Last week Amanda and I had an argument about the level of politeness one must demonstrate when web chatting with Amazon support reps to arrange a refund/exchange. It was a taxing discussion because it was predicated on the unknown: we weren’t sure if the support rep, “John,” was a real human or a bot.
What a fucked up argument that was–straight out of a Philip K. Dick novel, am I right?
The same day we had that argument, the Boston Review published the article “Philip K. Dick and the Fake Humans.”
Still, what he captured with genius was the ontological unease of a world in which the human and the abhuman, the real and the fake, blur together. As Dick described his work (in the opening essay to his 1985 collection, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon):
“The two basic topics which fascinate me are ‘What is reality?’ and ‘What constitutes the authentic human being?’ Over the twenty-seven years in which I have published novels and stories I have investigated these two interrelated topics over and over again.”
These obsessions had some of their roots in Dick’s complex and ever-evolving personal mythology (in which it was perfectly plausible that the “real” world was a fake, and that we were all living in Palestine sometime in the first century AD). Yet they were also based on a keen interest in the processes through which reality is socially constructed. Dick believed that we all live in a world where “spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups—and the electronic hardware exists by which to deliver these pseudo-worlds right into heads of the reader.” He argued:
“the bombardment of pseudo-realities begins to produce inauthentic humans very quickly, spurious humans—as fake as the data pressing at them from all sides. My two topics are really one topic; they unite at this point. Fake realities will create fake humans. Or, fake humans will generate fake realities and then sell them to other humans, turning them, eventually, into forgeries of themselves. So we wind up with fake humans inventing fake realities and then peddling them to other fake humans.”
The whole piece is worth a read, and it’s inspired me to reread Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and pick up the PKD book I got for Xmas, Martian Time-Slip sooner rather than later.