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Jeevan found himself thinking about how human the city is, how human everything is. We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt. -Station Eleven

Have you ever read a book that just perfectly captured your life in a given moment? That’s this book for me, right now. Station Eleven is a few years old, so I’m definitely late to this party, but Emily St. John Mandel’s writing is just stunning and was exactly what I needed after the trash fire that has been this year. Mandel weaves together the stories of a few people affected by a global flu disaster. Like, civilization-ending disaster. Seeing as how I’ve been sick with a cold for the past two weeks and, you know, the election and the rest of 2016 happened, reading about the end of the world due to a virus has been both upsetting and oddly comforting. Besides all the expected end-of-the-world doom and death, there’s a prevailing sense of hope throughout Station Eleven: hope that humanity will rebuild, hope that there’s safety out there somewhere, and hope that regrets can be put behind us before the end comes.

Besides that grim hope, Station Eleven also discusses technology and our relationship with it in a refreshing way. Because the story jumps between before the flu and after the flu, you get to see how the same characters relate to each other with technology and without. Lo and behold, humanity discovers that people were making modern life happen all along!

This concept of people-driven-technology is somewhat of a recurring theme for me right now. The ever-growing importance of technology in everyday life combined with changing political climates is sparking a reinvigorated conversation around ethics and compassion in digital work. Take for instance this lovely piece on amending Dieter Rams’ seminal Ten principles of good design with an ethics-focused principal. While the definition of ethical design is perhaps up for debate, the necessity of having that discussion is not. Ethically designed technology is, I think, inherently compassionate – it’s made not only for people, but for the good of people. Perhaps if more technology was made for the good of people we’d find it easier to remember how many people we encounter through technology every day?

There’s much, much more to discuss about compassion in this industry I find myself in, but we’re here to book review, right? Station Eleven left me feeling hopeful and reflective, which is honestly my favorite mix of post-book feels. The story moves fast and it does get hard to put down; I could probably have finished it in a few sittings if I hadn’t felt the need to savor it more. The various story lines are masterfully woven together, even as they jump from before-flu to after-flu. Mandel does leave the book on an open note, but I felt the uncertainty suited the overall message of the story: something always comes next, even after catastrophe.

 

PS. Come find me on Goodreads if you’re into that sort of thing!

 

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