Project H: Dystopia on my mind

It’s been a week or so since I decided to try and cut down on my phone usage. It turned into more of an attempt to reduce the number of times I inanely scroll through Instagram, because I think that’s the thing that has the biggest negative impact on my life. I thought it would be hard, but the reality is that I just don’t need to see a picture of someone’s coffee/dog/porridge/holiday etc every time I pick up my phone and I think I have felt better for it. Okay, it’s nice to know what my friends are up to, but there’s something freeing about only checking in every now and then.

I’m unsure whether I’ve got more reading done as a result of less pointless scrolling, but this week I’ve been reading The Mars Room, a Man Booker shortlisted novel by Rachel Kushner. I finished it on Saturday afternoon and found it engrossing. It follows the story of Romy, a woman charged with the murder of her stalker, currently living out a life sentence at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. The narrative shifts between different perspectives, which sometimes feels disorientating, but Kushner’s imagining of her characters’ voices is convincing. She explores the psychologies of people living on the margins of American society, as well as the cut-throat reality of life within a women’s prison. The concept feels unique and fresh and the story is compelling, despite the limited amount of ‘action’ that takes place. I find I’m always drawn to books like this, in which characters feel tangible and less is more.

This week I haven’t had much time to watch TV, but one thing I did watch was Years and Years. I’m so glad I made time for it (who am I kidding, I watched it in my pjs on Friday night), because it was seriously amazing. In case you hadn’t realised, I’m rather prone to descending into panic about the state of the world, so maybe this wasn’t the best thing for me to be watching after a couple of glasses of wine. But I think the fact that it’s scary is what makes it so good.

It begins in the present day, with headlines so current that you would be forgiven for thinking you’d accidentally switched on Gogglebox. Only it’s Emma Thompson mouthing off on Question Time and Russell Tovey watching on in disbelief from the comfort of his sofa. But Donald Trump is as present as ever, as is Theresa May. Fast forward into the not-so-distant future, to a world in which teenagers hide behind real-life Snapchat filters to avoid confrontation with their parents and ‘trans’ means transhuman not transgender.

This dystopian future is definitely different from today’s world, but nothing seems impossible, or even unlikely. It reminded me of Black Mirror in the way it takes our current technologies and pushes them just a little bit further. The end of the episode is terrifying because it’s believable. I have no idea what on earth is going to happen in episode 2, but I will be tuning in on Tuesday night, fully prepared to be left feeling both terrified and engrossed.

In a similarly eco-apocalyptic vein, I’m several episodes into Forest 404, a BBC Sounds podcast that was recommended to me by a friend (incidentally, or not, the same friend who inspired me with her move away from a smartphone). The music at the beginning is incredible, being eerie, strange and perfectly fitting for a world in which nature is known as ‘the rupture’ and the people in it have never seen trees or heard the sound of birds. The central character is Pan, and it’s her job to decide which sound clips get deleted and which get archived. But when she stumbles across the ‘alien’ sound of a forest, her world is tipped upside down and she embarks upon a journey to discover the truth. I’m as scared by this podcast as I am impressed by its originality, although it does have serious Margaret Atwood vibes, which is definitely a good thing. Each episode is only about 20 minutes long, and there are also 10 minute podtalks and soundscapes to go with each one, so there’s plenty of interesting content to get stuck into.

So, I can fill my mind with all this dystopian future stuff, but I guess the whole point of it is to try and spur people into action. Sure, I’m not camping out in a shipping container outside BP, but over the last few weeks I’ve been stressing about how much packaging our fruit and veg from the supermarket comes in. It may be a first world problem, but after a big shop our bin is just full of non-recyclable plastic, most of which feels unnecessary. On Saturday, my Mum and I decided to stop complaining about it and actually do something, so we bought the majority of our fruit and vegetables from a local farm shop. We’re privileged enough to be able to do this and I’m fully aware that it’s a luxury. After a quick price comparison, it came as no surprise that most items were more expensive per kilogram. But I think that if we can, we should. I have this idyllic image of myself living in London in my flat (with balcony) and buying all my fruit and veg from the little shop round the corner that sells everything from washing up bowls to pomelos. I’m aware that this is not going to save the planet from ecological collapse, but we’ve got to start somewhere.

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