Happy 20th Birthday to Distraction

Bruce Sterling’s sci-fi novel from the 90’s describes our present reality

Distraction is alarmingly predictive in the way it depicts a world in which America has gone deeply off the rails. Politics is a cynical farce. The economy makes no sense and everyone is broke, except for a handful of billionaires. Spam emails sent out by artificial intelligence with dark ties to politicians feed conspiracy theories to gullible mentally ill people, inciting them to commit political assassinations. Covert wiretapping is the national pastime. Permanent encampments of homeless dissidents strangle major cities while internet flamewars spill over into street fights between ideological militias. Climate change is washing away the coasts and burning out the western forests. And the president might be a foreign agent in the employ of America’s greatest geopolitical foe. Twenty years ago, Sterling wrote a story about the coming Loud Ages, an age of howling noise and endless diversions and interruptions. Today our phones buzz with constant outrage, scandal, demands for attention, and six-second gumdrops of affirmation. There is no better description of the zeitgeist than absolute distraction.

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