Stars Edge Redux
Culture in 22XX is very different from how we see culture today. Several reasons account for this, so lets split them up to focus on each.
Humanity as a concept has been replaced with transhumanity. Bodies are things that can be modi ed and replaced and tailored, much as someone can alter or exchange a suit of clothing. Identity is centered in the mind, which can exist as a disembodied infomorph living in virtual worlds or dwelling in a vast array of strange and exotic morphs. While there are bioconservatives who resist these many changes to identity and physicality, they are very much in the minority.
This effectively made everyone with access to it immortal. Your body about to die? Create a custom body or an ‘off the shelf’ model and slot your mind into it. It also allowed people to make backups of their minds in case of emergencies. ‘Sleeving’ in and out of bodies is fairly normal and since moving data is easier than moving mass, most people travel by changing out bodies. Another aspect of this is discussed under population.
To most people, transhumanity has also been expanded in scope to factor in non-human persons such as AGIs and uplifts, though the rights and status of these sentients is sometimes contested. As transhumans continue to absorb the ramifications of this new way of life, they face a new crop of problems and issues.
In all but the most backwards, impoverished, and repressive regions of the solar system, the vast majority of humanity is smarter, healthier, and richer than any humans have ever been. Additionally, individuals can improve their minds and their bodies in almost any fashion their imaginations can dream up. Those who can afford the right augmentations can think faster, never
forget anything they have ever learned, become mathematical savants, and heal from injuries many times faster than an unmodified human. When resleeving is combined with implants, transhumans can gain even more amazing capabilities—but these benefits are far from free.
During the rst decade after the war, most of the surviving population was relatively poor. While the economic situation has improved, signi cant inequalities remain and seem unlikely to change. a few million are wealthy enough to have custom-designed morphs created for them, complete with all the augmentations they desire. These same members of the elite live in luxurious villas and mansions, and in a few cases privately-owned asteroids, while most other people must make do with a few hundred cubic meters of dwelling space. However, while inequities of living space are ancient, the issue of economic inequality producing inequities of physical and mental capacities is both relatively new and considerably more problematic.
Skillware lets people buy knowledge and expertise, while multi-tasking and mental speed implants allow individuals to get more done at once. Someone fortunate enough to acquire large numbers of such augmentations is capable of significantly more than someone who lacks them, and so can do even more to increase their money or rep, thus serving to further perpetuate inequality. This problem is less serious in the reputation-based economies of the outer system, however, as it significantly easier to build reputation through hard work and dedication, as opposed to the rigidly-controlled monetary economies of the inner system and the Jovian Republic, where class stratification is institutionalized and upward mobility is largely a myth.
As many supporters of the status quo are fond of pointing out, even the “havenots” are smarter and healthier than any previous generation of humans and carry as much potential immortality as the wealthiest member of the elite. It is equally true, however, that in many ways the divisions between rich and the poor are signi cantly greater than they have ever been, especially in the inner system. In the past, the members of the elite might be somewhat healthier and better fed than the have-nots, but both rich and poor still lived in relatively similar and fundamentally human bodies. Now, the very nature of humanity has been called into question. The least fortunate can be forced to inhabit bodies designed specifically for the pleasure of those wealthier than them or even denied any body and forced to live as infomorphs until they can find some way to acquire a new morph—typically by selling their services to the highest bidder. Meanwhile, the well-off can customize their bodies and their minds, enabling them to accomplish far more and to be considerably more impressive and charismatic than anyone lacking their advantages. These inequalities may seem insurmountable, but some anarchistic groups and even some entire habitats have dedicated themselves to reducing inequities by producing low cost (and occasionally highly unreliable) versions of many of the more impressive morphs and augmentations.
Gender, Sexuality, and Relationships
To many transhumans, gender has become an outdated social construct with no basis in biology. After all, it’s hard to give credence to gender roles when an ego can easily modify their sex, switch skins, or experience the lives of others via XP. Though most transhumans still adhere to the gender associated with their original biological sex, many others switch gender identities as soon as they reach adulthood or avidly pursue repeated transgender switching. Still others examine and adopt untraditional sex-gender identities such as neuters (believing a lack of sex allows greater focus in their pursuits) or dual gender (the best of both worlds).
