Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Social Changes

The other day I was watching the classic science fiction movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. A great movie even if the special effects are a bit dated. But it was made in 1968, so what can you expect (although the floating pen scene still is very well done).

If you haven't seen the movie, this will have spoilers.

Toward the end of the movie, astronaut Dave Bowman, the only survivor of the computer HAL 9000's trying to kill off the crew of the ship Discovery, deactivates the computer.

Here's that scene

At the 2:54 mark, HAL says "Good afternoon, gentlemen, I am a HAL 9000 computer" (obviously accessing an old file as his upper level functions are turned off). HAL goes on to say he became operational on January 12, 1992.

And the problem? No, it's not that we didn't have computers as sophisticated as a HAL 9000 in 1992 (or even today). It's that he says "gentlemen."

In 1965 (when the movie was written), it was probably safe to assume that there would only be men at the presentation of HAL 9000. But by 1992, we all know, there would probably be some women present, too.

And this is a challenge for those of us who write science fiction. What social or societal changes are so ingrained in us that we don't think twice about them but will sound archaic in 47 years? Maybe saying "Ladies and gentlemen" will sound as old fashioned as saying only "gentlemen." Which society becoming accepting of more genders and even gender fluidity, I interviewed a person of the Speculative Fiction Cantina who described themselves as "gender queer, non-binary." They preferred to be referred to with the pronouns "ze/zir/zim."

So in the future (not to distant, probably), saying "Ladies and gentlemen" will be considered quaint if not insulting to people who are non-binary. (This is already happening on college campuses.)

And by 2030, who knows what will be considered polite (and inclusive).

I think this is part of why I started writing fantasies set in the past. Don't have to deal with these issues.

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