Detachment

One of the weird features of working as a freelance writer is a detachment from my immediate economy.

I’m used to the fact that, in the modern world, we’re often detached from our physically immediate communities. Our jobs are often a commute away. Our social lives come from communities of interest. Our casual socialising is largely online. I chat with a few of my neighbours, but the desire for social contact doesn’t force me to get close to them. I get that elsewhere.

For me, there’s an extra layer to this. I’m increasingly detached from the British economy.

I realised this by considering my financial future. My freelance work is going really well. This August I had my best monthly earnings ever and on average they’re set to keep rising. While people around me are bracing for the economic shock of Brexit, with jobs and wages at risk, I’m not concerned for myself. Most of my customers are outside the UK. If anything, my earnings will improve after Brexit, as a weak pound increases the benefits of being paid in dollars.

It’s a strange experience. Any marginal personal benefits I gain aren’t enough to make up for Brexit, but it’s made me look at my life differently.

There’s something almost cyberpunk about this, existing as a free agent in a world where national boundaries are dissolving. As with anything cyberpunk, there’s a bleak side to it, the erosion of old bonds creating problems as well as opportunities. Those fading national boundaries make it harder for governments to raise taxes and support services people need. Uncertainty is creating a nationalist backlash, not for the first time in recent history.

But for better or for worse, I’m able to watch this with some detachment. My career exists in the ether and it’s likely to survive local shocks. The world is changing and, for once, I’m near the forefront of that change. Safe, comfortable, but increasingly unsettled by what it all represents.

We’ll never reach a point where those local ties don’t matter, whether they’re economic, social, or political. After all, we live in physical bodies within a physical world. But the importance of locality is changing. For better of for worse, maybe we’ll all end up a little more detached.

The EU Campaign, aka Everyone’s a Sci-fi Author Now

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Original picture by Chatham House via Flickr Creative Commons

I’m starting to feel like politicians want my job. Judging by the current debate about whether or not Britain should stay in the European Union, they’re all into speculative fiction. Both sides have come out with apocalyptic predictions about our near future. If they’d been written by Bruce Sterling or Kim Stanley Robinson I might even take them seriously – those guys know how to make plausible predictions based on economics, sociology, and the hard sciences. Nigel Farage, not so much.

I have strong opinions on this issue, but they aren’t based on amateur sf predictions, they’re based on my ideals and what I think we should value as human beings. Watching politicians cry havoc and let slip the dogs of alarmism just makes me mad.

So as a professional speculative writer I beg you, don’t listen when politicians dabble in science fiction. Listen to their values, by all means. Pay attention to their CVs. Watch to see if their actions and their words match. But don’t let them predict the future for you – they never know what they’re talking about.