One of my favorite science fiction books is “A Deepness in the Sky” by Vernor Vinge. It’s a great book. It won the Hugo Award for science fiction. The book came out in 1999.
If you haven’t read it then I highly recommend it—a little long but it’s worth it. Sherkaner Underhill is one of the most interesting characters I have ever read in science fiction. When he’s first introduced I had to go back and reread what I had just read because it was so amazing how he’s first introduced–it was pure genius. For those of you who have read it you know what I’m talking about.
One part of the book and I’m not giving away any spoilers here because this is introduced very early in the story. “The Focused” are a group of people who have been infected with a disease that allows them to increase their mental abilities by giving them the power to be single minded in an area of “focus” which could be in any subject or discipline. “The Focused” are used by the “Emergent” civilization to push them further in technology and out into space to dominate other civilizations.
“The Focused” sit in dark little cubes just watching two to three computer screens while they are manipulating their multiple keyboards or input devices. They even have devices that strap onto their heads so they can always be looking at their screens. “The Focused” don’t talk to anyone or have any human interaction other than through their screens—they have a real difficult time communicating with other people verbally.
OK, I know that was a little much but I just want you to understand “The Focused” and that Vernor Vinge wrote about them in 1999. The reason I am going through all of this is because I had one of those moments in life this past Friday afternoon when I couldn’t believe what I was really seeing.
I was at a coffee shop, it wasn’t special, just like any other in the U.S. I was sitting at the table drinking my bottle of water and checking my email on my phone. After I replied to a couple of emails I turned off my phone and looked up. What I saw was amazing. I counted sixteen other people in the coffee shop sitting on plush chairs and at tables. All of the other people had their heads down looking at a screen of some kind—their phone, their tablet computer, or their laptop computer. A lot of the people were looking at two devices—looking at their phone and their laptop computer at the same time. It was eerily quiet. All of the other people were engrossed in what they were looking at on their screens. The only sounds I could hear were the coffee shop workers in the background restocking and cleaning.
That moment in time blew me away. I thought to myself this is exactly what Vernor Vinge wrote about with “The Focused” but now this is a true and present day reality for us and it’s not science fiction.
I also saw the same thing in the futuristic movie “WALL-E” when I watched it again last night. All of the humans on the Axiom ship did not look any farther than the screens right in front of their face. I really like when WALL-E engages two of the passengers and they break away from their screens and see where they are for the first time. “I didn’t know we had a pool,” Mary said. That was classic!!
So next time you’re at a coffee shop watch out for “The Focused” and make sure you’re not one of them.