SALON -- I reached out to Salon’s favorite resident Philip K. Dick expert, David Gill, a literature teacher at San Francisco State University and a Dick scholar. Gill told me that Dick’s popularity may be because his dystopias “feel accurate … full of environmental problems, global warming, oppressive governments, surveillance technology.”
“There’s no sugar coating” in Dick’s books, Gill added. For anyone who’s even briefly encountered a Dick work, you probably recall the dour mood. A Scanner Darkly, Blade Runner, Minority Report — none of these exactly have what you might call happy endings, with the evil regime defeated and the world returned to a prelapsarian state.
Gill elaborated further:
“Dick’s other prescient insight was about the seductive nature of technology: you start out using technology to serve your needs, and then before you know it technology is using us to serve its needs. Connective communications technologies are ultimately isolating if we’re stuck using them in isolation. In Dick’s ‘Galactic Pot Healer’ novel, the characters sit around in their rooms and play this strange word game, scrambling and translating the names of famous titles and sayings.”
“Dick is especially relevant in the age of Trump because we are living in a world where the authentic and the artificial have exchanged places,” Gill mused. “We live in a time when it is impossible to know if what we are seeing is real or is being manipulated, ‘photoshopped’ — this idea was terrifying to Dick.”
As Trump and Trump’s supporters build their own media channels, any reality becomes possible, perhaps. Social media has sprouted different reality bubbles, Balkanized universes of fact and fiction. According to Gill, Dick predicted “not that we can’t know what is really real, but that the people in power can manipulate the nature of our reality itself.” Sounds about right.