"This is a future history," says George Case, of his first published novel Silence Descends: The End of the Information Age, 2000-2500. Detailing the collapse of contemporary society, Case constructs a history that we have yet to experience. It's the end of the world as we know it. Case has invented people and events that will impact the lives of our descendents: from African philosopher Gedi (circa 2030-2110), to Grant McIvor, who will invent teleportation, to Tanis Leung (2227-2320) and her companion KI (2222-2301), who will help to develop the Community of Soul. In this excerpt, Case outlines the events that led to the beginning of the end of the Information Age.


"I keep figuring how it will be." She spoke very softly, to a point just past him on the wall. "Somehow I think of the churches as going first, before even the Empire State Building. And then all the big apartment houses by the river, slipping down slowly into the water with the people inside. And the schools, in the middle of Latin class maybe, while we're reading Caesar." She brought her eyes to his face, looking at him in numb excitement. . . .
"The office buildings will be just piles of broken stones," she said, her wide emphatic eyes still looking at him. "If only you could know exactly what minute it will come. . . .
"Things will be different afterward," she said. "Everything that makes the world like it is now will be gone. We'll have new rules and new ways of living. Maybe there'll be a law not to live in houses, so then no one can hide from anyone else, you see. . . ."
"Well," he said, with a little laugh. "You make it sound very interesting. Sorry I won't be there to see it." He stopped, his shoulder against the swinging door into the dining-room. He wanted badly to say something adult and scathing, and yet he was afraid of showing her that he had listened to her, that when he was young people had not talked like that.


-Shirley Jackson, "The Intoxicated," 1949

"MAY YOU LIVE IN INTERESTING TIMES"
In 2004 the city of Volgograd, Russia, had just begun to link up with the burgeoning networks of information banks, databases, and intercommunication systems that were then crisscrossing the earth. Its 1.1 million inhabitants, like most of their countrymen, were still trying to cope with an economy crippled by stubborn, doddering bureaucracies, meager harvests, and the fluctuating feasts and famines of international trade; however dazzling the powers of sophisticated technology may have been, they remained largely inaccessible to all but a handful of academics, scientists, entrepreneurs, and government officials.

Yet people in Volgograd were not isolated-the expensive consumer products necessary for manipulating digital intelligence were financially out of range for most of them, but radios, televisions, videotapes and videotape players, telephones, audio tapes and discs, motion pictures, photographs, books, magazines, and newspapers were not. Theoretically they lagged behind their wealthier cousins in other cities, but practically they were as within reach of news and ideas as virtually every other man and woman anywhere. Conversely, Volgograd's populace could speak to distant towns, nations or continents via the arsenal of transmitters, cables, and satellite dishes at their disposal-as with any civilized point then on the map, the metropolis broadcast information outward as well as received it, connecting itself in an infinite variety of ways with the infinite other broadcasters and receivers that spanned the globe.

What information Volgograd relayed to its neighbours and to the world was not that different from the material beamed or wired from most Russian communities: news, entertainment, sports coverage, law enforcement records, medical statistics, government directives, weather reports, and all the minutiae of daily life among a struggling but ever-resilient people. The city was distinguished, in 2004, for being the home of football sensation Sergei Titov; as the site of one of the most visible food riots during the infamous "Hungry Winter" of 2001; and historians and a shrinking number of octogenarian veterans recalled an earlier Volgograd, once called Stalingrad, that had been a significant battleground during the Second World War of 1939-1945. Imposing concrete memorials to Stalingrad's defenders stood throughout Volgograd-the towering statue of the Motherland was a much-recognized landmark that still attracted military buffs and tourists. Such was the image of itself-sturdy, striving, and heroically goal-scoring-Volgograd projected to the audience of humanity.

Then, on August 18, 2004, at 1:32 p.m. local time, Volgograd suddenly stopped projecting anything at all. A minute passed; technical crews, systems monitors, and interrupted television viewers in surrounding centres speculated about a power failure at one of Volgograd's enormous hydro-electric stations; no communication broke the puzzling silence. Only when scattered accounts from a wide radius of witnesses began to filter in-from the Caspian Sea, from Stavropol, Rostov, and Astrakhan-did a horrifying explanation present itself: a giant cloud of smoke and flame, shaped like a grotesque, instantly familiar mushroom, was rising up from the Yerengi Hills on the lower Volga River. Within seconds, the story was sent to Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. The major Russian city of Volgograd, with a population of over one million men, women, and children, had been devastated by a nuclear bomb.

