Broadcast by Liam Brown
It seems that all much speculative fiction starts with such a thought, twisting or exagerating a trend or exploring something new to see how it develops under stress. Sure, such an approach may assume a path straight down Suvin’s novum and into the realm of cognitive estrangement but, nonetheless, it is a very strong place to start.
And that’s what Liam Brown does in Broadcast. Social media is endemic, and not just in the West. We have Facaebook, YouTube, podcasts, instagram, twitter… I could go on. In each different twist on social media we have stars – some YouTube stars drawing millions of views whenever they push a new video on the web. But beneath it all we sometimes onder why: what it is about a ridiculous or purely mundane episode is that draws so many… What is it about the regular selfies and everyday shots that draws the advertising… And why do so many want their life online, exposed to all?
But, what if it all became easier? What if a YouTube star didn’t have to set up a camera, didn’t have to compose a post, didn’t have to, well, do anything for their thoughts, life, memories and impressions to be available for all to see. What if that social feed was plugged straight into the star’s brain, what would happen?
This is what Liam Brown explores. His hero, David, is a selfish, vain, self-obsessed vblogger and social media star who does everything for the next fix. He is funded by advertisers – not jus tthrough onlinie evenue but by being contacted by them to air his products online. And he is even having an autobiography ghost-written.
That’s all so normal, the now. But then David is given an opportunity by a hi-tech internet company: “Allow us to implant a chip that will analyse the blood flow and activity in your brain – just like an fMRI. Let’s see what it can do. Let’s see if it can analyse your thoughts and turn them into a permanent vblog? It’s a simple operation.”
Okay, there’s a bit of disbelief we have to accept, right there, that the monitoring operation can be so simple. But it’s a necessary suspension as Brown is not really interested in the technical side of things raher than an exploraiton of the effects of being online, every second of every day…
Hold on. Every second? Yes. Even his dreams are broadcast – though some have to be censored. And with every thought comes problems: how often do we use social niceties, ‘white lies’ to not hurt someones feelings. “Sure, Mum, it’s a lovely pair of knitted socks.” [Trans: Oh no, not another pair of scratchy, ill-fitting garbage.] Except, of course, Mum is looking at the app that’s plugged into your new, live, social media feed and she can see exactly what you think.
Mum’s one thing, but what about your previous advertisers? You can’t lie about their products – indeed, they start suing David for airing his true thoughts about what he consumes. We reliase that he was chosen simply because of his self-centred ordinariness. Friends disappear as fast as his fame grows and soon he is the loneliest, unhappiest, yet biggest, star on Earth.
And then the trouble starts.
I don’t like David as he is exactly as described – but then, we’re not supposed to. Even his ghostwriter betrays him, sickened by his emptiness. And when things go wrong, we’ve no idea if it’s BigCorp getting in the act – they start feeding images from sponsors back into his brain from advertisers – or if he is becoming delusional.
Liam Brown uses the situation to rather neatly explore and explain the emptiness of life lived – broadcast – through the lens of social media. His approach to doing so is effective, easily understood, using in-character arguments to present the discussion. David hardly seems to understand, though, and is unable to fully appreciate what is happening to him: how much is his thoughts? How much the advertisers? How much the corporate feed into him prompting his own tangled emotions to levy reward or pain onto himself?
Reality inevitably takes a backseat. And even at the end, when he seems to suffer the psychosis be all expect (not really a spoiler), even we are unsure what is real any more, let alone the star trapped in the exposure of his own mind, open for us all to see.
Highly recommended: great fun for anyone who reads and writes blogs, and perhaps thought-provoking for those of us who consume the new, virtual society.
And don’t worry about the terrorist sheep.