“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
– William Gibson, 1993
Our world is in constant tension between the utopia envisioned by optimistic forward thinkers, and the dystopian reality of human survival and the lengths at which an individual will go to achieve what they can within their limited mortal life.
Although neither completely utopian nor dystopian, our world contains elements of each of the two speculative science fiction genres. Both of these genres serve as a commentary on modern life through analogy, comparing fictitious future issues with modern issues or those that are feared to arise in the near future.
The more accurate commentary on our real world is the hybrid in which the elites of human society experience their utopias but the majority of the population is subjected to a sort of dystopia in comparison with the elites’ society. As a commentary, this hybrid where a society appears utopian holds secret dystopian aspects is useful in critiquing modern society, questioning the status quo and day-to-day experiences of individuals, inviting them to look beyond the obvious to see the issues infecting our world.
To use the antiquated terms of “first”, “second” and “third” world to compare with utopian and dystopian aspects of modern human society would be a grave mistake because of the blurred national borders and growing globalization of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. “Developed”, “developing” and “underdeveloped” are more accurate terms for the modern era where globalization is not only unavoidable but active in most regions of the world.
The longest human lifespans, easy access to education, healthcare, clean food and water, the highest rates of energy consumption and unfortunately at this time, largest amounts of waste produced are characteristics of the developed regions of the world. It is the wealthy and elite classes in these regions that experience the closest we have to a utopian society. They do not have to concern themselves with issues of bodily survival and can focus on material gain and luxurious comforts.
Underdeveloped regions are riddled with strife, corrupt governments, famine, disease and a vast economic disparity with the developing and developed. It is within these regions where the population is subjected to an environment most dystopian.
In addition to the aforementioned descriptions of dystopian experiences in modern human society, it can also be argued that it is the lowest working classes, the criminal underworld, marginal and fringes of society within an apparently utopian developed world where we find an experience most similar to that of common dystopian fiction.
In these settings, the elites live their posh lives distanced from the very bottom foundation of society, while those trapped at the bottom of the inverted pyramid of wealth struggle daily for the means of survival in modern urban jungles. This parallels best with the cyberpunk genre, which can be seen as a subgenre of dystopian science fiction, where the “low life” live in the “high tech” of a future society.