new maps by Terafrayne

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Chris Paquette

English 516

Dr. Canaan

2010, November 20

                       New Maps of Hell in Contemporary Dystopian Fiction:
                The Surrender of Human Dignity and Social Institutions to Technology
Am I using this technology or is it using me?
Neil Postman

“Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it. I’m a fraid.”
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey


         As a reasonable and moderate jumping off point, let’s assume that most

professionals in the present community of cultural anthropology and social philosophy

view technology as a medium that stands somewhere between a Pandora’s box and a

Promethean gift, and feel that we are mistaken to make an either/or judgment. Rather,

technology comes with the good and the bad; it always has. Yet, we’re familiar with those

bold statements made by technophiles as we are with technophobes. “Transhumanism” or

“posthumanism” is, for example, an international intellectual and cultural movement

supporting the use of science and technology to improve human mental and physical

characteristics and capacities. The transhumanist vision of a transformed future has

attracted many supporters and detractors from a wide range of perspectives. The

movement has been described by one critic, Francis Fukuyama, as the world's most

dangerous idea, while one proponent, Ronald Bailey, counters that it is the "movement that

epitomizes the most daring, courageous, imaginative, and idealistic aspirations of

humanity."
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         Neil Postman, cultural theorist and author of Technopoly, begins his book, a harsh

indictment of the influence and threat technology has on present culture, by stating that

new technology always presents a kind of Faustian bargain. It always gives us something

important, yet it takes something important as well. That’s shown itself to be true

throughout history, he argues, whether it be from the printing press, telescope, and the

mechanical clock, to electricity, penicillin, the Hubble telescope, and uranium-enrichment

plants. And it remains true with the influence technology now has on medicine, on new

modes of energy, on our approaches to marketing to the consumer, on language, and on

virtually every social institution in society. In moving from “the Age of Gutenberg” to “the

Age of Electronic Communication”, Postman explains that, “new technologies alter the

structure of our interests: the things we think about. They alter the character of our

symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in

which thoughts develop” (20). A passage from Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum, published

in 1620, seems to support this claim.

              It is well to observe the force and effect and consequences of discoveries.
              These are to be seen nowhere more conspicuously than in those three which
              were unknown to the ancients, and of which the origin, though recent, is
              obscure; namely, printing, gunpowder, and the magnet. For these three have
              changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world; the first in
              literature, the second in warfare, the third in navigation; when have followed
              innumerable changes; insomuch that no empire, no sect, no star seems to
              have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these
              changes. (Postman, 36-37)

Further, Postman references Francis Fukuyama’s famous essay, “The End of History?” in

which the writer contends that there will be no more ideological conflicts because all the

competitors to modern liberalism have been defeated. With the contemporary defeat of

fascism and communism, no threat now remains. Countering this claim, Postman argues he
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is wrong. “There is another ideological conflict to be fought—between ‘liberal democracy’

as conceived in the eighteenth century, with all its transcendent moral underpinnings, and

‘Technopoly’, a twentieth century thought-world that functions not only without a

transcendent narrative to provide moral underpinnings but also without strong social

institutions to control the flood of information produced by technology” (Postman 82-83).

       Certainly, some of the bold cautionary statements Postman makes in the book

situate him as a pronounced technophobe. Some have tried to dismiss him by labeling him

an alarmist and even a Luddite, and others, particularly current dystopian writers, clearly

share many of his views. By creating nightmare future worlds that have been somehow

defeated and degraded by technology, these writers satirize the current culture we live in

and express their fears of where it might lead if we “progress” in the same direction.

       In America we tend to be extremely enthusiastic about technology. But there tends

to be very few people who say what technology will undo. How will it undo some of our

social institutions and psychic habits? How can we maximize what is best about a

technology but keep it under control? How can technological innovation benefit moral

progress? How, for example, will online education change our culture? There’s no question

that education will continue to shift toward an online medium. Consequently, it is likely

there will be many other accredited American colleges that will soon offer online graduate

degrees in English. What is gained in online learning and what is lost?

