Title: The Digital Now
Author: Roland Allnach
Publisher: Tabalt Press
Genre: Science Fiction
Today we are talking to Roland Allnach, author of “The Digital Now.”
PBR: A lot of interesting concepts in this novel. Could you discuss the notions of Process and Dream as they pertain to the novel? I had the idea that these were similar or analogous to dualities like physical and metaphysical or structure and superstructure. And also, is there any spiritual aspect to the Dream in the sense that it is like an immaterial world?
In the setting of “The Digital Now”, the Process and the Dream represent the two faces of Central, the governing structure of society. In this respect Central has a very human aspect, in that it is composed of two intertwined and sometimes conflicting properties. I believe people, as individuals, are guided by two sensibilities: the ideals that form the framework of their ambitions and the pragmatic decisions to realize those ambitions. For Central, the Dream is the cumulative set of goals it wishes to pursue, whereas the Process is the ruthless day to day grind to reach those goals. So, yes, in this respect, these two facets are analogous to structure (Process) and superstructure (Dream). The Dream, consisting of ambitious goals, is the probably the closest thing to any notions of the spiritual in the world Central has created, because those who work the Process do so in the belief and faith of the Dream’s ambitions.
PBR: There are a lot of interesting terms that you’ve coined in this novel. One of the terms that stands out is “predilection” which means to have a leaning or a bias. The predilectors in the novel all have agendas and the masses are mostly scripted. I wonder if you could talk about why you chose this term. I also wonder if the subtext is that the masses have a bias or tendency to remain scripted whereas those with power have the tendency to do the scripting (in the novel and/or as social commentary).
The idea of predilection has its roots in our current society. I have a knee-jerk resistance to anything that mass media pushes me to accept, not out of any streak of rebelliousness, but more so that I refuse to have my thoughts formulated for me. I’ll do my thinking on my own and form my opinions on my own, thank you. Nevertheless, there’s no denying the persuasive power of mass media and the convenience of subscribing to cultural trends popularized through mass media. From this modern day process of mass media persuasion the idea of “predilection” is just a short leap forward, where individuals consciously manipulate those very threads of mass media to steer society to a hidden agenda.
Central’s society is one hammered with conformity and blinded by institutional ignorance – in that regard, it’s no different than the society under any other totalitarian regime. From a slightly different perspective, in a much more open democratic society there’s no denying the reality of popular trends best manifested by the term ‘going viral’. Either way – and this most likely will sound very pessimistic – there is a certain tendency born of the innate need for social cohesion to sometimes forego individual through processes and subscribe to the cumulative thought embraced by larger society.
Whether the term is scripting, rhetoric, or propoganda, the process is the same in that it offers individuals the opportunity to belong, to be one of a group, to allay the risk of isolation by assimilating with pre-approved conclusions, and perhaps most importantly dodge the risk of personal responsibility by simply going with the flow. In many ways predilectors are the ultimate propagandists, identifying inclinations within people and using those inclinations to subconsciously motivate people to the goals of the predilectors.
PBR: This novel fits right in with dystopian literature. Is there any one novel or author that was an influence on your thinking with the novel or in general?
George Orwell’s “1984” certainly laid the groundwork for the ideas I developed for “The Digital Now”, along with contributions from Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” and the film The Matrix. Dystopian literature by its very nature tends to be bleak; otherwise, it would be called utopian literature. However, where I wanted to follow a new path was to explore the why of a society’s progression toward a dystopian system. To reach such depths would require a powerful compelling force or forces; likewise, desperation can lead to decisions that have unintended far-reaching implications. As the saying goes, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. This conundrum became the very root of the narrative progression in “The Digital Now”, wherein a horrible reality is slowly unraveled to rediscover its path.
PBR: To the degree that the characters are wired together in every sense, I couldn’t help but think of The Matrix but Ray Kurzweil also came to mind with his idea of the singularity (when humans and computers will be inherently or irreversibly linked and transformed). Were any of these ideas part of your thinking when writing the novel?
The technological aspects of “The Digital Now” can certainly be compared to The Matrix and notions of the AI ‘singularity’ concept, however, there are some key differences. In regard to The Matrix, “The Digital Now” employs networking technology on a massive and massively invasive scale, yet the novel takes place solely in the physical world, rather than straddling the real and virtual worlds. When I was formulating the society I wanted to present, I realized that its level of material deprivation would preclude the resource demands to support inclusion of a virtual world; also, I didn’t want to offer members of the society an option to compare and contrast a virtual world with a physical world. That would allow for conflict and questions, and work against the conformity Central looked to achieve.
In regard to the notion of a singularity, while there are obviously heavy computing requirements for Central’s society, these are tools employed for an end, not an end in themselves. In Central’s society, human minds are absolutely in charge. There’s an intended irony there, because for all that Central manipulates the thoughts of the masses, it still is governed by the conscious will of its masters. Free thought, on one hand derided and a quick path to brutal punishment, on the other hand is the guiding force of Central’s keepers.
PBR: You suggest a number of ideas about time and the soul. These are thought-provoking elements that are tangentially mentioned via the course of the plot. This may be a bit of a stretch, but could you define what a “soul” might be in the context of “the digital now?”
My intent in touching upon these transcendent concepts, in the midst of a society that shows so little care for individual thought or emotion, was to provide contrast to illustrate what was lost in humanity over the course of Central’s governance. Under Central, given its construct, there is no default spirituality. Any idea of something that endures beyond physical life thereby transcends to something much greater than a thought or plan – if adopted by Central, the idea gains a life of its own, and those closest to its creation will remember its source and thereby impart a sense of immortality to its creator. This process is the only reasonable definition of what the “soul” might be in the context of Central: some facet of one’s existence that has left an indelible mark on the greater system of society.
That said, the quest of imparting a legacy to Central constructs one of the key conflicts within the narrative. How an individual can go about attaining an individual presence beyond life, and what commentary that simultaneously creates about Central’s methods, does great service in motivating several influential characters. The fallout is not judged within the narrative, instead, I decided to provide readers with two levels of interpretation: one grounded within our sensibilities, and one grounded within the sensibilities of Central’s society. The debate between those two perspectives mirrors the humanistic struggles within the book, because it’s a debate with ideals beyond our flesh and blood.
To learn more about “The Digital Now” please read the review at: Pacific Book Review