The atomic levelling of Volgograd can be cited, from our perspective, as the beginning of the end of the Information Age. In 2004 the tragedy was seen as a hideous epilogue to the Cold War of 1945-1990-though never fully confirmed, Russian fascist militants were suspected to have triggered the detonation, the ultimate act of lawlessness in a land whose internal order had dissolved with the fall of its socialist dictatorship fourteen years previously-but today it represents something different. Horrific and completely unexpected, the Volgograd bombing seemed to incapacitate the very means by which people first learned of it; the sheer scale of such an event, the number of human beings killed instantly (over 500, 000), and the manner in which they died (the first direct casualties of nuclear weapons in almost sixty years), seemed profaned in their conveyance by technological methods. News of major incidents had always been delivered as "Information," to be sure, yet here was an incident so awful, so stunning, that no amount of televised images or sounds could do it justice. It was, as Mary Xian wrote in her Night Thoughts (2012), "past all format, defiant of encapsulation, unframeable, irreducible." For the first time, the airwaves of the world had been struck dumb.
But the world carried on. Volgograd was a single episode, an ominous sobering pause; basic social structures and the extensiveness of long-distance data sending had not really been disturbed. Computer networks meshed ever more densely, and their human vassals fell increasingly under their yoke. By 2006 entire geographical regions had become united under sprawling umbrellas of Information: the deafening concentration of commerce and culture electronically ricocheting to and fro in a given area gave rise to terms like "cyberopolis" and "silicon state." One such province was the northeastern seaboard of the United States of America, extending between the cities of Portland, Maine, and Richmond, Virginia, and especially clustered around New York City and the capital city of Washington. A transatlantic equivalent was found in the northwest corner of Europe, where London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, and the Ruhr had grown into a techno-urban jungle, with incomprehensible torrents of trade, management, learning, and recreation being circuited among close to a hundred million people at the speed of light.

Teeming megalopolises such as these were troubled, in the fall of 2006, by a freak heat wave that scorched much of the northern hemisphere. Meteorologists scrambled to diagnose the phenomena as the result of environmental upheavals-"global warming," a volcanic eruption in Chile, the lingering pall of ash from Volgograd-but no hypothesis was convincing and none ultimately mattered. As many hundreds of the most vulnerable citizens (such as the elderly and the ill) succumbed to the heat, their neighbours soaked up power to operate their cooling appliances and to feed their hunger for transmitted knowledge: the networks, they reminded one another, could not be neglected. But on "Dark Friday," September 15, the demand for electricity suddenly surged past the supply, and almost simultaneously the two largest silicon states of two continents were struck by a power failure of unheard-of dimensions.

Dramatic derailings of electrical current were hardly unknown in the early twenty-first century-"blackouts," and the less spectacular "brownouts," had occurred at intervals for several decades, often during periods of extreme weather conditions-but a disparate, synchronous pair of crashes was completely, frighteningly new. At 6:15 p.m., Parisian time, and 12:04 p.m. in New York, the synthetic glows and hums of a billion instruments flickered and went out. Backup or "fail-safe" measures were implemented to hold off the chaos, but at first they brought only halting, sporadic respite. Another Volgogradian security breach was feared: was this a prelude to an atomic hostage-taking? A co-ordinated act of sabotage? "Terrorism" (organized surprise violence against civilians as a political lever) was a great bogey in 2006, but evidence later suggested Dark Friday came about through simple consumerist greed, less-than-vigilant overseeing of power sources, and a chilling instance of collusion among computerized management systems. While not physically interconnected, a far-flung chain of generators had somehow turned, via the intricate communications webs they fueled into being, a single disruption at one station into the complete shutdown of all of them. Already stretched beyond their capacities, the engines of the network-cities broke down under the very babble they were engineered to amplify. Information had been twisted into a genuine vicious circle.

In the turbulent hours of Dark Friday the immediate fear was of mob rule, of some calamitous societal unrest that would sweep the unlit, unregulated streets-anarchy, in short. Subsequent tales of how this did not occur, of how "tranquility filled the vortex" (as implied in Kaldek's The Freeing of the Drones), were quite exaggerated: close to 7,000 fatalities were counted, resulting from assaults as much as accidents and heat exhaustion, and theft and vandalism were widespread. But it was not until power was restored after six hours (suburban areas waited longer) that the deeper consequences of September 15 were realized. The losses in life and property, it transpired, were compounded by abstract losses of valuable information. Enormous transactions of wealth, routinely passed by wire or wireless signals, had been erased when the lights went off; unknowable stocks of research and expression and facts were wiped out in a second. Much of this was certainly retrievable, but a significant portion had been destroyed before it could be fully logged into memory banks. Commercial exchanges, scientific analyses, and artistic, journalistic, and political statements were cut off midway and could neither be properly concluded nor preserved. A single day of turmoil had left the economies of the American Bloc and the European Community shaken and vulnerable to their Asian competitors. Dark Friday, then, became known as a "virtual disaster" (an allusion to the computerized simulations of authentic experience that were fashionable in those years), where the damage and deaths were hardly more severe than the financial and organizational casualties suffered at an artificial level. Two years earlier the world had seen that its masses of treasured Information could not save Volgograd nor even mourn it with any dignity; after September 15, 2006, it appeared that Information could not even save itself.

