numb. To touch without feeling is like eating without taste. The source for imagination will become the source for life and in the end it may all become a superfluous act, and take us to the next world, where all we can realistically anticipate is mere oblivion. Of course he is part of a 1995 pre-internet age before people use their phones as their eyes and ears, so his world still has hope. Reading this book offers us a chance to re-imagine how that potential looked the first time we were offered it, and reminds us what life was like when the box had yet to be opened.
More about Mercy.