These changes date back generations where men had fallen out of favor, blamed for high crime rates and unfavorable historical policies. Due to this many more girls than boys were chosen genetically and the trend contained. When resleeving came about the ratio of men to women was 33:67. Resleeving and the tricks of genetic engineering created a third gender, full hermaphrodites. Unlike most natural hermaphrodites these were fully functional with characteristics of both genders and quickly surpassed the number of men as they were seen of having the advantages of men with none of the downsides (how true that is has yet to be decided). The forth gender is ‘nueter’ and exists due to people resleeving into robotic bodies. These may have physical characteristics of gender, but are not in any sense genetically compatible with humanity in any form. Nueters are not however counted in gender balance statistics hence the current ratio is 37:36:25 female:herm:male.
Sexuality has also expanded into new frontiers and taboos. With basic biomods providing contraception and protections from STDs, casual sex is the norm. Many people pursue careers as well-paid companions and escorts. In fact, sexual experimentation is standard thanks to several new technologies. Virtual reality allows sexual encounters without physically touching a partner, not to mention bringing all manner of fantasies to life. For those that prefer the touch of real skin, AI-driven pleasure pods can fulfill any and all needs and are a legal form of prostitution in many habitats. Sex-switching also lends itself to new experiences, whether via bio-mods or a new sleeve. Even AGIs, having been socialized as humans, exhibit sexuality and desire.
The extension of lifespans and the decline of religion have drastically impacted social institutions like marriage. Given the possible changes to both cognition and biology over a transhuman’s lifetime, lifelong relationships are no longer considered realistic. The idea of long-term relationships as a social contract has grown exponentially. While this has resulted in a number of marriages that are political or like a business transaction, most people continue to view marriage as a bond of emotional attachment and trusts—in particular a bond that transcends bodies, as either partner may change morphs at any time.
For anyone with basic mesh inserts or an ecto (meaning about ninety-six percent of the population), life is filled with data. For people with the best implants, all information available on the mesh is available at a thought. For everyone else, it only requires a brief pause to access and understand it. When someone pauses and looks a bit distracted in the midst of a conversation, everyone understands they are accessing data and lack the implants to allow them to do this subconsciously or via multi-tasking. As a result, when a group of people are discussing a topic and no one immediately knows an answer to a question, such as the title of a performer’s first vid, within a few seconds everyone has this information. Similarly, when someone walks through a garden, with a glance and perhaps a brief thought or small finger motion, they can call up detailed data on each and every species of plant that sits in front of them. Individuals going to remote areas that are out of normal mesh broadcasting range almost always either carry a farcaster-link with them or download truly vast amounts of data into their implants or ecto so they can continue to access all the data they might need. Since even a basic implant can hold vast amounts of data, lack of storage space is rarely an issue.
Access to such a vast amount of easily available information has resulted in a variety of cultural responses. Being able to quote from any vid, old movie, book, or historical speech is now trivially easy and can be done with a few seconds of thought. While children and young teens often play by interjecting large amounts of semi-appropriate famous quotes in their speech, most adults only do so for emphasis and in moderation. People who quote from other sources too often are considered dull and unimaginative. Recognizing such quotes is quite easy, since someone can simply set their muse to alert them to the nature and identity of all lengthy quotes they hear.
All experienced mesh users also learn (typically as children and teens) how to avoid taking too much time out from conversations to check facts or access information via the mesh. Teens regularly mock their fellows who pause too often or too long in conversations to look up further information on a topic someone mentioned, or who spend too long trying to assemble facts to support an argument. Terms like “meshed out” or “drooler” are used by teens to mock each other into learning how to be both discreet and faster in their information searches, at least when also interacting with others. While adults rarely engage in the same sort of direct and obvious mockery, people who get too lost in casual or conversational meshbrowsing are widely viewed as socially inept. As a result, implants that allow multi-tasking or temporarily speed up thought are in great demand, since they allow individuals to do extensive research and rehearse each statement they are going to make without a moment’s pause. People who can afford such software almost always seem more suave, charismatic, and intelligent than those who do not.