For over two decades the Volgograd explosion and Dark Friday would remain as cautionary fables to the general public. One had revealed the ultimate impotence of Information in the face of actual tragedy, while the other had illuminated Information's own precariousness and the folly of unhesitating devotion to it. Some institutions moved to scale down their use of technological "improvements" over older, more trustworthy methods and devices, a few abandoned all but the simplest functions of their computers, and many adopted what were believed to be more efficient means of controlling their data resources. In 2018, for example, the Canadian government introduced its decentralization policy, following the lead of private firms which had streamlined their internal communications routes to ad hoc rather than fixed bases. Prime Minister Ingrid Andersen originated the term "organic nationalism" in proposing the idea; its purpose was both to eliminate the risk of another Dark Friday and to "wean the state from its data gluttony," in her words. Andersen and other reformers were the avant-garde of a radical change in the notions of order and democracy-today we are living out their visions.

Culturally, the first impacts of the nuclear and virtual disasters are difficult to perceive, particularly from our distant vantage. On the surface, the pre-eminence of electronic media was still unchallenged, and the communications industry in all its manifestations-from the manufacture of computer apparatus to the retail of Tri-Sense entertainment programs, from the visual music of Nightingale Jones to the popular Random Access Network-was still immensely profitable. At the same time there existed in the private rooms and public parks of the silicon states-within the hearts and minds of those same individuals who were the source of all the info-fortune-what Gedi called "a secret hysteria," a largely unspoken and unacted-upon concern over the transience and cacophony of their world. This concern was by no means a new one; objections to the Information Age's disorienting, impersonal whirl had been raised as far back as the early twentieth century. In the post-Volgograd, post-Dark Friday period, however, people were more aware than ever of the paradox they faced: to condemn Information, they had to contribute to it. Only an inspired few were able to resolve the dilemma-the Opus Rex group (2012-2020), Carmen Jaeger (1998-2098), and the great Yamashiro. For the rest, true liberation was far in the future, and as yet unthinkable.

Little of this mood (such as it was) was obvious to the men and women of the twenty-first century's first half. They were preoccupied with the legacy of their ancestors. The criminal mishandling of the biosphere, the entrenchment of socioeconomic inequities, sputtering regional warfare, narrow-minded land use initiatives (or no initiatives at all), and lax contraceptive standards that were only alarming fifty years previously had become fully cataclysmic. In the 2020s large tracts of Asia, Europe, and the Americas were flooded for weeks at a time: rising ocean levels forced coastal cities in Australia and Oceania to be indefinitely evacuated; and Mexico City, Cairo, Bombay, and other centres were declared "urban wastelands," officially unfit for human residence. 2031 was the year of the Saigon plague, a powerful and mysterious strain of the AIDS disease that ravaged southeast Asia and gained footholds in India and the Latin American Union-in ten months the death toll swelled to almost 1.9 million-before a vaccine was finally developed. In considering bygone generations' neglect and shortsightedness, and the epic misfortunes that were their inheritance, the people of this blighted era would recall the Greek proverb, "The gods visit the sins of the fathers upon the children." Others thought less of blame or guilt and mused instead on the ironic Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."

But whatever the philosophical implications of these problems, one thing was becoming more and more evident: Information would not solve them. In a limited sense, unquestionably, the worldwide networks could rapidly disseminate useful material to the men and women-engineers, or medical scientists, say-who were directly combatting this or that case of pollution or disease or malnutrition; overall, though, the bulk of the data carried by any medium held little value against the onslaughts of wounded nature or age-old propensities for mistrust and antagonism. "In Manila, they are dying in the streets," United Nations Secretary-General Lauzon pointed out in 2032. "They do not need Comlink." She may have said the same of those washed out of their homes in St. Louis or Brisbane, of chemical-deformed children born in Tianjin or Novokuznetsk, or of militia gang victims in Los Angeles, Cape Town, or Karachi. Information had become, as Carmen Jaeger depicted in The First Day of Spring (2029), "a staple luxury," a currency honoured by all but of worth to few, aged and grown past its prime.
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