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I'm at the early stages of the development of a novel set in a world that lacks human relationships. The main plot will involve characters slowly learning back to care for one another.

It's not a world abandoned to anarchy. There is some kind of authoritarianism which inhibits freedom but guarantees a decent quality of life: technology, sanity... The government doesn't want people to socialize, but relationships are not explicitly forbidden and punished: this is not needed, because people just forgot how they work. I need Ideas about how such a society would work. How would these people live every day.

I'm sure some inspiration could be found in other stories (in any media) that explore the weakening or total loss of relationships between people. Groups of characters, or entire societies not capable or not allowed to experience at least one of the following: love, friendship, familiy bonds, or even basic communication between individuals.

My setting would be Distopic Science Fiction, I think it is ideal for an investigation on this theme, and I'm quite sure many authors have worked on this in the last decades.

The only valid example I could think of is the movie Wall-E by Disney Pixar, where all humans are controlled by a system based on marketing and TV, and have become dumb customers who never talk to each other, but I'd like also a more mature and deep approach.

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  • $\begingroup$ You should look into the film Equilibrium, it's not quite the same idea but very similar in many ways. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jan 23 '15 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ imdb.com/title/tt0238380 $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jan 23 '15 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ This is a common theme in lots of distopian novels. 1984 by Orwell and We by Zamyatin immediately spring to mind. $\endgroup$ – ckersch Jan 23 '15 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ This has similar shades to Asimov's Robots of Dawn. $\endgroup$ – cobaltduck Jan 21 '16 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ @cobaltduck: Exactly my thoughts. If it weren't for the story being about people learning to care for one another afterward I'd write an answer all about Solaria. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 21 '16 at 16:02
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The government doesn't want people to socialize, but relationships are not explicitly forbidden and punished.

I'm assuming a few things based around this statement:

  1. People aren't isolated. Society exists functionally much like it does in our world -- people still go to a market to buy food, people still go to a job of some sort, etc.

  2. There is a reason for this. The government doesn't want people to socialize because... if they did, they would realize something about the government or themselves that the government doesn't want them to know. But I can't imagine what that might be.

  3. This had to begin somewhere, somehow. I'm assuming that relationships used to exist in this society at some point in the past, and that the new government has diminished the need for them somehow.

I need Ideas about how such a society would work. How would these people live every day.

How the society works is based entirely around Point 3 above. How the society works now is a result of the changes made by the government long ago in order to remove the need for relationships. Did the government make work-from-home mandatory, or force most labor and office positions to become automated? (I hope not; that goes against Point 1 above, and would make a boring story) Did they create a law that states that a child must be removed from her parents on her fifth birthday and never make contact with them again? Whatever new rules and laws the government put into place initially, which would have sent people back then into some kind of outrage, are commonplace and expected now.

I'm curious how procreation would work in your society as well. If the government is discouraging relationships, then they have to be encouraging some alternative form of procreation. I guess artificial insemination?

I'm sure some inspiration could be found in other stories (in any media) that explore the weakening or total loss of relationships between people.

Honestly, it's happening now, with sites like Facebook, Instagram, and StackExchange. People believe they are forming relationships and interacting with people -- I can check how my brother's day went just by looking at his facebook wall and even leave a comment if I want! But in reality, the relationships between people are diminishing. You lose the physical touch, body language, tone of voice. Next to go would be expression: What if instead of typing out a status on Facebook, you simply got to choose from a list of "feeling" words? And comments were only drop-down menus of choices like "That's awesome!" or "Sorry to hear that. :(". Hell, at some point you wouldn't even be able to be sure if you were really talking to the person or a machine pretending to be them.

Ultimately,

I think it's kinda difficult to tell you what the person's day-to-day life might be like without knowing why it's like that in the first place, Point 2 above. It seems innate that people -- any animals really -- have a certain desire to be close those of their kind. It's therefore hard to believe that people would consciously choose to live this way without some very heavy influence.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your analisys is coherent with many of my ideas. I want to work on the concept you expressed, that the world of today is diminishing relationships (for example, with social media). Take it to the extreme to show where it may bring us. No bounds with other humans mean it's easier for "the government" to control you and tell you what you need. This is the heart and soul of my story, what I need is a more concrete and credible world. $\endgroup$ – Giuseppe Jan 23 '15 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ Forget government control. I did some searches on my desktop at work, and when I opened my browser on my personal phone, the top three searches that showed up were the ones I put in at work. And my wife started getting emails from the same company, telling her where her package from an unrelated vendor was and how many hours until it arrive at our house. 1984 is here, and big brother is not the government. His name is Google and from what I am hearing about windows 10, he has twin sister named Cortana. Make Big IT Business be the controller that tells people what they need and when. $\endgroup$ – user11864 Aug 25 '15 at 17:21
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Your wording choice leaves a lot of freedom in the answers. Hopefully some of these spark an extended discussion, and possibly more questions:

No Relationships, as in no humans are aware of each other

The strictest of definitions I can imagine is one in which humans are simply not allowed to be aware of each-other's minds. As this occurs automatically in society, the government would have to stop it.

