“Multitasking” has been the leadership buzzword of the decade


Would you get a brain implant if it allowed you to work 2-3 times faster than before? Would you be left behind for choosing not to stick devices in your skull? How does one choose? What effects could this choice have on a family where not everyone agrees? These are some of the questions Pinsker brings up in this exploration of the well-established question – is all technology good?

“Multitasking” has been the leadership buzzword of the decade, with corporate culture pushing individuals to have an increasing number of balls in the air in a bid to manage it all, and this attitude has spilled over to our personal lives as well, with results varying from efficient to disastrous and emotionally unfulfilling. What if there was a medical innovation that could help us multitask successfully? The urge to do more isn’t always productivity-driven, either. In a world with constant distractions competing for our attention, could there be a way to harness this natural urge to switch between tasks without having to give up the constant hits of dopamine that we are used to? And more importantly, would this be a good thing?

This is the premise of We Are Satellites, a gizmo called The Pilot, which is installed in the wearer’s head, grants the wearer the ability to successfully process multiple sources of data and work on several tasks simultaneously, without taxing the brain. When school education seems to be entirely geared towards students with the signature LED lights flashing at their temples, high-schooler David convinces his mothers Julie and Val to let him get a pilot too. Forward-thinking Julie sees the potential that it could have for both study and work. She even sees her colleagues at her government job seemingly do more with the Pilot, and this leads her to support David’s choice. Val, on the other hand, is a lot more wary of the risks of having elective brain surgery. Her hesitancy is in part due to her inherent cautious nature but mostly because their younger daughter, Sophie, has suffered from epilepsy all through her young life. Val doesn’t understand why anyone who has seen first-hand the delicate balance of a human brain would risk jeopardizing normal function.

Story Cont...

As the story progresses, the true flavour of the novel is revealed, though it is written with the backdrop of science fiction, it is exploration of family dynamics during a difficult time Years pass by and both David and Julie have their own Pilots, while Val and Sophie slowly become outliers in this technology-driven society. Add to this yet another facet – as Julie adjusts with her Pilot well, David finds himself fielding a thousand intrusive thoughts per minute, something he calls “Noise”, which readers may identify as sensory overload. However, having all but begged his cash-strapped parents for the Pilot, he cannot bring himself to be very vocal about the problems he is facing, which isolates him from those around him. In a desperate bid to regain control over his life, David enlists in the Army where his hyperalertness is put to good use

The youngest member of the family is coping with her Pilot experience (or lack thereof, as her epilepsy makes her an unsuitable candidate for the implant) in her own way. Sophie is drawn to the antiPilot movement, advocating for the Pilot to be outlawed. Val and Julie find themselves trying to hold together this family of opposing views, while dealing with their own opinions on the issue. New information regarding the strategic deployment of Pilots to politicians, suppression of compelling research, and sizeable anecdotal evidence regarding the aftereffects of having a Pilot long term come into the orbit of the Protagonists suddenly, and now, after carefully laying well fleshed out character profiles, does the action commence. In the end, its just four people who, while trying to help and protect the people they love, wield the power to hurt them the most.

Story Cont...

The dialogue and character development are refreshingly real, with the choices made by the characters reflecting what any layperson would have done in such situations. Change is scary, and in modern times, conformance to new social/technological standards like social media, cellular phones, digital networking, e-banking etc. are becoming increasingly necessary for even basic financial stability, not just success. A problem isn’t a problem till it affects you personally. In addition to this, the tone is refreshingly neutral, analysing the pros and cons of scientific innovation without getting swept up in a cloud of conspiracy and gloom, or unnecessarily demonizing the entire medical industry. This makes it a maturely written book unlike the overly sentimental Young Adult offerings with similar themes.

Avid readers of the sci-fi/ dystopian genre may find this novel familiar to many others where the central conflict is the tech/corporate overreach. However, the key difference is that this is a microscopic look and one family’s experiences without much generalization into the larger society’s problems, unlike what we usually see in such setting. A book that explores similar themes and would make a good companion reading to this one, is The Bar Code Tattoo, by Suzanne Weyn. Weyn imagines a world where all adult citizens are forcibly barcoded under the guise of paper-free ID and transactions, but is, in reality, a govt-approved mass homogenization program that seeks to weed out neurodivergent members of society

This genre has become increasingly formulaic off late, usually taking the form of a trilogy with a brilliant conflictintroducing first book and subsequent lackluster attempts to resolve the same through mass revolution and anarchy, only to have the protagonist end up somewhat unsatisfied and disillusioned with the truth that those who wield power, even if in the name of public good, are all similar.

SPOILER ALERT: Without giving away too much, the ending of this book was a very happy surprise to me as it veers away from the above formula to come up with an independent conclusion, if a tad too wholesome. It sets a direction and follows it with intent. The cautious optimism, unbiased alternate viewpoints, and immense clarity of thought, make this book a must-read.