Do You Discuss Dystopias In The Making

Sometimes the well goes dry. When this happens to a creative, she must refill the well. This creative turns to informational podcasts (among other things). Recently I discovered a podcast of absolute golden inspiration for lovers of dystopian stories. The Good Code discusses dystopias in the making.

image of lines of green code on a black screen--digital dystopias in the making

Chine Labbe is the host of the Good Code in collaboration with DLI at Cornell Tech. It’s a weekly podcast on ways in which our increasingly digital societies could go terribly wrong. (Yes! Story fodder.) You may subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, GooglePlay, and other sites.

On Net-States

This week’s episode is Alexis Wichowski on Net States Chine and her guest, Alexis, discussed Wichowski’s recently released book The Information Trade: How Big Tech Conquers Countries, Challenges Our Rights, and Transforms Our World.

The premise of the book is that big tech companies like Google and Facebook act like national governments. She implies that this is dystopias in the making. Our world is no longer divided by nation-states (like the United States, Canada, Italy, etc.) and non-states (ISIS, al Qaeda). And she proposes a new term for the era, net-state.

What is a Net State? 

image of the google sign taken at a close angle

A net-state is a digital, big tech company that expands its role to include protective or supportive services to citizens. These companies exist primarily online. They have millions of international followers (like Google and Facebook). And they pursue agendas separate from the law. Out of necessity, some big tech companies created huge departments or companies to deal cyber threats.

Google has an anti-censorship initiative called Project Shield, an online safe-haven for news sites censored by their national governments. They laud this project in some countries but other countries (China, Iran, etc) could see this as illegal and a disruption of their government.

Other actions appear humanitarian. After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, they had no power and no internet. FEMA sent fifty representatives with mediocre results. Wichowski stated that as a nation-state any government attempts to respond with fairness.

image of Facebook buttons

Big tech doesn’t care about being fair to all states or all situations. Google and Tesla quickly and efficiently provided Puerto Rico with temporary power and internet access.

Is This a Problem?

Wichowski says it is. She points out that no one votes for the leadership at a big tech company. That means there is very little oversight. And she points out that there is little transparency in these companies. Who has your personal information? What are they doing to protect it? What are they doing with it?

Not everyone thinks this is a situation of dystopias in the making. According to Wired, the world needs net-states. They occupy the same territory as the non-states: the digital sphere. And they understand their norms and tactics far more than a land-war, Cold-War era strategist ever could.

How Do We Fix it?

People need to be more aware of who owns the tech they buy. An example is that Amazon owns the home security system Ring. And Amazon has had data breaches where personal information is at risk. Wichowski says people need to bring pressure on big tech companies to be more transparent and police themselves better.

Wichowski also suggested we establish something like the Geneva Convention for the digital world. She says we should create some basic ethical rules for big tech companies to follow. In this short podcast, she did not go into how this might work. 

If she could change one thing, she says she’d choose for companies to be transparent. She said that somewhere in the world someone knew more about her personal information, browsing history, and shopping habits than she does. She wants to know what all that information is.

Net-Nations in Fiction

While the term net-nations is new, the idea isn’t. Big bad corporations create dystopian societies in many novels.  The tech in 1984 by Aldous Huxley isn’t as advanced, but the idea is similar. 

The Warehouse by Rob Hart, The Circle by David Eggers, Orbital Decay by Allen Steele, and Immortality by Robert Sheckley are a few dystopian novels with tech-ruled societies.

What novels can you think of with this tech-dystopia set up?

What Is the Worst That Could Happen?

image of an atom bomb explosion

Do you play dystopian mind games? I do, endlessly. For more fun dystopian discussion material, read why we love reading dystopias.

Do you agree that big tech or net-states are a bad idea? Do you think a Geneva-like set of rules can stave off severe abuses? Is discussing dystopias in the making inspiration for dystopian authors and readers? Or is it the stuff of nightmares?

Do You See a Dystopia in America?

Dystopia is all the rage right now. Nearly every day in America, someone refers to a dystopia. From The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu to the current administration in America. A dystopian American society seems closer than ever. Discussion usually becomes a lament that “America is turning into a dystopia.” Do you see a dystopia in America? It’s both in the present and the past. We’ll take a look at a few historical examples, but first…

What is Dystopia

Image of a bunch of rusted buildings with broken windows...dystopia in America?

Dystopia is “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives.”

Merriam Webster Dictionary

Yevgeny Ivanovich Zamyatin (1884-1937), a Russian novelist, wrote the first dystopian novel, We. Also a playwright and satirist, he was a “chronic dissenter.” Tsarist censors condemned, arrested and tried Zamyatin. He won an acquittal. He wrote a novel, We, in 1921. His manuscript circulated in Russia but he could not publish it there. An English translation was published in the United States in 1924. The original Russian text was published in New York in 1952. The story tells of a “Single State” where workers live in glass houses and have numbers rather than names. According to Goodreads, the novel is “ a resounding cry for individual freedom.” 

So is that what dystopia is? A fictional world of oppression yearning for or postulating that individual freedom is better? defines dystopia a “a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.”

You can find the definition of society on Merriam-Webster.

Under this definition dystopia is no longer a fiction. Sadly, there are many societies in the world that can fall under this definition. 


The first twenty African slaves brought ashore, landed in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.

Kidnapping African men, women, and children and selling them for slaves continued for years. Hundreds of thousands of Africans lived in “squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.” The ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865 abolished slavery.  


Next, it was the Native Americans. The first Indian Reservation was established in 1758. It was located in what would become Shamong Township, New Jersey.

Later, President Andrew Jackson prompted Congress to pass the “Removal Act” in 1830. The bill forced Native Americans to leave America and settle in the Indian Territories. One relocation effort forced Cherokees on a 1,000 mile march, the “Trail of Tears.” Approximately 4,000 Cherokees died on that walk. 

In 1850, Congress passed the Indian Appropriations Act. This act created the reservation system. The reservations put the Indians under government control, to minimize conflict with settlers, and to “encourage” Native Americans to take on the ways of the white man. Another American dystopia.

Internment Camps

In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson established restrictions on German-born males over the age of 14 regardless of their citizenship. Hundreds of thousands of German-born males had to register at their local post office. They had to carry their registration at all times and report any changes of address or employment. 

Thousands of German-born U.S. residents were interrogated. More than two thousand people were arrested. Their imprisonment lasted for the duration of the war. 

In 1941, hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor the FBI arrested 1,291 Japanese community and religious leaders. The FBI had no evidence of any wrong-doing. 

From 1942 to 1945, about 117,000 people of Japanese descent—the majority of whom were American citizens—were placed in internment camps.

Determent Camps

The immigration determent camps have been in the news. You’ve seen the numbers. Thousands of children separated from their families. Thousands held in camps. 

According to global detention project, the U.S. has more than 200 detention facilities.

Some claim the detention facilities are prisons. They use arguments about the legalities in that immigrants (legal or not) are not citizens. There are some who claim the determent camps are equal to concentration camps.  That’s arguable. At the very least, these people have been forced to live in a dystopia as defined by 

Dystopian Fiction

I’ve written a post about why we read dystopian fiction. In it, a list of twenty reasons why we read dystopian fiction. You can read that here. But it didn’t talk about dystopia in America. 

So does writing dystopian fiction (books, movies, etc.) have a place in today’s world? I would answer with a vehement YES. Authors of dystopian fiction are not advocating this is a good way to live. They tell stories of pain and suffering. And there’s always a struggle to break free of the dystopian society.

Do you see a dystopia in America today? You may not live in it. I don’t live in it. But there are people who do. As long as there are, I will write stories encouraging people to break free of their dystopia.