       That’s what, together with Neil Postman, these contemporary dystopian writers are

doing. They say, “Let me direct you to some of the plausible negative consequences if we

continue down this path.” This brand of Juvenalian satire, dystopian fiction, writes in
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response to present fears that are ingrained in the public mind, which, of course, are always

changing.

       One distinct fear at the turn of the 20th century was the effects industrialization

would have on culture, a fear that prompted many of the stories by H.G. Wells and Jules

Verne. Another notable example is Charlie Chaplan’s film “Modern Times”, which satirizes

the consequences of modern industrialization. An American comedy that appeared in 1936,

the film comments on the desperate employment and fiscal conditions many people faced

during the Great Depression—conditions that Chaplin felt were brought about by modern

industrialization. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle stands as another example of satire that

depicts the plight of the working class. Balzac, Flaubert, Dickens, Lawrence and Zola also

documented the spiritual emptiness of “Economic man” in their novels, and the poverty of

the acquisitive impulse.

       Another fear present in the 20th century was that of totalitarian despotism. From

this fear emerged many of the classic dystopian writers: Orwell, Huxley, Rand, Bradbury,

Atwood and Zamyatin. These writers, many of whom experienced the rise of communism

first hand or were just caught up in the paranoia of McCarthyism, were meant to sound the

alarm to nations in the West. Yet, because Marx’s red tide failed to cover the world, new

fears have emerged in our time. Drawing from a title from Kingsley Amis, New Maps of Hell:

A Survey of Science Fiction, I, myself, am fascinated by new visions of chaos that are based

on current cultural fears. How are these new maps different from the old ones? What kind s

of choices can I make to prevent the sort of worlds these speculative writers envision? And

should their warnings even be taken seriously?
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       This study seeks to examine four different works of dystopian fiction that present so

called new maps of hell that are prompted from a fear in our own time: technology’s threat

to human dignity and social institutions. These works—E.M. Forster’s short story, “The

Machine Stops”, M.T. Anderson’s Feed, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and Phillip Dick’s

A Scanner Darkly—together express a similar kind of Frankenstein archetype in which the

creator is overcome by the creation. The expressions of chaos brought on by technology in

these stories are broad, yet they all degrade human dignity in some way and dissolve stable

social institutions. Really, these stories only exaggerate current problems we already face.

Some of these expressions include: the loss of co-present interaction and direct experience

and an emphasis on isolation; enslavement by large corporations; the downfall of literacy

and human thought sacrificed at the alter of electronic marketing and consumerism; the

deification of machines, efficiency and speed; the assault on human dignity bred by

regulated human cloning and organ donation; technologies assault on nature, the

environment; the disappearance of privacy; and the rise of intrusive technology designed

to prevent the threat of crime and terrorism.

       “The Machine Stops” lays the groundwork for the band of anti-technology dystopian

writers who would follow Forster. First published in 1909 when Forster was only thirty,

the same year the first airplane took flight across the English Channel, it has come to be

known as the first anti-technological dystopia of the twentieth-century. His prophetic

foresight of the electronic gadgetry we now find ourselves saturated in is remarkable and

arguably unmatched. The story predicts several technological innovations, such as the

“cinematophote” (television), videoconferencing, computers, fax, email, the silicon chip and

the Internet, which threaten to blot out direct experience, face to face human interaction,
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and man’s link to nature. In the preface to his Collected Short Stories (1947), Forster wrote

that “‘The Machine Stops’ is a reaction to one of the earlier heavens [or optimistic futures]

of H.G. Wells.” Clearly, even in 1909 Forster was deeply concerned that Man was in danger

of becoming unable to live without the technology that he created, and of forgetting that it

was he who created it. Just after “The Machine Stops” was published, however, Forster had

great success with Howard’s End, and he never returned to technological dystopias.