All this means that those who lack all mesh and AR access—individuals known as zeroes—present a stark contrast to the rest of transhumanity. To most people, zeroes seem slow, forgetful, and almost unbelievably dense, while to zeroes, even people who only possess ectos or basic implants seems brilliant, witty, and able to comprehend things with almost inhuman speed.
Most individuals have a dedicated AI that serves as their media agent. Commonly known as a muse, this AI has been a lifelong companion for most people less than seventy years old. Muses learn their owners’ tastes, habits, and preferences, and do their best to make life and technology use as easy as possible. Muses can be alarm clocks, data retrieval gophers, appointment schedulers, accountants, and many other functions often limited only by their owners’ imaginations. Some of their tasks do not even need to be assigned them—muses are skilled at guring out people’s needs and acting on them. For example, the muse’s scheduling function may tell it when its user needs to be up in the morning, and it will act as an alarm clock without any additional instructions from the user. If a muse is uncertain about its owner’s preferences, it asks, but after working with a user for a few decades muses rarely need to do this. Most people keep multiple back-ups of their muse, because the loss of a muse can be almost as traumatic as the death of a loved one.
Using a generic muse who must be informed about all aspects of a user’s individual preferences and fed a constant stream of instructions helps people appreciate the value of their own personal muse agent. Muses generally learn the basics of a new user’s preferences in a month or two, but during that learning period the user tends to be irritable and forgetful, since the tasks they generally trust their muse to do automatically are not being taken care of.
A substantial number of modern transhumans make their living creating new songs, stories, reports, or other media. All of this is easily and swiftly accessible through any basic implant, ecto, or (on very rare occasions) archaic handheld terminal. However, most of this media is not to the taste of any particular individual, and vast amounts of it are mediocre. As a result, most humans keep two layers of evaluation between them and anything they might consider exposing themselves to.
The first layer is based on popularity and critical reviews. Every piece of media has a rating, often weighted by the opinions of critics with high rep scores who comment on their virtues and faults. Specialized AIs also evaluate the responses of consumers, so individuals can use reviewers they trust or they can seek out media that is either widely or speci cally popular in their particular demographic and subcultural niche.
The second lter layer is the individual’s muse. Muses learn their owner’s tastes and moods and automatically search out and recommend various sorts of media. Individuals can do everything from asking their muse to select something they will enjoy, to asking for a something that will challenge their opinions, to looking at all current events news that will be of interest to them. Muses use their understanding of their user’s preferences, mixed with ratings and reviews, to make their decisions. Individuals can even set their muses to edit all media so that they better fit with the person’s interests and preferences. In the most extreme cases, this process can twist and edit news so that it bears no relation to real events. This same process is used to make the characters and dialog in novels and vids more appealing. More commonly, the muses merely edit out aspects of a news story or article in which the individual is not interested.
Ratings, reviews, and muses allow individuals to avoid media overload, but they also reinforce subcultural barriers. A great many people only seek out media and news that reinforces their existing opinions and beliefs. Xenophobic individuals who distrust all non-humans, from uplifted octopi to the Factors, regularly view news stories and AR dramas about evil aliens and devious uplifted animals who commit heinous crimes. Similarly, individuals who are only interested in their own habitat have all external news altered by their muses so that it refers only to the effects outside events will have on their station.
In a very real sense, individuals from radically different subcultures and demographics inhabit completely different worlds. The one force that works against this separation is the fact that many people wish to follow the lives and opinions of those with the highest reputation scores. In many cases, a large portion of these individual’s high rep scores comes from their interest in and willingness to interact with (or at least acknowledge) a wide variety of different sources of information. As a result, listening to opinions by a high-rep celebrity can expose people to information that they might never encounter otherwise. Also, in many habitats, AIs responsible for media distribution tag some news as being suf ciently important that it should be immune to filtering by muses. This tagging is a regular and expected occurrence in some habitats, while in others it is reserved for only the most important and potentially life-saving information. Bypassing muses for any less important reason in these stations is considered a gross invasion of privacy or even a crime.
