Judging by the extreme rarity of mobile phones, tablets, or even laptops on stage, the theatre world has barely caught up with the technological realities of the present, let alone the future. Tremolo Theatre’s The Hours Before I Wake doesn’t step too dramatically beyond the realities of the world we live in. But its commitment to representing a social media-rich, technologically-dense world makes it feel unusual - a sci-fi satire that’s close to home.
The biggest innovation in this dystopian future is that dreams are both monetised, and controlled. Individual consumers can select what they want to dream about, and take a pill to ensure that they can enact their fantasy painlessly during their sleeping hours. For Ian, the show’s protagonist, this fantasy revolves around becoming a superhero who rescues his office crush Janice from burning buildings. It’s childish stuff. But then, Ian is a huge pampered baby, cocooned from the harsh realities of the world by a soothing robot voice who helps guide him through his hours away from work - and reports any untoward behaviour straight back to his superiors.
Theorists have written about the dangers of a ‘frictionless’ world, where sharing on social media becomes constant and thoughtless -- leading to a situation where governments are able to gather a huge amount of individuals with minimum efforts. And companies are quick to take advantage of these new opportunities, too. Business are already able to track everything from their employees' movements to their facial expressions to their menstrual cycles.
The psychological effects of this dependency are less understood. Recent research has associated social media use (specifically, comparison-type behaviours) with onset of depressive symptoms. The Hours Before We Wake predicts a comfortable acceptance of constant sharing that's facilitated by soothing drugs [rather like Aldous Huxley's conception of the drug Soma in Brave New World].
This young company have devised a pretty dispiriting future, one that's a logical extension of a rapidly evolving corporate culture. But as its protagonist Ian is inspired to rebel against his tightly-controlled environment, it demonstrates how easy algorithms can be subverted by, as well as built from, human behaviour at its most individual. (AS)
The Hours Before We Wake was on at the Edinburgh Fringe from 5-28 August http://www.thehoursbeforewewake.com/
How frictionless sharing undermines individual privacy http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/how-frictionless-sharing-could-undermine-your-legal-right-to-privacy/254277/
Surveillance in the workplace http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/09/corporate-surveillance-activists/406201/
Impact of social media on mental health https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/social-media-and-young-peoples-mental-health