       In his biography on the writer, P.N. Furbank’s states that Orwell and Forster both

felt science and technology could be perverted to become instruments not of human

liberation, but of terror. For both writers, the development of the airplane became a symbol

of the corruption of science and technology, which, though was said to have a civilizing

influence, would soon be used for dropping bombs. In 1903 a Frenchman, Henri Farmon,

would fly a heavier-than-air machine over a kilometer course. In response, Forster

observed that, “It really is a new civilization. I have been born at the end of the age of peace

and can’t expect to feel anything but despair. Science, instead of freeing man…is enslaving

him to machines” (Furbank 161-62).

       The story describes a future world in which most of the human population lives

underground, a feature later adapted by George Lucas in his first film “THX 1138”. Each

individual lives in isolation in a standard 'cell', with all bodily and spiritual needs met by

the omnipotent, global Machine. “In the world of the machine human beings live isolated in

the confines and protective space of small subterranean rooms, refusing all contact with

the external world because they prefer the simulation of experience to experience itself”

(Caporaletti 32).
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       Forster compares the isolated cells that people live inside to a beehive—vast

communities comprised of a densely packed matrix of minimalist living spaces—in the

opening line. “Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape like the cell of a bee. It

is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance” (Forster 87).

Marcia Seabury states that, “the cell of a beehive brings together the several aspects of the

man-made, machine sustained, networked society”—a description that calls to mind the

Internet, the networking medium that has swept up our culture in the last fifteen years.

Subsequent twentieth-century dystopias, such as Huxley’s Brave New World and

Zamyatin’s We also use the hive metaphor. True to the metaphor, the characters in the

story, like bees, are subsumed by the group. The individual is not only small, but is

essentially helpless, dwarfed by the system. Serving it. They are increasingly alone in their

cells, and their “buzz” is electronic.

       The issue of class, which is an ever-present theme in Forster’s novels, is nonexistent

in this story. From this there is the suggestion that technology, or the queen bee, will

disregard one’s birth and accomplishment and create a homogenous society. As Northrop

Frye puts it, today we may have the “growing sense that the whole world is destined to the

same social fate with no place to hide” (29).

       In this world, travel is permitted but unpopular and rarely necessary. The entire

population communicates through a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing

machine called the speaking apparatus, with which they conduct their only activity, the

sharing of second-hand ideas and knowledge. The two main characters, Vashti and her son

Kuno, live on opposite sides of the world. Vashti is content with her vapid life, which she

spends endlessly discussing secondhand “ideas”, as do most inhabitants of the
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underground world. She lacks the power to think or act as an individual. She talks about

the growth of her soul, but all we see her doing is keeping the electronic circuits active

while her soul atrophies. Kuno, however, is a sensualist and a rebel. Though she is resistant,

he is able to persuade his mother to journey across the world to his cell.

       “What is it, dearest boy? Be quick. Why could you not send it by pneumatic post?”
       “Because I prefer saying such a thing. I want—”
       “Well?”
       “I want you to come and see me.”
       Vashti watched his face in the blue plate.
       “But I can see you!” she exclaimed. “What more do you want?”
       “I want to see you not through the Machine,” said Kuno. “I want to speak to
       you not through the wearisome Machine.”
       “Oh, hush!” said his mother, vaguely shocked. “You musn’t say anything against the
       Machine.”

After she relents and travels in air ship to visit, her son tells her of his disenchantment with

the sanitized, mechanical world. He confides to her that he has illegally visited the surface

of the Earth, and without the life support apparatus supposedly required to endure the

toxic outer air, and that he saw other humans living outside the world of the Machine. He

goes on to say that the Machine recaptured him, and that he has been threatened with

“Homelessness”, that is, expulsion from the underground environment and presumed

death. Vashti, however, dismisses her son's concerns as dangerous madness and returns to

her part of the world.

       “I have been threatened with Homelessness,” said Kuno.
       She looked at him now.
       “I have been threatened with Homelessness, and I could not tell you such a thing
       through the Machine.”
       Homelessness means death. The victim is exposed to the air, which kills him.
       “I have been outside since I spoke to you last. The tremendous thing has happened,
       and they have discovered me.”

Eventually, Vashti completely cuts her ties with her son, unable to accept his rebellious

ways. Kuno tries to persuade his mother by making a last desperate effort to explain how
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technology, or the Machine, has degraded their existence. His monologue might be

described as the rally cry of resistance to technology.

       Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that
       down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine? We created the Machine,
       to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense
       of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and
       narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralyzed our bodies and our wills, and
       now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops—but not on our lines. The
       Machine proceeds—but not to our goal.

       As time passes, and Vashti continues the routine of her daily life, two important

developments occur. First, the life support apparatus required to visit the outer world is

abolished. Most humans welcome this development, as they are skeptical and fearful of

first-hand experience and of those who desire it. Secondly, a kind of religion is re-

established, in which the Machine is the object of worship.

       “The Machine,” they exclaimed, “feeds us and clothes us and houses us; through it
       we speak to one another, through it we see one another, in it we have our being. The
       Machine is the friend of ideas and the enemy of superstition; the Machine is
       omnipotent, eternal; blessed is the Machine.”

People forget that humans created the Machine, and treat it as a mystical entity whose

needs supersede their own. Those who do not accept the deity of the Machine are viewed

as 'unmechanical' and are threatened with Homelessness.

       During this time, Kuno is transferred to a cell near Vashti's. He comes to believe that

the Machine is breaking down, and he cryptically tells Vashti, "The Machine stops." For a

time, Vashti continues with her life, but eventually defects begin to appear in the Machine.

At first, humans accept the deteriorations as the whim of the Machine, to which they are

now wholly subservient. The situation continues to deteriorate, as the knowledge of how to

repair the Machine has been lost over the years, and finally the Machine apocalyptically
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collapses, bringing “civilization” with it. Forster presents a vision of chaos and despair, as

the underground society begins to collapse.

       People were crawling about, people were screaming, whimpering, gasping for
       breath, touching each other, vanishing in the dark, and ever and anon being pushed
       off the platform on to the live rail. Some were fighting round the electric bells, trying
       to summon trains, which could not be summoned. Others were yelling for
       Euthanasia or for respirators, or blaspheming the Machine. Others stood at the
       doors of their cells fearing, like herself, either to stop in them or to leave them, and
       behind all the uproar was silence—the silence which is the voice of the earth and of
       the generations who have gone.

Kuno comes to Vashti's ruined cell, however, and before they perish they realize that Man

and his connection to the natural world are what truly matter, and that it will fall to the

surface-dwellers who still exist to rebuild the human race and to prevent the mistake of the

Machine from being repeated.

       “But, Kuno, is it true? Are there still men on the surface of the earth? Is this—this
       tunnel, this poisoned darkness—really not the end?”
       He replied:“I have seen them, spoken to them, loved them. They are hiding in the
       mist and the ferns until our civilization stops. To-day they are Homeless—
       tomorrow—”
       “Oh, tomorrow—some fool will start the Machine again, tomorrow.”
       “Never,” said Kuno, “never. Humanity has learnt its lesson.”
       As he spoke, the whole city was broken like a honeycomb. An air-ship had sailed in
       through the vomitory into a ruined wharf. It crashed downwards, exploding as it
       went, rending gallery after gallery with its wings of steel. For a moment they saw the
       nations of the dead, and, before they joined them, scraps of the untainted sky.

Though this catastrophic vision may be quite an exaggeration of the current problems we

face, there are many parallels. Seabury raises a central thematic question the story

mentions. “What happens to people’s relationships with each other, when their days are

increasingly spent in relationship with a networked communication device? (Seabury 1).

