Interface to elections

Interface is an election-year sci-fi novel about a candidate who is remote-controlled by a biochip in his brain. Published in 1994 by “Stephen Bury”, a pen name for Neal Stephenson and his uncle, the novel is a timely satire of the campaign and media symbiosis that renders elections vulnerable to manipulation.
The best scenes have campaign consultants watching video, predicting and creating winners and losers by lighting, camera angles, and background images. Watching an African-American woman verbally demolish a neo-Nazi candidate at a Denver mall campaign stop, the crew of pollsters predict she’ll be a future president, watching only the images, and not hearing a single word.
There’s a wonderful chapter on a scandal involving the child of migrant workers turned away from surburban hospital treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning. The press flocks to the heart-rending drama. Headlines scream “BIANCA, MIRACLE GIRL.” Meanwhile, the reporters ignore the deep underlying system scandal — migrant workers routinely denied metical treatment, private justice dispensed by connected ranchers. The press coverage is vulnerable to manipulation by the politicos and pr folk who know how to create images for TV.
The sci-fi technology is moderately interesting — a biochip heals a politician incapacitated by a stroke, and wires him directly to the emotional responses of a 100 demographically representative citizens wearing biofeedback wristbands.
The thriller plot is paint-by-numbers. A shadowy network of trillionaire investors seeks to control the presidency to rescue their investments from the US national debt. The novel builds tension with several thoroughly predictable chase scenes that do little for the story, and are clearly designed for the authors’ fantasy film treatment.
Ten years after the book is published, the mass media campaigns are more expensive, at least as distracted by wedge issues and gaffes and horse race coverage.
The sinister plot is deciphered by a few heroes and antiheroes, including the “economic roadkill” in the wired-up focus group, but all the antihero has to talk back are letters to the editor and a Columbine plan.
This time around, he’d have a blog, but would it make a difference? Will peer communication yield more information to move the boulders of distortion, or simply be turned into rivulets of spin and counterspin? Some of both, I think.

One thought on “Interface to elections”

  1. Adina Levin on Interface

    Adina recently finished Interface by Stephen Bury (a pen name for Neal Stephenson), and wonders whether the outcome would be any different with weblogs: Will peer communication yield more information to move the boulders of distortion, or simply be tur…

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