Recently, I watched Blade Runner for the first time (yes, I know, shocking). It’s a cult classic in the science fiction genre for many reasons, which I won’t get into here. What I wanted to write about is the idea of abandonment, ghost cities and ghost planets.
Blade Runner takes place on a planet Earth that is desolate, dingy and dirty place because it has been abandoned in favor of space colonies. Advertisements in the film promote the richness of these colonies, and it’s not hard to see why so many people leave Earth behind for something more promising.
We may not have ghost planets today, but ghost towns are plentiful. In North America, ghost towns are commonly the result of depleted natural resources – inhabitants who left once the local supply of coal, iron or oil ran out. Some of these ghost towns are tourist attractions, though most remain empty.
While Blade Runner takes place in the not-so-distant future (2019), it still holds the idea that progress implies leaving something behind. As fantastic as the future may be, not everyone can be taken along for the ride. Which made me wonder, is abandonment a necessary evil with innovation? And is it a good or bad thing to have ghost towns, and maybe one day, ghost planets?
Frequently, a clean break is the easiest way to introduce a new technology. It allows you to focus resources on the fresh start in an ideal environment. There is a high startup cost that may make it prohibitive to upgrade everything at once. But abandonment also raises deep questions about whether it is proper to give up on cities, planets or even people that don’t seamlessly accept new technologies. Are ghost towns and ghost planets just another way of perpetuating inequality? And is that progress?