For mother in son here, reconciliation doesn’t come until civilization itself comes crashing

down. For the families in the story as with many of our own families, gone are the idealistic

portrayals of Rockwellian family life, together at the dinner table. Instead, there is the
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familiar portrait of isolation: mother alone in her room watching “Dancing With the Stars”,

a live feed streamed off the web; son is downloading/pirating music off a peer-to-peer file

sharing web site and playing “Call of Duty” on PlayStation; daughter is texting a friend,

sending an instant message, updating her Facebook status; father is sending a fax, setting

up for a teleconference and checking his BlackBerry. All are contentedly secluded in their

cell, connected to some kind of electronic umbilical cord. Mark Hillegas sums up the theme

of isolation in the story saying that,

       Technology intervenes, cutting people off from direct experience with each other
       and severing man from nature. Throughout his life, one of Forster’s chief concerns
       was exploring obstacles to human communication and solidarity, be they class, as in
       Howard’s End (1910), or nationality, as in A Passage to India (1924). If there is one
       sentence which could stand as a symbol for everything in which Forster believed, it
       would be the epigraph beginning Howard’s End—“Only connect…” This is what
       matters. In “The Machine Stops” people are isolated from one another. There are no
       families; mother love is destroyed; and because of the Machine it is no longer
       customary for people to touch one another. Such behavior has become obsolete.

In The Future as Nightmare, Hillegas goes on to elaborate on the fears that inform the story,

the loss of human connection, saying that:

       Forster….gives expression to some of the most important humanist fears about the
       machine—the fear that the machine will lead to the mechanization of human life and
       finally to the control of human life; the fear that the machine will dwarf men and
       take from them their self-respect, pride, and sense of uniqueness; the fear that
       reliance on the machine will be not only psychologically and spiritually harmfu l, but
       in the end physically destructive; and the fear that men may come to make the
       machine a fake idol which they will worship.

       Anderson’s Feed also displays the same interchange between two characters that’s

shown in “The Machine Stops”: one character resisting the towering force of technology

juxtaposed alongside another character who slowly comes to “wake up” and see its

detrimental affects. Published in 2002, Feed is grouped with the postcyberpunk genre, and

is marketed as young adult fiction. The story, a dark satire of consumerism, media and
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corporate power, revolves around a teenage boy, Titus, and his relationship with Violet, a

girl with a vastly different world perspective who persuades Titus to “resist the feed.” They

live in a futuristic world where technology has merged electronics and telecommunications

with the human mind. The Internet has evolved into the “Feednet”; a computer network to

which the brains of American citizens are directly connected by means of an implanted

computer called a “Feed”, which over 70% of Americans have set in their brain.

Corporations are free to monitor and manipulate citizens’ thoughts, people’s thoughts are

interrupted by the mental equivalent of pop-up ads; privacy has become a thing of the past;

the government can subpoena one’s memories; people can “M-Chat” each other (a form of

evolved instant messaging) on closed channels, effectively creating a form of telepathy. The

“Feed Chip” is implanted at such an early age that it takes over the running of many brain

functions as the child matures.

       Though this may sound like the stuff of wild science fiction, Feed comments on an

innovation that has already been considered and may be in the beginning stages of

development. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr, an unsettling essay in the

August 2008 issue of the “Atlantic Monthly”, describes the threat of a “Feed Chip” implant

emerging in our own time, and the notion that the human brain is just an outdated

computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive:

       Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the gifted young men who founded Google while
       pursuing doctoral degrees in computer science at Stanford, speak frequently of their
       desire to turn their search engine into an artificial intelligence, a HAL -like machine
       that might be connected directly to our brains. “The ultimate search engine is
       something as smart as people—or smarter,” Page said in a speech a few years back.
       “For us, working on search is a way to work on artificial intelligence.” In a 2004
       interview with Newsweek, Brin said, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information
       directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your
       brain, you’d be better off.” Last year, Page told a convention of scientists that Google
       is “really trying to build artificial intelligence and to do it on a large scale.”
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       The story opens with a virtual reality experience Titus has, partying with his friends

on the moon. Mid-way through his experience, his dream is hacked and interrupted by a

member of an “anti-feed” organization. When he briefly goes “off-line”, Titus shows just

how dependent he is on the feed.

              I missed the feed.
              I don’t know when they first had feeds. Like maybe, fifty or a hundred years
              ago. Before that, they had to use their hands and their eyes. Computers were
              all outside the body. […] People were really excited when they first came out
              with feeds. It was all da da da, this big educational thing, da da da, your child
              will have the advantage, encyclopedias at their fingertips, closer than their
              fingertips, etc. That’s one of the great things about the feed—that you can be
              supersmart without ever working. You can look things up automatic, like
              science and history, like if you want to know which battles of the Civil War
              George Washington fought in and shit.

We are introduced to Violet, the young girl who Titus falls in love with and who persuades

him to resist the feed.

              “You can join me. We can prepare. I have this dream that I’ll be able to learn
              to live without the feed. I wish they could just switch it off.”
              “Can’t they?”
              “Not dormant. Off. I mean, completely. They can’t right now. It replaces too
              many basic functions. It’s tied in to everything.”

At the end of the novel, Titus meets Violet’s father who explains to him how that he and

Violet’s mother never wanted to get her the feed and that they both resisted the trends in

technology. Her father, a professor and activist who argues that language is dying and

words are being debased, tells Titus of how he eventually gives in and has his daughter

undergo the procedure.

              Then one day, when her mother had left, and I needed work, I was at a job
              interview. I was an excellent candidate. Two men were interviewing me.
              Talking about this and that. Then they were silent, just looking at me. I grew
              uncomfortable. Then they began looking at each other, and doing what I call
              smirking. I realized that they had m-chatted me, and that I had not
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              responded. They found this funny. Risible. That a man would not have a feed.
              So they were chatting about me in my presence. Teasing me when I could not
              hear. Free to assess me as they would, right in front of me.
              I did not get the job.
              It was thus that I realized that my daughter would need the feed. She had to
              live in the world. I asked her if she wanted it. She was a little girl. Of course
              she said yes. It was installed.

“Late installation”, we are told, is dangerous. The ideal time to install the feed is during a

child’s infancy. Violet’s brain, thus, has already developed on its own and can’t completely

adapt or fuse with the feed. As a result, Violet develops all kinds of medical conditions, and

ultimately, the late installation leads to her early death; yet, her condition also grants her a

heightened awareness of the degrading affects of technology, an awareness others lack

because it is all they’ve known since birth.

       One way Violet resists the feed is by looking for ways to subvert intrusive marketing

approaches by large corporations.

              She smiled and put her finger inside the collar of my shirt. “Listen,” she said.
              “What I’m doing, what I’ve been doing over the feed for the last two days, is
              trying to create a customer profile that’s so screwed, no one can market to it.
              I’m not going to let them catalog me. I’m going to become invisible.”

Unlike Violet, the story is filled with countless characters who, like sheep, mindlessly fall to

the marketing ploys of large corporations. Not unlike many current companies, such as

Amazon.com and Apple, which market to each individual consumer based on their sales

history, the characters in Feed are constantly assaulted with a sea of advertisements. Carr

comments on this phenomena saying that:

              The faster we surf across the Web—the more links and pages we view—the
              more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information
              about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the
              commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data
              we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better.
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       Titus, the most round character in the story, completely indulges in the marketing

ploys he is constantly fed. Anderson presents a world where the lines between reality and

advertisements to the consumer are blurred.

              I could feel all of my family asleep in their own way around me, in the empty
              house, in our bubble, where we could turn on and off the sun and the stars,
              and the feed spoke to me real quiet about new trends, about pants that
              should be shorter or longer, and bands I should know, and games with new
              levels and stalactites and fields of diamonds, and friends of many colors were
              all drinking Coke, and beer was washing through mountain passes. […] There
              were new techniques to reconfigure pecs, abs, and nipples, and at
              Weatherbee & Crotch there was a sale banner and nice rugby shirts and there
              were pictures of freckled prep school boys and girls in chinos playing on the
              beach and dry humping in the eel grass, and as I fell asleep, the feed
              murmured to me again and again: All shall be well” (147-148).

Another memorable marketing passage is when Titus and his father look into getting a new

car. After a few test drives, Titus goes home and describes the barrage of marketing

messages he is sent from different car dealerships that present different virtual realities.

              So here was the decision: Dodge was bannering me with me driving, and all
              of these people in bikinis stuffed into the car with me, this big party, and with
              a beach ball, too, like I could be the scene; and Nongen, who made the Swarp,
              was showing a romantic drive through the mountains with just me and
              Violet, who they got pretty much right, except they made her taller and with
              bigger boobs, and they made her cheeks kind of sparkly in a way that, if it
              were really happening, I would try to wipe off with a facecloth.” (122-123).

The book is filled with many passages, such as this, that call to mind the intrusive and

manipulative marketing approaches used today. The story’s narrative, itself, is often

interrupted with the text of commercials for consumer products and feedcasts, just as our

own commercial-riddled lives are. Following the death of Violet, the story ends with a

rather ominous and out of place ad for a denim store.

              Feeling blue? Then dress blue! It’s the Blue-Jean Warehouse’s Final Sales
              Event! Stock is just flying off the shelves at prices so low you won’t believe
              your feed! Everything must go! Everything must go! (299)
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In an interview with the author, Anderson states that Feed uses images from an imagined

future to discuss the things we’re dealing with now. “I think we all have, at this point, a

direct connection to the media in our brains. It’s impossible for us to think of our life

without conceiving of it in images that are taken from movies, from songs, from ads, all of

which are images that are challenging us to be better consumers rather than better people”

(Anderson, “A Conversation With…”).

       As Violet’s condition worsens and she approaches her death, she looks back on her

life and realizes how duped she’s been by the media. Her actions have often been a

frivolous attempt to mirror what the media has projected.

       “Everything I think of when I think of really living, living to the full—all my ideas are
       just the opening credits of sitcoms. See what I mean? My idea of life, it’s what
       happens when they’re rolling the credits. My idea of real life. You know? Oh, you and
       I share a snow cone at the park. Oh, funny, it’s dribbling down your chin. I wipe it off
       with my elbows. “Also starring Lurna Ginty as Violet.” Oh, happy day! Now we go
       jump in the fountain! We come out of the tunnel of love! We run through the merry-
       go-round. We wave to the camera!” (217-218).

All of these themes—intrusive marketing, and the influence of media’s projected images of

reality—call to mind some of the ideas proposed by French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard,

the high priest of postmodern culture, who was fascinated by the ways in which media

affect/warp our perception of reality and the world. He concluded that in the postmodern

media-laden condition, we experience something called "the death of the real": we live our

lives in the realm of hyper-reality, connecting more and more deeply to things like

television sitcoms, music videos, virtual reality games, or Disneyland, things that merely

simulate reality. Baudrillard argues that in a postmodern culture dominated by TV, films,

news media, and the Internet, the whole idea of a true or a false copy of something has been

destroyed: now all we have are simulations of reality, which aren't any more or less "real"
                                                                                   Paquette 17


than the reality they simulate. In our culture, claims Baudrillard, we take "maps" of rea lity

like television, advertising, film as more real than our actual lives - these "simulacra"

(hyper real copies) precede our lives. Our television "friends" (e.g. sit-com characters)

might seem more alive to us than their flesh-and-blood equivalents. We communicate by e-

mail, and relate to video game characters better than our own friends and family. We have

entered an era where third-order simulacra dominate our lives, where the image has lost

any connection to real things.

       In his essay, Carr also cites media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who in as early as the

1960s stated that the media is not just a passive channel of information. The media, he

argues, supplies the stuff of thought and shapes the process of thought. From this premise,

Carr argues that the Net chips away at our capacity for concentration and contemplation.

