When I was in the ninth grade, I read a novel called The Chrysalids. It was written by John Wyndham in 1955 and is a well-known post-apocalyptic novel that was born out of the cold-war anxiety that dominated popular culture at that time. In the novel, Wyndham imagines Newfoundland and Labrador in the wake of nuclear fallout, in which certain characters are born with “deviations” and exiled from mainstream society. The Chrysalids is well-known in the literary world for Wyndham’s coinage of the term “spider-man”.
The spider-man was the eldest son of a nobleman, and “was thought to be normal until he was about three or four years old. Then his certificate was revoked, and he was sent away” (160). It is implied throughout the novel that it was his younger brother who made the case to their father that the spider-man was too lanky and thin compared to himself, and that he should be named the heir as to avoid accusations of deviancy. The spider-man represents the lengths that people will go to in order to benefit themselves.
The main characters in the story have psychic powers that allow them to simultaneously blend into society, and communicate with each other in secret. In what used to be Newfoundland and Labrador, several young people discover each others powers, and escape the confines of their restrictive society. They discover Australia, which has become a gleaming city of refuge for all of the mind-readers. In this Utopian society, people communicate with each other more clearly and sympathetically than ever before.
One of the characters imagines the lines of communication between the citizens as literal pieces of thread that catch the reflection of the sun as they sway in the breeze. These threads, and the spider-man, ultimately inspired the creation of the comic-book character of the same name.
The connections between the mind-readers are straight out of science fiction, yet as I write this in 2016 onto my blog, I can completely relate to their connections that result in their exile, and eventual transcendence of society. The way we connect with each other now is not like anything we’ve ever seen before. We can connect to tens of thousands, and maybe millions of people every day using a smart phone and an internet connection. If you connect with one person over the internet in your lifetime, that gives you at least some social capital. Some of the most fortunate bloggers have earned enough social capital that they no longer need to work for financial capital, but most of us are in between.
The Internet and social media are two extremely powerful tools that should not be taken for granted. We are becoming more increasingly interconnected every day, and we don’t know what the ceiling will be. But we are faced with a choice – to join in, or to let it pass us by. The world we live in reminds me of the one John Wyndham imagines in The Chrysalids. We cannot escape discrimination, hate, or ignorance, but we can focus our own energies on creating a world that is more like the utopia we imagine in our science fictions.