First off, an assumption I will make the entire time: the government never forces anyone so much as coerces them to play along. If the government is forcing the destruction of interpersonal relationships, humanity itself will fight back. The government will have to smoothly adjust the human mind.

The Problem of Other Minds is a class issue in psychology and philosophy. We become aware of "other minds" at roughly the age of 2 or 3, and begin to treat them as Others. This would be a relationship, so the government needs to make sure nobody ever gets an opportunity to be aware of other minds.

One solution is homogeneity. In a normal toddler development, there are very clear minds: parents, the cat, and maybe even the pot that is so remarkably kind as to protect their head during their quest to slay the dragons and/or get the cookies off the counter without mommy noticing. The toddler eventually notices there is something different about some of these minds, and categorizes them as Others. If the government could set up each person's environment to be more homogenous, it could remove the need to identify Others until that part of the mind doesn't function. As an example, consider Stack Exchange without names, icons, or scores. Just a flat Q/A database.

One other solution is disruption. Other minds may be hostile, and one of the easiest ways to generate artificial hostility is a language barrier. If each human is trained different, linguistically, the government could ensure that they have no desire to talk to each other, even if they recognize the others as minds.

No Relationships, as in no monogamous relationships

Less exacting would be the desire to overcome monogamy. Marriage is a very powerful institution today, and I could see a distopian government wanting to squelch it and take the power for itsef.

This would take more balance. Groupings form naturally, whether pairs, trios, or any other grouping. Effort would have to be taken to make this undesirable. One solution involves some number games. In Chinese culture, some numbers are considered unlucky. If the government could make the number two tremendously unlucky, anything in 2's would be avoided subconsciously.

This could have very interesting effects on AI. While binary is the easiest way to build a computer using electrical circuits, there's no reason you could not develop one using trinary logic. Trinary logic is more conducive to AI because it allows for either "maybe" or "unknown," both of which are useful for AIs.

Defunct relationships, with little caring

The definition of a relationship is tricky. How does the government know it got them all? Another approach might be to simply allow relationships, but ensure that when they do occur, they don't matter much.

This is the most distopian case in our current environment. As suggested by others, computers are leeching our attention away from each other continuously. All we have to do is make sure the humans lose the ability to be soft enough to truly support one another better than the machines do, and the relationships become unimportant.

Bright flashy lights, issues that need immediate attention, intelligence puzzles rather than intuitive puzzles, these would all condition us to a style of interaction which ensures there is a barrier between everyone.

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  • $\begingroup$ The first one was the first thing I went to on reading the original question, because "relationships" are a pervasive thing. I'm glad you addressed it. $\endgroup$ – plagueheart Jul 9 '15 at 2:59
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My first question would be "Why doesn't the government want people to socialize?" Both the real reason, and the reason they give to the masses. (though I think social imperative would work better than a government mandate).

Maybe a huge uprising was blamed on people being to emotional and attached to each other. So being more logical and robotic in social situations would be safer and 'better' for everyone.

(The vast majority) Humans need social interaction. Even us introverts. However, it could be considered the 'ideal' to strive for. But (like everything else we do) we take it to extremes. This would lead to people falling into depressing much more often and those naturally bright and sunny people would be absolutely miserable. They would be the ones who might decide to start a revolution to bring back human emotions, lead by a group of ENFJ's...

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  • $\begingroup$ Important for the kind of story and message I have in mind is that the people got used to this situation. They don't even know they could socialize and the benefits they would get. Probably it happened in a very long arc of time, even millennia, and this was applied with the force at first. But "today" this is the normality. $\endgroup$ – Giuseppe Jan 23 '15 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ There would still be people who crave it. They would just be thought to be crazy and 'socially unfit'. Psychologists would be employed to 'fix' them. Maybe someone takes a bunch of these misfits and puts them in an experimental group to 'see' what happens? Find some remarkable results? $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Jan 23 '15 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ That somehow reminds me of The Matrix, where some individuals (even unconsciously) still crave freedom of choice $\endgroup$ – Giuseppe Jan 23 '15 at 15:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Giuseppe people keep doing things that are not 'accepted' all the time. Prostitution. Many cultures it's homosexuality. The age of 'child consent' changes in different cultures and different times. Sex just happens to be the easiest area to find examples. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Jan 23 '15 at 15:56
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I imagine that this would be a world where we the people would have been assigned a living quarters at an early age that would be loaded with a near perfect virtual reality system. The system would communicate with a tiny chip implanted in our brains which anticipates our needs, much nicer than the vagaries of human communication which begins to seem a bit like hard work.

