Sienna Miller

Above: A production still from High Rise (2015), directed by Ben Wheatley. Credit: Aidan Monaghan.

A New Social Type

Writing in 2016, columnist Andrew Hultkrans said: "J.G. Ballard is regarded as a prophet of dystopia, but it is not always acknowledged how prophetic he really was." Hultkrans was commenting on Ballard's novel High Rise, and picked out the following wonderful quote from the text as evidence:

A new social type was being created by the apartment building, a cool, unemotional personality impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life, with minimal needs for privacy, who thrived like an advanced species of machine in the neutral atmosphere ... [others in the tower-block of luxury flats] were people who were content with their lives in the high-rise, who felt no particular objection to an impersonal steel and concrete landscape, no qualms about the invasion of their privacy by government agencies and data-processing organizations, and if anything welcomed these invisible intrusions, using them for their own purposes. These people were the first to master a new kind of late twentieth-century life. They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never disappointed [p.44-45].

This paragraph, written in 1974-75, is firm evidence of Ballard's ability to accurately imagine and foresee the near future. The above text could easily be applied to describe the millennials of today (40 years post), for aren't they really the first to master this new kind of life? We might think here of the stereotypical millennial in the Developed West. A young person sitting in a comfortable-enough built space (largely or entirely at odds with the environment beyond this immediate setting), organizing and conducting their life at arm's length from the real world via a smartphone hand-held WiFi Internet-connected computer. Friendships are carried on mainly via social media--on Snapchat and Instagram--with a definite distance both physically and affectively. Food is ordered for immediate delivery to one's own room--from Deliveroo and others. Sexual relations are organized via Tinder or Grindr. So too, every digital action of the millennial is tracked and traced, but there are no qualms about this ...

(3 August 2018)