In science fiction, humanity usually embraces new technologies because those technologies are innovative, improve our lives, and let us do things we only dreamed of before. But if Amazon’s futuristic Kindle becomes this holiday season’s hot gift, it will have less to do with the e-book reader’s features than with Oprah’s enthusiastic endorsement of the product on last Friday’s show. Here's the truth that scifi rarely predicts: The technologies we adopt in the future may have less to do with how useful they are than with how well they’re marketed.Following Oprah’s foot-stomping, fist-waving televised love letter to the digital reading device, the Kindle enjoyed a nice bump in search traffic. Couple that with the endorsement’s timing – a convenient two months before Christmas and Hanukkah – and we could see increased Kindle proliferation.
Of course, scifi does acknowledge that people of the future will be susceptible to marketing. The “suckdisk” game from Star Trek: The Next Generation topped our list of suckiest scifi video games, but everyone on the Enterprise plays it, preferring it to activities like the holodeck, eating, and defending the ship from space pirates. And it’s not because the game is any good (it’s not), but because it triggers the pleasure centers of the brain as you play it. Sure, it was all a scheme to distract the crew, but it was also a great way to market an otherwise lame-ass game. And Snow Crash’s neurolinguistic contagion adds a new layer to concept of “viral” marketing. And technology can be marketed out of existence as well. The 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? suggested that one of the reasons battery-powered cars never took off was that negative campaigning by oil and car companies undermined potential government and consumer support. Regardless of whether it’s true, we can’t expect Vulcans to step out of the clouds and tell us our latest invention will change our role in the universe. We’ll just have to hope that Oprah knows what’s best for us.