Mikrodystopies? What's that?

Mikrodystopies describe unusual situations in an ultra-short text, just a few characters, and project us into a not-so-distant future where social networks, robots and artificial intelligence truly have invaded our daily lives.

Mikrodystopies are short because they come from Twitter (now X) on which they were originally published from 2018 to 2023. Each situation, in their futuristic daily life, is described in 280 characters, not one more, including spaces. This is the length of a tweet, and it still allows a lot of ideas and imagination to be shared.

In addition, this size constraint really makes the exercise of writing and conciseness more fun and interesting.

  • If your curious, some of the Mikrodystopies were also collected into a book by C&F Éditions in 2020, available in French.


Why writing Mikrodystopies?

In addition to its entertaining aspect, writing micro-fictions (very short stories) is a way to question the increasingly important place that technology occupies in our daily lives.

Each Mikrodystopy takes place in our everyday lives. When we are surrounded by our family, at school or at work… where we already are in regular contact with technology. Or when we go on a trip, when we are promised autonomous or… flying cars.

Writing Mikrodystopies allows us to imagine the future relationship we could have with these devices, the services they could provide us but also the problems and harms they could cause. These stories are a reflection of the relationship we already have with the technology that surrounds us.


How to write a Mikrodystopy ?

Writing a Mikrodystopy follows three very simple rules:

  1. Mikrodystopies are not stories, they are everyday situations. Outing with friends, enjoying family meals... everyday life easily lends itself to dystopia. Don't imagine too far! Take inspiration from your daily life, it's the best way to make impact.

  2. Mikrodystopies play with technological innovations. On the Internet, many sites report on the latest innovations and can serve as inspiration. Imagine how the technology they present will turn our daily lives upside down... That’s when dystopia arises!

  3. Mikrodystopies are 280 characters! This includes punctuation marks and spaces. Keep it simple and impactful... Don't try to tell a story, simply expose a disturbing, intriguing situation. As for the form, do not hesitate to use dialogues or synonyms, this often helps to shorten your texts.


What about an example ?

There's nothing like an example to fully understand this mechanic. Here is a banal situation that could quickly be transformed, as long as we mix in a little technology and imagination:

  1. Everyday situation: According to his parents, Sacha spends way too much time on his smartphone. They often confiscate and hide it so that he can concentrate on more “concrete activities”.

  2. Technological innovation: Tomorrow, implants grafted under the skin will allow us to be remotely connected to any electronic device and control it with a simple gesture.

  3. Mikrodystopy: “Sacha paced around the living room of the apartment, gently passing his hands over the different shelves... The electronic sensors present at his fingertips suddenly began to vibrate, indicating the place where his parents had hidden his smartphone.” (249 characters)


Going further: adding some writing constraints

Writing Mikrodystopies can become a design fiction or prospective exercise if you add a few constraints.

#1 - Impose the use of a specific technology.

Start by imagining several situations such as preparing Sunday meal, a romantic date on Saturday evening or back to school day. Situations in which you must involve an... intelligent voice assistant, but a little too autonomous one. These banal moments can then very easily degenerate. You see what I mean…

This first type of writing constraint – the obligatory use of technology – allows us to imagine the possible undesirable effects of technology, its unexpected impact on our daily lives.


#2 - Imagine the use of a technology in a different or restricted context.

Now imagine situations involving technology but in an unforeseen context. This could involve, for example, using an automatic translator, taking a trip in an autonomous vehicle, or searching for a memory in your neural implant. How could these situations be undermined by a change of context? For example, the establishment of a time quota for the Internet network, which is now only accessible for everyone only two hours per day.

This second type of constraint – context change – allows us to consider hacks, circumvention scenarios for our current technology, and to highlight our own dependencies.


#3 - Forbid the use of a technologie.

This time imagine the world around you but in which a technology has completely disappeared (or has been banned). This could be the use of a smartphone, a car, an airplane, or any other technological tool. This is not a question of going back in time, but of imagining alternative uses. For example: you have access to map data from your smartphone, in real time, but GPS location is no longer authorized. How to find your way while traveling? What scenarios can you imagine?

This constraint – the disappearance of a technology – makes it possible to consider austerity and workaround solutions, or even to put forward low-tech solutions.


#4 - Switch to utopia.

One last exercise? Radically change your imagination model and switch to utopia. Utopia consists of imagining desirable futures, alternatives where technology has not necessarily disappeared but in which you would want to live or work. To do this, do not hesitate to divert technologies from their current uses, or to take on the 3 previous exercises: impose, change context or prohibit!

This alternative – the transition to utopia – can radically change the way you write micro-fiction, and open up new avenues of thought.


It's your turn!

Interested by this kind of exercise? All you have to do is grab your keyboard or pen.

Different organizations have already conducted Mikrodystopies writing workshops in recent years: Le Réseau Canopé around the theme of education, the CNIL Innovation Lab (in French), future proche (in French) association and the Fondation Internet nouvelle génération (in French), but also in educational and cultural environments.

Want to organize your own writing workshop? Contact me and we can discuss your project together.

François Houste


Some links to go further (in French)