The Fall and its aftermath continues to be a major influence on transhuman culture and society. Prior to the start of the evacuation, more than ninety-nine percent of the people who survived the Fall had never been off Earth. For them, space was a distant realm where other, more daring and adventurous people lived, a place Earth dwellers only saw on videos. Earth was their home. Then, in the course of a few short years, hundreds of millions of people were forced to leave Earth. The fortunate few first evacuees left with no more than a dozen kilograms of possessions, while the vast majority were infomorph refugees who left Earth with nothing, not even their bodies.
Today, transhumanity is divided into three groups. The first group contains the true veterans of space life, the less-than-one-percent of humanity that was already living in space before the Fall. The second group is the ten percent of the population that was either born after the Fall or is too young to remember living on Earth. The remaining eighty-nine percent of the current population of the solar system lived generally happy and prosperous lives on Earth before the Fall forced them to flee for their lives. These refugees from Earth form a powerful social force, but as time goes on memories of Earth grow dim, and people adapt to their new homes and lives.
The Longing for Earth
Most of transhumanity, especially those who were forced to flee from the dying Earth, still mourn their former home. Their longing for and nostalgia of Earth has profoundly affected transhuman culture. Artifacts from Earth, including ones as trivial as coins or bits of dried vegetation, are considered to be treasured mementos that have great economic and emotional value.
The interdiction of Earth makes acquiring such artifacts quite difficult and dangerous. As a result, the trade in Earth artifacts is a lucrative portion of the black market, enough so that fearless scavengers are willing to risk being shot down by a patrolling killsat just to get to Earth, where they also face death from numerous lingering dangers. The mesh is peppered with stories of daring explorers who traveled to Earth to retrieve all manner of priceless relics, as well as an equal number of stories about explorers who died or simply vanished on such expeditions. More than one team of gatecrashers has funded their expedition through a preliminary relic-hunting expedition to Earth, which serves to test their mettle while they work to raise funds.
|As both a reminder and a visible marker of their lost homeland, a significant number of refugees from Earth wear jewelry containing a coin or, more rarely, an old stamp from transhumanity’s former home. Popularly known as nostalgia jewelry, most of these items are made into pendants or lapel pins, but a few are rings. Before the Fall, coins and stamps were largely curiosities primarily of interest to collectors, having fallen out of use forty years BF. Already scarce, few were saved during the Fall as carrying such useless mass off Earth during the evacuation was discouraged or forbidden. A few extensive collections already existed off-world, however. Even so, less than a million authentic samples survived, meaning the vast majority of people wearing such items make do with exact copies made in cornucopia machines. Actual coins or stamps are very expensive, meaning that some daring scavengers are willing to risk the interdiction of Earth for the express purpose of salvaging relics.|
Nostalgia for Earth also affects the way transhumanity has redesigned itself. In the decade prior to the Fall, humanity had begun to freely alter itself, with both radical body modification and the first commercial resleeving resulting in a growing number of obviously non-human morphs. The vast majority of current morphs, however, are relatively human in appearance (if not in internal structure). Even for people too young to remember the Fall, asserting individual humanity is an important part of post- Fall culture. Some people keep a resemblance to the traditional human form as a remembrance of Earth, while others do it to celebrate humanity’s victory over the monstrous and inhuman TITANs that attempted to destroy them. With the exception of a few eccentric groups like the ultimates, the majority of humanity values looking human and preserving human traditions and institutions. Also, even the ultimates’ current version of their remade morph is considerably more human looking than the versions their predecessors designed before the Fall. As a result, while synthmorphs are relatively common, most are made to look humanoid. There are a few radically inhuman morphslike the novacrab, the arachnoid, and the flexbot, but they are almost exclusively used for highly specialized purposes. Until recently, anyone who used one as their primary morph was considered deeply eccentric (or worse), but attitudes have gradually begun to soften, and these morphs are gradually becoming more acceptable for regular use.
