Do you remember in Health class when you had to watch Degrassi videos?

I ask this in full expectation that it’s a universal – I know we watched some in Canada and some in the U.S., and expect that everyone in North America at least had to watch episodes of TV about pregnant teenagers as part of either class or homework at some point.

But that’s not where I meant to start.

I’m taking a class right now called Technology and Social Responsibility. It’s all right up my alley, from the discussion material to the class meetings on Twitter, and it’s made me think about how we establish stakes in issues, and the power stories have. Because this is a university class about technology and social responsibility, we don’t have Degrassi to watch: mostly we read relevant articles, but one session we did have to watch episodes of Black Mirror. I’m not particularly a fan of the show, aside from it’s odd prescience in one incident, because it shows such an unrelentingly bleak view of our future with technology. I’ve found myself making reference to a lot of other novels and TV shows, though, such as Person of Interest and Orphan Black, because they also extrapolate on current issues with technology and IP and ideas of ownership and privacy. And the reason I come back to them is this:

Fiction answers the question “why should I care?” before it even raises the issue it addresses.

Some of the things we’re talking about in Technology and Social Responsibility are easy to think of in the abstract, because so many of the issues sound science fictional and like a future problem, but a lot of the issues we’re talking about, such as if we really own our own DNA and how secure our data is, are things that impact us right now. There are current court cases about these issues, not least the FBI fighting with Apple over whether we’re allowed effective encryption on the devices on which we store our whole lives.

Fiction makes these things real, and immediate, playing out the consequences of treading wrong in a way that’s easier to hold on to than an abstract thought experiment. Fiction allows for exploration of worst-case scenarios without explicit fear-mongering.

And for me, at least, fiction shows me the things I want to work to prevent.

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