I’ve been reading the classic science fiction novel Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, to my youngest daughter. It’s one of my favorite sci-fi books and I’m enjoying re-reading it. Here’s a quick synopsis from Wikipedia:
“Ender’s Game (1985) is one of the best-known novels by Orson Scott Card. It is set in Earth’s future where mankind has barely survived two invasions by the ‘buggers,’ an insectoid alien race, and the International Fleet is preparing for war. In order to find and train the eventual commander for the anticipated third invasion, the world’s most talented children, including the extraordinary Ender Wiggin, are taken into a training center known as the Battle School at a very young age.”
While Ender is the main subject of the book, his brother, Peter, and sister, Valentine, also play a role back on Earth. (All are child geniuses.) A sub-plot has Peter and Valentine pretending to be adults on “the nets” and posing as intellectuals capable of influencing masses of people. In Card’s world (the year is 2135), the great debates of the day take place on the nets.
While there’s plenty of time for Internet discussions to turn around, I suppose, I can’t help but think that Card wasn’t terribly prescient with this prediction. In Ender’s Game, “the nets” are democratic and participative — anyone can join them, as long as they have the intellect to keep up — but there’s no problem with too much noise, trolls, spammers, and plain old stupidity.
Maybe Card was looking well beyond 2008 with his prediction of worldwide networked discussions being meaningful and orderly. Perhaps by 2135 we’ll have really good spam filters. But from the vantage point of 2008, it’s hard to imagine the author’s optimism about online digital discourse playing out.