Ted Chiang’s Exhalation is a collection of short stories that he’s written over the past few decades. Categorically it’s science fiction, but the stories don’t resemble the stereotypical sci-fi narrative. Instead, each one makes you think deep and hard about what it means to be human and how to relate to the world around us.
My favorite story from the book is The Truth of Fact, The Truth of Feeling. Ted finds a refreshingly original way to explore a common theme in sci-fi: a future where we have a permanent video recording of every moment in your life.
How would this technology effect the human psyche? Think about the saying, “forgive and forget”. Our fallible memories are the basis of how we move past arguments and negative experiences with people. What if, instead of fading away, old memories could be played back with perfect accuracy?
The genius of this story is in the structure - Ted introduces a parallel narrative that is set in the past. It explores how the introduction of writing influenced a tribe that has previously only relied on storytelling to exchange information. We don’t think of writing as technology, but it extends our cognitive abilities to be able to represent abstract thoughts on a physical medium.
By interleaving these two narratives, Ted helps us think through how a future technology might change our psyche through the lens of how a past technology (writing) has influenced us.
⏺️ Check out the book ⏺️
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