The Loneliest Ward is a critique on a social-media-obsessed world, showing the ignorance and lack of compassion from those entranced by the minute details of online presence. Coupled with a disease whose cure is a constant barrage of compliments and positive encouragement through mental stimulation, it’s a jarring look at the downward-trending mindsets of the collective consciousness due to our obsession with minute-by-minute updates and the need to be ‘liked.’
THE LONELIEST WARD
Hao Jingfang, translated by Ken Liu
Clarkesworld Magazine, August 2018
(Originally published in 2013)
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The story centers on a disease that causes crippling social anxiety in its victims, sending them into a coma. The only temporary cure appears to be mental stimulation using positive praise attuned to what each person needs to hear. We see two vastly differing nurses, one caring about the patients and one caring only about herself. It’s fascinating to see a character so uninterested in those around her, and very telling of the direction our society is headed. It’s especially jarring when you realize this future narrative was written five years ago and we are now living in a world controlled by social media and our constant need to be widely accepted and acknowledged.
We see two primary characters representing the generation gap of the pre- and post-social media world. The pre-socia media character has compassion for the patients in the world. She’s deeply interested in their conditions, wants to understand them, and has written professional studies examining this disease that is becoming a pandemic. The post-social media character is obsessed with stalking her boyfriend on social media, preferring to stare at screens while she should be helping patients. She criticizes the diligence of her counterpart, not seeing the point in helping these people who she believes are goners. It’s a stark divide between these two women, one that’s quite jarring when placed within a hospital setting where care and compassion truly matter.
The action takes place within the confines of a hospital populated solely by two nurses and patients in a coma, hence “The Loneliest Ward.” The social media world is a great addition, with people assistants that live solely in a digital space, sent to stalk people across the web and report back with any activity. It’s quite telling that a technology designed to spy on people isn’t considered taboo but part of normal life.
Social Media, Dystopia, Disease, Infection, Human Compassion
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