Forms of Media:
Meme culture is the first change. Memes or viral ideas are used in advertising, religion, and politics to express ideas and manipulate trends. The prevalence of computer assisted culture makes forming, following, and selecting memes that appeal to you incredibly easy. In a sense a collection of memes replace media as we know it, though even the normal person on the street would not consider that to be literally true.
Religion exists, but a modern person would not recognize the religions of tomorrow. The rigid structures and dogmas enveloping Christianity, Islam, and Judaism prohibited these religions from adapting to the cultural, philosophical, and especially scientific/technological changes transhumanity underwent. Today, they are mere shadows of their former glory, with many practitioners seen as pitiful individuals unable to let go of their earthbound delusions. Hinduism also prevailed to a limited extent, considering resleeving technology an element of reincarnation and rebirth and integrating the various types of morphs available into the religion’s caste system (with synthmorphs becoming the “untouchables”). While most followers of the pre-Fall religions left the solar system on Genesis-class colony ships, those few that remain mostly populate small habitats isolated from transhumanity through both physical and philosophical distance.
A plethora of new religions to emerge. Even many old forms of religion have been reformed to be accepted by modern culture. The biggest modern religions are described below.
Neo-Buddhism is the only pre-Fall religious philosophy that enjoys a steady popularity. Neo-buddhists assert that transhumanist technologies are decreasing suffering and increasing happiness, and that they will also allow the continual progression of transhumanity’s understanding of the universe through successive lives.
Techno-Creationists believe that the destruction of Earth was a sign from God, showing transhumanity the error of its ways. They believe that through technological advancement and social engineering, transhumanity will achieve co-existence with its diverse self as well as with extra terrestrial intelligences, thereby nding new purpose and eventually, enlightenment. Attracted by the similarities to the Brahman of Hinduism, the highest cosmic spiritual being, Techno-Creationists enjoy a steady influx of converted Hindus.
Xenodeism is another new—though relatively minor—ideology that begins to show religious attributes. Xenodeists worship the Factors and Iktomi as emissaries or prophets of a great godlike race that laid the seeds of creation throughout the universe millions of years ago and therefore are the ultimate creators of transhumanity.
It should be mentioned that clothing has taken a minimalist turn in the last 4 decades. Even full nudity is not seen as abnormal in warmer climates or seasons. Clothing is chosen for it’s visual appeal and it’s functionality. So if it is raining then clothing is often worn to avoid becoming to wet, though this clothing may be of a material similar to latex and have translucent patches for stylish effect. Environments which require more clothing (such as winter regions or harsh conditions) often see more clothing worn, though jumpsuits and variations with interesting patterns are very common.
Their are now four genders and ‘ethnicity’ is a thing of the past (Having an asian appearance doesn’t mean your asian). Health and fitness are also easy to mantain, and population growth is barely above 0.5% per year. Most couples spend decades together before making the decision whether to have a single child and multiple children are rare.
Two forces have nearly equal authority in the modern society. They are the Hypercorps and the Central Government. This may sound like an unlikely melding, but it started in pre-genetics war times with the Rise of China. An authoritarian socialist state which adopted capitalist ideals, blending them into a single whole. By the end of the Genetics War this melded form of government had been ‘perfected’ and was the model for all governments. These large companies often have as much influence as the government, even going as far as claiming large tracks of space as their own. In these regions their decisions are law.
The other power is the Criminal Factions. Technological progress and social and behavioral
experimentation did not root out crime or criminal tendencies among transhumanity. As long as there are inequalities and restrictions, criminal syndicates are likely to flourish and even adapt new technologies to expand their operations throughout the solar system. Though small criminal outfits of every flavor exist from habitat to habitat, a few larger organizations with influence across the solar system deserve mention.
The modern economy has three types: