Our focus this week is on the role played by vision technologies in altering or sustaining our collective ambivalence about technology. We were offered many different options to discuss, but I chose to respond to the following prompt: Why are technologies tied in television shows like H+ to the dystopic as opposed to the utopic? Are we already so rosy-eyed or inculcated with the notion of technology that we need authors and filmmakers to remind us to hesitate?
Spanish philosopher George Santayana once said “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I think this is one of the reasons why dystopian novels and TV shows remain popular. Societies need to be reminded that these atrocities can happen without warning. Whether technological or biological, these horrors can become reality.
I read a book last year called Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The basic plot is that the Georgia Flu epidemic wipes out nearly the entire population on Earth. I don’t know if it’s because part of it is set in Toronto (close to my hometown of Hamilton) or what, but reading that book really spooked me. It reminded me that we have experienced other biological epidemics not too long ago: Zika, Ebola, MERS, SARS. It reminded me to keep sanitiser in my bag (as if that will help anything) and to be cognisant of anyone who seems overly ill (coughing fit, watery eyes, pale skin, etc.) But you know what happens? That feeling lasts for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, and then you begin to forget. This is why there is continued proliferation of dystopian texts. We need to be reminded.
When I watched the first episode of H+, it unnerved me. While I thought it was cool that people could use emerging technology to place a “computer in their brain,” I also thought it was a little too invasive. The part that struck me, though, was when people started dropping dead. In episode two, when we learn that the network (in their brains) is infected, I immediately made the connection back to Station Eleven. Our lives are not free of disease just because we have access to the newest technology; in fact, we can still succumb to infections because of the newest technology.
It would be irresponsible of us to ignore these facts and only publish or produce utopian style works. Our world is not rosy; indeed, it’s never been rosy. Perpetuating the idea that we can all live in peace and harmony until the end of time is a myth, a fantasy. I don’t want to sound like a fatalist, but it’s important for our society to be exposed to dystopian works just as much as we are exposed to “feel-good” works. There is nothing wrong with striking a balance between the two, as long as we remind ourselves that there is always the possibility of contracting a metaphorical, technological, or biological disease through the progress we make.
Barber, R. E. “Cyborg.” Flickr, Yahoo!, https://www.flickr.com/photos/39873796@N06/.
Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven. Toronto, ON, HarperCollins Canada, 2015.
Singer, Bryan, “H+ The Digital Series.” www.youtube.com/user/HplusDigitalSeries.