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  • Writer's pictureBen Zimdahl

Alienation and the Importance of Individual Conscience Today

Updated: Oct 1, 2021

Elizabeth Tan, - Smart Ovens for Lonely People.

Smart Ovens for Lonely People is the second book from Australian author Elizabeth Tan, a collection of 20 stand-alone, empathy enriched short stories from the not-so-distant future. The charming and surreal 'tech-fantasy' future reflects with touching insight upon a perhaps imminent fusing of technology and humanity. The narratives are connected only in their setting of Perth Western Australia and their occurrence within an indistinctive near future. However, aside from their many culturally tied aspects to Perth life and the fantasy element of technology within the stories to a point of offbeat surrealist hilarity, the stories could be anywhere really, and their future could well be tomorrow. The charm of each of these fantasies is in their apt use of frivolous premises to observe an acute smallness, fleetingness, as well as alienation and loneliness and to articulate this in relation to a common shared lived experience of existence. The tech-fantasy genre of Elizabeth Tan seems to go hand in hand with the fun and many pop culture references and insightful social commentary of ever increased social anxieties in an age of technological capitalism and consumerism.

In “Pang & Co. Genuine Scribe Era Stationery” we find ourselves in a world where Bic ballpoint pens reserve a vintage and redundant antique quality, as similarly we learn, can openers are now obsolete in “The Meal Channel”, and food farming and the meat industry has presumably been replaced by a synthetic substitute as the majority of nourishment is received via being hooked up to a "feeder" and restaurants with actual food are now great cause for television material. In the namesake “Smart Ovens for Lonely People” smart ovens have been developed with an AI functionality that allows them to serve as therapeutic entities to aid the recovery of people who have experienced depression and attempted suicide. In the first instance, the antiquity of the ball point pen draws an inescapable comparison to that of the homeless, with which advanced as it is, society is still insufficiently able or too unwilling and oblivious to have found a means for re-assimilating or preventing the destituteness faced by those left outside of access to basic amenities, food, and shelter. In the second instance it is seemingly indiscernible as to whether consumerism culture has found a means for upholding the lives of animals as equal beings to those of humans and to avoid the global destruction of our climate or if the existence of alternative food intake and sources are a result of our failure to achieve either of these, and this indiscernible double doubt elicits a reflection that we are perhaps already at the crossroads between these two alternatives today. And in the third instance we are indulged in our collective fantasy to come to realise that we harbour perhaps too much of an expectation of technology to solve any number of our problems, even its necessity to become a saviour on a level of psychology and mental health. Smart Ovens for Lonely People is ingeniously inventive and as fun to read as it is insightful of the individual conscience of today.

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