This mixture of reverence and nostalgia for Earth sometimes has a darker side. Individuals who choose to have morphs that look visibly non-human experience a mild degree of prejudice in many habitats, and militant bioconservatives denounce those who look sufficiently non-human as being covert allies of the TITANs. Uplifted animals also face significant discrimination from many humans. These prejudices are relatively common in the inner system and can be quite extreme among bioconservatives. As a result, uplifts and individuals who prefer inhuman-looking morphs often live in separatist communities in the outer system. In much of the inner system, uplifts and individuals using a visibly non-human morph as their primary or only morph are viewed with suspicion and occasionally treated as second-class citizens. While most habitats have laws mandating morphological freedom and many also have laws making prejudice based on morphological choice illegal, these attitudes remain quite resilient.
Fear and Paranoia
The Fall left behind a persistent legacy of fear. This has faded over the past decade, but a great many humans still unconsciously expect the other shoe to drop and the TITANs to return at any moment. Others worry that their agents are already among them, preparing for the complete destruction of humanity. The arrival of the Factors caused widespread panic, and even today a substantial minority of people assumes they are cat’s paws for the TITANs—or possibly their creations.
There are a few (often insane or deeply eccentric) people who worship the TITANs or otherwise support their agenda (including self-described “singularity seekers” who hope to find and be uploaded by the TITANs to join their ascension to super-intelligence), but all of them must keep their beliefs carefully hidden.Even now, expressing any support for the TITANs or advocating the creation of self-improving seed AIs
is illegal in most habitats. Anyone who does so runs the risk of becoming the target of mob violence that the authorities are unlikely to investigate too closely. Merely being suspected of being a supporter of the TITANs, or worse, someone who has been secretly infected by them and is now their agent, is enough to get someone shunned or even killed. While such incidents are now far rarer than they were in the first few years after the Fall, people who act too eccentric and who lack someone with a sufficiently high rep to defend them or explain their actions are occasionally killed, typically by being thrown out an airlock. Those responsible for these “spacings” are dealt with quite harshly in most habitats, since in almost all cases later investigation reveals that the victim had no connection to the TITANs.
There are also periodic rumors in many habitats, especially small and isolated habitats, that one or more other habitats have been taken over by the TITANs, leading to a variety of inter-habitat problems. Such rumors are usually resolved fairly quickly, but the most persistent can seriously harm relations between habitats. Claims that other habitats are infested with or even controlled by agents of the TITANs are frequently employed by extreme bioconservatives hoping to demonize radical habitats populated entirely by infomorphs or synthmorphs. As more people manage to put the fear and horror of the Fall behind them, such claims are less likely to be believed. Unfortunately, on very rare occasions, people are still infected by TITAN-created relics and actually become their unwilling agents. Since such incidents are rare, however, they have become easy to dismiss.
Real and Social Distance
The vast distances between most habitats give all communications—with the exception of those using the rare and expensive QE communicators a significant time lag between asking a question and receiving an answer. In most cases, the time lag ranges from ten seconds to several hours, and it makes realtime communications between distant habitats difficult or impossible. Communication problems only serve to further isolate habitats from one another, and as a result people socialize primarily with members of their own habitat (or habitat cluster, if their habitat is part of one of the various groupings of between two and twenty habitats that abound throughout the solar system).
Within a habitat or habitat group, communication between residents is effectively instantaneous, thanks to the omnipresent wireless grid known as the mesh. Anyone wearing a mid-range ecto or using basic Mesh Inserts can communicate with others in ways that go far beyond mere voice contact. Both devices allow AR communications that are in most ways barely distinguishable from in-person communication, so people can effectively spend in-person time with anyone in their habitat at any moment when both of them are free and interested in communicating. Unless someone deliberately wishes to turn off communication because they are sleeping or otherwise busy, people can always get in touch with one another. Many close friends and romantic partners regularly communicate anytime they have a spare moment, sharing comments and jokes. This communication is far more awkward and distant if there is a time lag of several minutes between every comment, so inter-habitat communication is never as informal or close.
