We love post-apocalyptic scenarios. I think the reason is that we’re drowning in a sea of gadgets and information, and sometimes we’d just like it to all go away.
In an interview with Conan O’Brien last year, Louis CK jokes about how “Everything is amazing and nobody’s happy.” His routine, which went viral, is hilarious because we see the truth in it. Referring to the possibility of total economic collapse, he says, “…maybe we need that; maybe we need some time where we’re walking around with a donkey with pots clanging on the sides.”
I recently saw Book of Eli. It was a lot of fun, with some cool photography and symbolism to boot, and the setting reminded me a lot of the Mad Max movies. There are countless examples of books and movies taking place in a world that has been ravaged by war, disease, environmental collapse, or the total failure (or rebellion) of computers and electronics. In these stories, the unpleasantness is often glossed over – the crisis is just the vehicle to get us to a world that is familiar, but simpler than our own and full of adventure. After all, who wouldn’t like to camp in the desert with a nice fire, especially if your ancient iPod still works?
But really, I want modern medicine when I get sick, and I want a cell phone when my car breaks down. I want my kids to be safe and healthy, and technology can help, a lot. I geek out when I ask my phone (as in, with my actual voice) for a pizza place near my hotel, and it pulls up a map and a phone number. I love watching post-apocalyptic movies on my decidedly pre-apocalyptic high-def TV. Screw the good old days!
I think what really attracts me to fanciful settings is the combination of simple pleasures and adventure – and the lack of clutter and trivia. The cozy scene by the fire at the inn is as fun to read as the fight with the dragon. Even in most futuristic sci-fi, day-to-day life is often uncluttered. The folks aboard the Enterprise are not worried about answering email or finding their laptop cable. They are getting into scrapes on a wild planet or playing chess in the officer’s mess. They are laughing it up with friends in the ship’s lounge, not updating their Facebook status.
I find I need to make a conscious effort to occasionally unplug and sit by a fire, under the stars, with my cell phone turned off. Or at least set to vibrate. Then again, Google Sky Map could tell me what that constellation is…