From here we work, play and communicate with this synthetic environment, never actually seeing another physical person. Although in reality the person in the next apartment would be very close, that would never occur to us since we have been overwhelmed with the constant stimulation of our virtual world.

I imagine, this system would evolve from a simple media tool which people would originally use with a clunky input system to share their thoughts and feelings with their closest friends. But it would rapidly degenerate into a stream of cats and thug life videos shared by every one you have ever met and as the mysterious vendor invested in virtual reality technology it would progress rapidly into an immersive stream of funnies designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. People would quickly lose the ability to communicate, relying on a simple set of icons to express their emotions in a tiny subset of expressions before moving on to the next experience. I can't wait!

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  • $\begingroup$ Cats videos will rule the world! :-D $\endgroup$ – Giuseppe Jan 23 '15 at 15:33
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Basically, lets presume here.

Me, I just relate to any people because society COMMANDS me to do so. I reached a point in life where I have all the monetary and otherwise any other resources I need. I just have a pretty good set of investments and they are run automatically by Bank Account managers that I don't even need to know by name. The only thing I know is that the money is available on my bank accounts to buy anything I want. So, I don't need to interact with any people. I can just go and buy anything I want online and have it delivered downstairs. Then, the butler will just put it on my private elevator and I will open the door and get it. I have my own gym and so on. Besides interacting with a doctor and dentist, I don't really NEED to interact with any other pathetic humans.

So, if people in your society have access to a set of technologies that eliminate any need for human interaction (virtual A.I. based doctors, automatically delivered medicine, robot dentists and such), they will not need to develop any kind of human relationships.

For people that have access to resources (in our world the main resource is money) relationship with other humans is not a necessity. Human relationships are only necessary for people that lack resources. Those people NEED to interact with other people on other to obtain the resources they don't have. And that is the only reason why human relationships are created. (feelings and so on are just chemical reactions in the brain to justify those needs for human interaction so individuals don't actually die because of the lack of the resources they don't have).

Humankind is despicable, ignorant and unworthy, unable to create anything of value, it is shallow and exploitative, and also evil and destructive, why would anyone want to relate to other humans if not for that need of obtaining resources not immediately and individually available?

So, there you can find something to start your plot, I guess. Government to safeguard people from all exploitation, suffering and evil that are the natural results of human relationships developed an educational and cultural system, and also promoted technologies to stimulate people to not give opportunities to predators and parasites to use the "relationship" excuse to pillage and hurt other people, so, people do not interact with other people anymore. Everything is done online, children are born through planned processes and in children farms, or they don't even exist anymore, as health services and technology reached such a point that people have to choose dying, so there is no need for the replacement children represent on order to perpetuate human species. If they don't choose dying, they can just live forever, through cloning, robotics, mind upload/download, and so on.

World is then in peace as no relationships will bring strife, or war, or disease, or suffering. Each one lives in their own exclusive little world, while the machines do everything and people just can enjoy all they need from interactions with computers and A.I.

Then your characters will find that they can do something through relationships (perhaps they fall in love, or find a lost teddy bear, or something that will make proletarians cry, so normal people that lack resources can identify themselves with your characters, and like your story), and they began to dissent to do that whatever. Well, the rest is up to you.

If you had asked this question 20 years ago, in the old Internet, you would have lots of misanthropic answers like mine. But in this age of social networking, all kids seem to need some sort of pathetic interaction with other humans. So, I guess you needed to read this answer of this old misanthrope. Hope that inspires you in your plot.

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  • $\begingroup$ I loved your answer. The way you elaborated on misanthropy could be of great inspiration for the development of a character who wants to preserve the status quo, like a member of the Government. I would like to meet you for more inspiration but I suspect you would HATE meeting ANYBODY :-D $\endgroup$ – Giuseppe Mar 23 '15 at 11:02
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If there was no human relationships, we wouldn't know each other, not talk to each other, because both of those things is a relationship. Anything you would do to someone is not available to you. You can't do things you were supposed to do. The internet also connects people. You wouldn't be able to use the internet unless it has no human contact. No Skype, SnapChat, No Instagram, (Oh no I can't see your food!) Dubsmash. You can't have anything. You can have a connection with your dog. Hope this Helps You

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