Although travel via egocasting is as easy, if not as cheap, as communication, a trip to another habitat is considered to be a significant journey with a range of costs. Individuals traveling to a different habitat will no longer be able to engage in real-time communication or shared real-time entertainments with people back on the habitat they left, so the traveler will have to find a new social environment. In addition to the trouble and expense of acquiring a new morph in the new habitat, the social distance between individuals and the social network they leave behind is part of the cost of travel. Before the Fall, refugees from Earth were accustomed to being able to easily communicate with anyone else on Earth. Wealthier individuals could easily journey just about anywhere on the planet in a few hours while still being able to communicate with everyone back in their home city with no noticeable change. The exodus of transhumanity from Earth, though, means that an individual’s social world is only as large as their habitat. Even a relatively brief communication lag, such as the two to thirty seconds that is the average time lag between any two of the Jovian or Saturnian moons, greatly hinders the flow of back-and-forth communication. When time-lags are involved, most communication consists of messages rather than any attempt at continuous conversations. In situations where a more in-depth discussion is necessary and time is limited, someone can send a fork of themselves to hold the discussion remotely on their behalf, and then return for reintegration. Since there is already a large time lag between sending a message and obtaining any possible response, most people do not hurry to answer messages from distant habitats except in the most urgent circumstances, further isolating people residing in distant portions of the solar system.
The Rise of Cultural Regions
The only exception to the social distance between different habitats occurs when colonies are located on or in relatively close orbit around the same planet or moon. The inhabitants of Mars can all communicate with one another instantaneously, as can everyone on Luna or in Lunar orbit. However, the rivalry between the various Martian city-states—and between the primary hypercorp domes and the rural Martian poor—imposes its own social distance. Individuals from different city-states do socialize, but among the elite social cliques, spending too much time communicating with members of another city-state is viewed as somewhat odd and potentially even disloyal. As a result, Martians tend to be relatively isolated even from their close neighbors. Nevertheless, the short distances between the Martian city-states and the orbiting habitats mean that there remains a general Martian culture that is different from the cultures of the rest of the solar system. Distance barriers have produced similar levels of cultural differentiation in other portions of the solar system.
The colonies in the vicinity of both Jupiter and Saturn each form a separate cultural unit, as do the colonies in Earth orbit and on and around Luna. The same is true for the Jovian Trojan and Greek asteroids. In each of these regions, people communicate and travel more between habitats and settlements than they do with outside regions. Social scientists refer to the different sections of the solar system as separate cultural regions. The different regions of the belt also each form a similar cultural region, but because asteroids in different orbits eventually drift quite far apart, the cohesion and unity of these cultural units is somewhat weaker. Habitats on the edge of the solar system (around Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) form very small cultural regions, but the few habitats in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud have no cultural region since the distance between them is so extreme.
Though communications between habitats within the same cultural region is somewhat awkward due to intra-regional cultural differences and small timelags, it is usually fast and easy enough for people on different habitats to keep in regular contact with one another. In addition, most habitats within the same cultural region are sufficiently close that egocasting between them is affordable by most people. In contrast, egocasting between cultural regions is relatively expensive. Many social scientists predict that within one or two decades, different cultural regions will be at least as different from one another as distant nations of Earth were from one another during the first half of the 20th century—perhaps even more so due to the physical alterations that cultures introduce as they continue to evolve.
While nostalgia for Earth remains a powerful social motivation, the break from Earth led many inhabitants of the solar system to experiment with new forms of culture and society. Since the Fall destroyed physical links with the past and the defeat of the last old-Earth governments ended ideological ties with the old political and social forces, many transhumans saw themselves as living in a new, free era where the past was dead. Even people who always wear nostalgia jewelry and spend several hours a day in simulspaces set on old Earth are very interested in the possibility of social and political experimentation. Those without criticisms of Earth’s nation-states and their many failings still rue the day when Earth fell.
Many of the most extreme social experimenters moved to the numerous small outer system habitats that were created in the decade after the Fall, but people interested in social and cultural experimentation can be found throughout the solar system. In addition to playing with various interior structure and design ideas, the inhabitants of many stations experiment with all manner of unique social and political rules. A few habitats do so quite deliberately, either because the members are interested in social innovation or because researchers associated with a hypercorp or university have offered them goods or services in return for testing one of their latest theories. Such experiments have included establishing stations where all of the residents are sleeved in hermaphroditic morphs in order to measure the impact on customs and language when gender is abolished or spurring the residents of a particular station to freely switch their morphs based on the responsibilities and duties they have on a given day. Such staged experiments are however, relatively rare—the vast majority of unique customs and social structures that have come about since the Fall naturally evolved from groups of likeminded individuals living together in the same habitat and working, consciously or not, to make life better fit with their aesthetics or ideology.
