New Outer Limits: “Stream of Consciousness”

If you, like me, are feeling more and more haunted in our information-glutted age of universal online connectedness by T.S. Eliot’s famous lines “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” then maybe you’ll find this 1997 episode from Season 3 of The New Outer Limits to be as compelling as I do. Written by TV writer and producer David Shore (who later created House), “Stream of Consciousness” is a brilliantly conceived and effectively executed dystopian science fictional meditation on the clash between the computer’s “craving” for pure information and the human values and realities of the people who, if we’re not careful, may allow ourselves to become enslaved as instruments for the furtherance of this inhuman imperative.

Here’s the official description, followed by the full episode. If you watch it, notice that at one or two points the dialogue seems to indicate that Shore wrote the episode with Eliot’s words explicitly in mind.

Due to a brain injury, Ryan Unger cannot enjoy the benefits of a neural implant that allows other people to tap into The Stream — a direct connection into all human knowledge. He tries, unsuccessfully, to keep up with everyone else by using a long-forgotten skill: reading books. When the Stream develops a virus causing people to die, Ryan, being the only one that is immune, must use the knowledge he has gained from books to save the world.

Opening narration: We quantify our world in order to learn. We break it down into facts, numbers, information. But how far dare we go before we destroy its mystery?

Closing narration: We make tools to extend our abilities, to further our reach, and fulfill our aspirations. But we must never let them define us. For if there is no difference between tool and maker, then who will be left to build the world?

About Matt Cardin

Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin is the author of DARK AWAKENINGS, DIVINATIONS OF THE DEEP, A COURSE IN DEMONIC CREATIVITY: A WRITER’S GUIDE TO THE INNER GENIUS, and the forthcoming TO ROUSE LEVIATHAN. He is also the editor of BORN TO FEAR: INTERVIEWS WITH THOMAS LIGOTTI and the academic encyclopedias MUMMIES AROUND THE WORLD, GHOSTS, SPIRITS, AND PSYCHICS: THE PARANORMAL FROM ALCHEMY TO ZOMBIES, and HORROR LITERATURE THROUGH HISTORY.

Posted on May 10, 2012, in Arts & Entertainment and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. wow.
    That was brilliant, thanks Matt.

    • You’re welcome, Pam. I know you appreciate this type of dystopian storytelling just as much as I do. I’m especially drawn to it when it deals with long-term issues of serious pertinence (like the clash between books and pure, digitally delivered information in “Stream of Consciousness”) in a classy way.

  2. Matt, have you seen the recent UK show “Black Mirror”? Might fit into the dystopian storytelling category you mentioned..

    “each episode has a different cast, a different setting, even a different reality. But they’re all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”

    Channel 4 describes the first episode as “a twisted parable for the Twitter age”.

    Charlie Brooker explained the series’ title to The Guardian, noting: “If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The “black mirror” of the title is the one you’ll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”
    (Quoting Wikipedia)

    It’s about as good as the descriptions would indicate!

    • I appreciate the recommendation, Shaun. A few months ago Stu Young likewise suggested this show to me. I’ve found the first episode available in its entirety at YouTube and haven’t watched it in full yet. But from the portion I’ve seen, I can see that it really is excellent.

      • Matt, I looked on youtube but couldn’t fine it, do you have a link for that first episode of The Black Mirror? I hope they haven’t pulled it.

  3. Looks like your fear is realized: YouTube appears to have pulled it. I should have watched it when I had a chance.

    I just found it elsewhere, though, along with the other episodes in the series. Takes awhile to load, but looks like it plays fine. Don’t know how long they’ll be there, though. I’m thinking perhaps it’s best to jump on them posthaste!

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