How J.G. Ballard Foresaw the Future #cyberpunk

The influence on cyberpunk of New Wave sci-fi author, J.G. Ballard, cannot be overstated. Ballard, along with other New Wave authors of the 60s and 70s, like William Burroughs, Phillip K. Dick, Alice Bradley Sheldon (known as James Tiptree, Jr.), and Ursula K Le Guin explored themes of rebellion, drug experiences, sexual liberation, environmental perils, surrealism, the surveillance state, and paranoia. It was this sort of proto-punk rock futurism and blatant rules-breaking that would have a strong influence on 80s cyberpunk lit.

Ballard’s cynicism about technology and techno-futurism informed almost all of his writing. On Ted Gioia’s Culture Notes of an Honest Broker, he rounds up interview excerpts of Ballards that show just how much of the future he could glimpse through his cynical and dystopic lens in the 1970s:

J.G. Ballard predicts Google (1971)

“The technology of the information-retrieval system that we employ is incredibly primitive. We fumble around in bookshops, we buy magazines or subscribe to them. But I regard myself as starved of information. I am getting a throughput of information in my imaginative life of one-hundredth of what I could use. I think there’s an information starvation at present and technology will create the possibility of knowing everything about everything.”

J.G. Ballard predicts Facebook (1977)

“All this, of course, will be mere electronic wallpaper, the background to the main program in which each of us will be both star and supporting player. Every one of our actions during the day, across the entire spectrum of domestic life, will be instantly recorded on videotape. In the evening we will sit back to scan the rushes, selected by a computer trained to pick out only our best profiles, our wittiest dialogue, our most affecting expressions filmed through the kindest filters, and then stitch these together into a heightened re-enactment of the day. Regardless of our place in the family pecking order, each of us within the privacy of our own rooms will be the star in a continually unfolding domestic saga, with parents, husbands, wives and children demoted to an appropriate supporting role.”

J.G. Ballard predicts memes and ideas going viral (1978)

“In the future—this is part of the problem in the ‘arts’ as well—you will get some radical new idea, but within three minutes it’s totally accepted.”

J.G. Ballard predicts the selfie (1978)

“In exactly the same way as when you at last get a camera you spend your time photographing children playing in a paddling pool. . . . I think the same thing will happen, beginning with people endlessly photographing themselves.”
Read the rest.

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