I’m a firm believer that we need fiction to survive. Of course, non-fiction is important, and as much as we would like, we can’t bury our noses in books the way ostriches bury their heads in the sand (supposedly) and pretend that nothing is wrong, but I would argue that fiction is just as important to our society.
Fiction is creativity in one of its purest forms, there are no rules, no laws, not even the ones of physics. In fiction, if I want to fly, I can fly. If I want to sing so beautifully that I can hypnotize hummingbirds and make them carry out my will, then boom, new superhero. The same concept that makes fiction so childish to some is the same thing that makes it so necessary to all.
Fiction imagines the impossible, and we bring it to life.
Submarines, helicopters, rockets, all of these came to life because someone was inspired by fiction (20,000 leagues under the sea, Clipper of the clouds, and War of the worlds respectively.) Earbuds, communication programs like Skype/Facetime, and giant flat screen TVs were featured in Ray Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. There are multitudes of articles written documenting the role of fiction in the creation of the technology we use today. Put quite simply:
We owe fiction.
We owe these writers for many of the technologies and luxuries we enjoy today. On a micro scale, it’s a godsend to be able to talk with my boyfriend in Sweden through Skype and a webcam instead of having to wait a month to be able to reply to his handwritten letter. On a macro scale, it’s what’s allowed for our world to become so connected. Facebook, one of the most ubiquitous social media sites used to keep in touch with people from all over the country and globe, literally uses one of Ray Bradbury’s terms for his ultra-futuristic social video chatting service, saying that one can talk with “friends through the digital wall.” Our fiction-inspired technology runs the gamut from the small and personal Facebook conversations with your friend who moved away, to the much grander and impacting scale. Businessmen are no longer forced to book expensive and time-consuming flights to discuss deals with foreign companies; they can now set up a conference call. People no longer have to show up in person to job interviews, they can instead hold one over Skype.
For this convenience and progress, I will repeat again. We owe fiction.
Fiction is more than just a head in the sky and a few hours of empty entertainment. It has brought useful and more advanced technology to the table, and it is capable of bringing so much more. The same inherent lawlessness of fiction that people ridicule is its redeeming trait, and we need to acknowledge its role and, more importantly, its potential in modern life.
As technology advances, fiction is an incredibly useful tool to keep it moving forward. We need to imagine things we don’t have in order to keep our progress going, and fiction is all about imagination. If we allow ourselves to be limited by what we already know and already have, instead of flirting with the impossible, we as a society will stagnate. When we realize all the increasingly threatening challenges our society faces: Global warming, global cooling, possibility of nuclear fallout, famines… we also realize we do not have the luxury of stagnating. We need to keep creating and inventing. And while I don’t mean to say that we should switch the physics and biology research labs to fiction writers, I do mean to say that instead of discrediting them as nothing more than glorified time wasters, we should validate their contributions a little more, because God knows, they’ve contributed a lot.