Proposed Trope: Growing Human Dependence on Technology

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Growing Human Dependence on Technology is an intersection of the primary tropes Machine Labor, Human Labor, and Work. Occurring in many pieces of literature that mention the growth of technology as well as the change in the forms of human labor, this trope illustrates the growth of human dependence on machines that do the same labor that once represented a variety of human occupations. In addition, this trope often demonstrates both positive and negative connotations associated with a growing human dependence on machine labor.


Contents

Appearances

Real Life

In real life we find a number of examples of our growing dependence on technology. More and more, people are finding themselves at the whims of technology, spending their lives on their computer, on their phones, or tied up with video games. While it's impossible to say whether this dependence is good or bad, it is undeniable-- people spend significantly more time attached to something electrical now than they did even twenty years ago.

Class Readings

The Machine Stops

In The Machine Stops, E.M. Forster creates a society set in the future in which individuals live, for the most part, alone in cells underground. They interact with the world through the use of "The Machine," a machine that brings them any material object at their every whim. The people in the society have developed a dependency on The Machine to bring them all their necessities. The dependency grows to such an extent that, while boarding an airship and in a location away from the aid of The Machine, a man drops his guide to The Machine, The Book, and is unable to reach down and pick it up. Because "[i]n the rooms, if the Book was dropped, the floor raised it mechanically,"[1] the man is unsure how to act when the Book does not move toward his hand. The individuals in the society have reached a level of dependence on The Machine such that they can no longer perform basic tasks on their own, such as picking up a book off the ground. When The Machine stops working, the humans that used The Machine are completely unable to to provide for themselves, and they must rely on the help of humans that were not dependent on The Machine. As a result, The Machine Stops emphasizes that growing human dependence on technology inhibits humans' abilities to do for themselves even basic activities which, before the era of The Machine, rarely presented any difficulty.

Schismatrix

The novel Schismatrix describes a future society in which humanity has moved towards a heavy dependence on technology. There are two main groups of people: the Shapers and the Mechanists. Both groups believe that technology is key in overcoming the limitations of the human body and mind. Although the motivation behind these groups' thoughts is to transcend a seemingly limiting human form, they do so by becoming almost entirely dependent on technology.

The Shapers use technology to dramatically enhance and arguably replace human emotion. The characteristics that define Shapers - long lifespan, altered DNA - are natural, but brought about by technology. Without the influence of technology, the Shapers would not have been able to reach the altered form they currently possess. Meanwhile, the Mechanists are perhaps even more dependent on technology. They are characterized by mechanical alterations that change their form. A notable Mechanist, Ryumin, has not only literally merged with technology, but is so dependent upon technology that he never learned to read.

When the main character Lindsay loses his Shaper abilities, his life is dramatically changed. He can no longer call upon a large part of who he used to be. This greatly changes Lindsay's approach towards life and represents a removal of technology from his life.

Much is made about the transcendence of the human body through this society's integration of technology. However, their dependence upon technology is seemingly overlooked. The removal of technology from the society of those in Schismatrix would certainly spell doom for both groups of thought.

Other Media

  • Feed: A book by Matthew Tobin Anderson about a futuristic dystopia in which most humans have implanted chips in their heads. Key features include: the degradation of society as it loses touch with its natural Self and creates a more mechanical Self, shown through the replacement of a park with an "air farm" and other occurrences; the loss of true knowledge and intellectual ability as the implanted chips progressively handle more and more thinking for the individuals; and finally the death of an individual because of a malfunctioning implant, simultaneously compared to the degradation of society as it becomes more based on improvements in technology.
  • WALL-E: A film in which the entire human population has moved to spaceships because the Earth is too dirty for life. Humans become so reliant on technology that they never leave their levitating chairs and seem to reside in a virtual world. The resolution of the movie involves the humans leaving their chairs and their technology behind to rebuild Earth.
  • Idiocracy: A movie about a man that enters hibernation for an extended period of time and, when he awakes, finds himself to be the smartest man on earth. The man quickly discovers that humanity's intelligence has devolved and that the human beings are completely reliant on their technology to keep their society function. Some decisions are automated and drastically fail at times, resulting in incidence including the layoff of half of the American workforce and great garbage avalanches. In a future where no one knows or cares how things work, society crumbles rapidly.
  • "There Will Come Soft Rains": A short story detailing the daily functions of an automated house. The house caters to all of the needs of its human inhabitants, undertaking tasks that range from mowing the lawn to entertaining children to making martinis. In the story, however, the human occupants have long since died, yet the house continues on as usual. The story concludes with a fire decimating the house, put not completely destroying its electronic mind.

Comparisons to Other Intersections and Tropes

Trope Justification

The Growing Human Dependence on Technology is a trope that should be used in this wiki for a number of reasons. Forster's The Machine Stops definitely notes the possible negative effects of humans becoming highly dependent on machines. Many humans find themselves completely unable to survive without The Machine and must seek the help of those who know how to without the help of The Machine. Forster notes the importance of this trope by stressing the disastrous state of society when The Machine fails, and other sources demonstrate similar cases to emphasize the importance of this trope. Anderson, for example, also demonstrates this trope by examining the degradation of society as technology becomes a greater part of human culture. Throughout Feed, Anderson continually mentions the growth of technology and juxtaposes that against the degradation of the natural world. Therefore, authors establish the Growing Human Dependence on Technology as an issue of great importance, and so our wiki, based on exploring science fiction's views of human labor, should also reflect the importance of this trope.

This trope represents an intersection between the primary tropes of Human Labor and Machine Labor by representing the transgression from human to machine labor. In addition, it prompts a serious discussion as to whether improved technology continues to benefit humans in on all levels. Do improvements in technology always truly aid individuals to produce more money, become more efficient, and be more independent? Or is there a possibility that improvements in technology can actually counteract an individual's intellectual growth, ability to make money, and sense of independence?

This trope should be added to our wiki for two reasons. First, it represents an important recurring theme found in many science fiction works that deserves to be discussed. Second, this trope spawns a debate about whether or not society's presently accepted view of technological advancement as a distinct and indisputable sign of improvement is, in fact, justly based.

References

  1. Forster, E.M. (2004). The Machine Stops. Grand Rapids: Kessinger Publishing.
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