Gender, Sexuality, and Relationships
To many transhumans, gender has become an outdated social construct with no basis in biology. After all, it’s hard to give credence to gender roles when an ego can easily modify their sex, switch skins, or experience the lives of others via XP. Though most transhumans still adhere to the gender associated with their original biological sex, many others switch gender identities as soon as they reach adulthood or avidly pursue repeated transgender switching. Still others examine and adopt untraditional sex-gender identities such as neuters (believing a lack of sex allows greater focus in their pursuits) or dual gender (the best of both worlds). In many bioconservative habitats and cultures, however, more traditional gender roles persevere.
Sexuality has also expanded into new frontiers and taboos. With basic biomods providing contraception and protections from STDs, casual sex is the norm. Many people pursue careers as well-paid companions and escorts. In fact, sexual experimentation is standard thanks to several new technologies. Virtual reality allows sexual encounters without physically touching a partner, not to mention bringing all manner of fantasies to life. For those that prefer the touch of real skin, AI-driven pleasure pods can fulfill any and all needs and are a legal form of prostitution in many habitats. Sex-switching also lends itself to new experiences, whether via bio-mods or a new sleeve. Even AGIs, having been socialized as humans, exhibit sexuality and desire.
The extension of lifespans and the decline of religion have drastically impacted social institutions like marriage. Given the possible changes to both cognition and biology over a transhuman’s lifetime, lifelong relationships are no longer considered realistic. The idea of long-term relationships as a social contract has grown exponentially. While this has resulted in a number of marriages that are political or like a business transaction, most people continue to view marriage as a bond of emotional attachment and trusts—in particular a bond that transcends bodies, as either partner may change morphs at any time.
The Diversity of Habitats
The ability of a few thousand like-minded people of moderate means to acquire a small habitat where they can create their own society resembles the ability of inhabitants of the United States in the 19th century to set out for the West and found their own ideologically based communities. The primary difference is that creating such communities is faster and easier in the modern era. The mesh is filled with all manner of virtual communities where members hope to eventually gather the means to create their own habitats. In most cases, these are merely idle dreams; most participants are not willing to sacrifice the time and rep or money needed. Occasionally the members try, only to find out that some of the people promoting this effort are con artists. Occasionally virtual subcultures manage to raise the necessary dedication and trust to build their own habitat and begin the process of creating their own physical society. A decade of this sort of cultural experimentation by many hundreds of habitats has produced a number of unique and strange societies.
As an example, there are habitats where the inhabitants wear garments and AR images that cover their bodies—and, in the most extreme cases, their faces—and residents only reveal their morph’s true appearance to their closest friends and immediate family. There are also stations where all members use cosmetic modification to adopt the same ideal look, as well as ones where all residents use morphs that are clones of one another. Some of the most eccentric habitats are populated by extreme bioconservatives overcome with nostalgia for the past, leading them to model both their society and all visible technology after some earlier period in history, typically some time between zero and 50 years BF.
There are even a few habitats that totally disregard commonly held feelings about forks and merging. Such community members regularly split off multiple forks when they awaken and plan their day and then merge the various forks when they go to sleep that night. Some forks remain infomorphs for the day, while others use one of the various morphs the individual owns or rents, which means that each resident typically lives between two and six separate lives every day. A few societies, like the home of the infamous Pax Familiae, go even further—all residents are forks of the same individual. In some of these solipsistic habitats, the forks are all expected to use cloned morphs, while in others each fork is considered a separate person who should go and forge their own unique life. Some of the less extreme manifestations of this type of habitat include places inhabited by families that are partially or entirely composed of forks of one of the members (the various forks tend to be treated as siblings).