Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Talking Turkey (4 of 4)

by Rob - February 10th, 2009.
Filed under: Interviews, Turkey.

As a lead-up to my trip to Istanbul, I did four quick-and-dirty by-email interviews for Turkish newspapers, wire services, and magazines. The deadlines on these were so tight that I just had to bang out my answers without having a chance to compose my thoughts or edit my responses — so don’t expect me to defend to the death anything I say in them. :)

Here’s the fourth of those four interviews.

1. What went wrong with yesterday’s science-fictional predictions for the 21st century?

Science fiction failed in several ways in its predictions for the 21st century. It predicted a secular 21st century, and we have anything but that. It predicted rampant consumerism and a throwaway society (disposable clothes and so on), without considering the environmental impact. It predicted that price would be no object — we would build cities on the moon, and so forth, simply because we could, without thinking about the economics of that (simply put, science-fiction writers thought everyone would think it was plainly obvious that we should go into space, when, in fact, to most people the case for that has not been made). And it predicted that international competition, instead of international cooperation, would by the driving force behind the economy. Most science-fiction writers saw the US-Soviet Cold War continuing well into this century, and few, if any, saw the emergence of anything like he European Union. Ultimately, humanity is a cooperative animal, but that fundamental truth was missed in most SF.

2. Does today’s economic meltdown promise an upcoming green world?

It doesn’t promise it, but it suggests that it’s possible. With old systems collapsing, we have an opportunity to redefine how we do business. Certainly, we need to reduce our carbon emissions, and President Obama, for instance, has already called for new legislation in the United States to require cleaner automobiles — he’s doing the right thing in recognizing that right now, while we’re rebuilding industries, is the time to set new environmentally friendly ground rules.

3. What will determine which managers and government figures will thrive in the future?

The equation is backwards: the lesson to be learned from the current economic crisis is that government leaders who only care whether they themselves thrive are doomed, and corporate managers who only care whether they themselves thrive are doomed. Managers and government figures are custodians of trust: if you are seen as being in it only for yourself, you will quite likely have a spectacular fall; if you are seen as being in it for the good of the company you work for — its customers, its employees, and its shareholders, all three not just the last — — your company will succeed, and you will succeed along with it. Same thing for a nation: Bush-Cheney clearly served only a narrow, rich portion of the US; Obama-Biden has embarked on the path of serving everyone — if they really mean that, and really do that, they will ultimately thrive in ways that their predecessors could only dream of.

4. Would you name any probable ‘ultimate survivors’ — either corporate bodies or countries — of the post-crisis era?

Google has a corporate slogan: “Don’t be evil.” That’s the motto all corporations should adopt for the 21st century. The days when you can say one thing to your customers and another to your shareholders are past. Google hasn’t always lived up to its slogan, but just consider the worldwide adoration that Google enjoys and the worldwide animosity toward Microsoft: both are in fact quite aggressive — even rapacious — companies, but one is seen as being responsive, at least to some degree, to public concerns, while the other is seen — as the continuing EU sanctions against it attest — as thinking of itself as above the law. We’ve seen in the US of late what happens in unfettered free markets; there is a role for government regulation and oversight; those nations that recognize that role will ultimately succeed, those who allow greed to be the prime motivation will fail. But even without oversight, the public image that Google and companies like it put forward — we’re in this to be the best — will triumph over those companies perceived as only being in it to become the richest.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site

Leave a Reply