What do Facebook and the Hilton at Heathrow have in common?
Nothing, or so I thought until listening to Listen to Ballardian Architecture: Inner and Outer Space
– a symposium held at the Royal Academy in May, which highlighted the relationship between science fiction writer JG Ballard, architecture and contemporary society.
JG Ballard. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe
In one example, Ballard's post-war world is embodied by the (then) shining, new example of the Hilton at Heathrow.
The building’s modernist urbanism encapsulated both the optimisms and apprehensions of emergent technologies after WWII. And so, it turns out, did Ballard’s writing. By projecting his visions of the future, Ballard ingeniously created a position to critique the present.
From this discourse - well, actually, tucked away in the first discussion session - the question of social networking cropped up.
More specifically, a member of the audience asked, ‘Put crassly, did JG Ballard predict Facebook?’ The answer, it turns out, is yes.
Not to say that he wrote about a futuristic society where people ‘poked’ and ‘stalked’ their friends, all without any physical interaction. It's more like he imagined the idea of a virtual existence, where we are able to construct lives separate from physical circumstances we are born into.
Stories such as his 1977 ‘Intensive Care Unit’, which depicts a future where all human interaction is conducted through the medium of television, could be read as prophetic visions of a world in which social relations are increasingly mediated by technology.