“My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly

moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along

the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski” (Carr). When asked what effect the internet/the feed

might have on literacy, both Carr and Anderson share an unsettling view. Feed satirizes the

effects technology and commercialism have on language by presenting a vulgar and

apathetic vernacular spoken throughout the book. A snippet of conversation displays the

parody Anderson hopes to achieve.

              We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely
              suck. […] Link whispered at my side, “This so big sucks.”
              “This place doesn’t suck,” said Marty. “It’s good.”
              “Maybe,” said Calista, “if there were certain people who didn’t go jumping on
              people’s heads near the snack bar, if there weren’t those people, then maybe
              we wouldn’t all be standing here having a big shame banquet.
              Marty was getting angry that everyone was like turding on his
              recommendation […] Link and I were chatting about the girl, like I was going,
              “She is meg youch”, and he was going, “What the hell’s she wearing?”
                                                                                   Paquette 18


       Unlike these two novels, Never Let Me Go does not emphasize a character that

bravely resists the dehumanizing sway of technology. We find no voice of revolution, only

compliance. There is only a quiet acceptance of a tragic fate brought about by

biotechnology that breaks one’s heart. Ishiguro makes a compelling case that a resigned

and accepting character might very well be a more effective device for the satirist than one

who displays a spirit of resistance. That is the brainwashed and unchallenging acceptance

Kathy H. displays stirs more emotion than the reactionary spirit shown by Violet and Kuno.

As Brooke Allen states, “A favorite topic of fiction is human durability, resistance, what

people like to refer to as ‘the triumph of the human spirit’; less popular, because it so

seldom makes for an uplifting story, is the flip side of human nature, its distressing

tendency to be conditioned, brainwashed, even broken. Resignation is as human a

characteristic as rebellion or rage” (26). The chilling subtext of the story is just how

unwilling people are to question the reality they’ve been presented. If a child, for example,

is presented with a particular absurd worldview as “normal,” he or she generally accepts it.

       Moving from the dark travails brought on by marketing and the erasure of direct

experience, we now embark into another social institution gravely affected by technology:

scientific innovation. In Never Let Me Go, Ishiguro provides a story of friendship, love,

childhood and growing up that is set beside a disturbing backdrop: the farming of human

clones, children, for the purpose of organ donation. Kathy H. (a name that echoes both

Kafka and the grade school classroom), the narrator, tells us that her profession is “ca rer”

and that she looks after “donors” who will ultimately “complete.” When one of Kathy’s

donors, dying painfully, asks her to recount tales of her famous boarding school, Hailsham,
                                                                                     Paquette 19


she tells of her childhood. In an interview with the writer, he states that it is a story that

touches on a very natural and eternal theme: the natural life span of human beings.

               I’ve created a situation with young people whose life spans are limited to
               about 30 years. In a compressed time, they go through all the crisis and
               questions we all go through—youth, adulthood, old age—it’s all kind of
               squeezed into 30 years. The book is really about how we face that
               knowledge: that are time is limited. What we do when we realize we haven’t
               got that much longer. What are the things that become important to finish?
               And when we look back, what are the things that seem to be the really
               worthwhile things?


Ishiguro’s vision does call to mind Huxley’s earlier vision, which President George Bush

nods to in his first televised speech to the nation in which he placed limits on federal

support for research on human embryonic stem cells, warning, “We have arrived at that

brave new world that seemed so distant in 1932, when Aldous Huxley wrote about human

beings created in test tubes in what he called a ‘hatchery’” (Bailey, 10).

       Since then, some aspects of modern biotechnology have prompted different

prominent intellectuals and political leaders to step forward and issue warnings. Leon

Kass, chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, is especially recognized as a

whistle-blower on the subject. In one statement he says, “Some transforming powers are

already here. The Pill. In vitro fertilization. Bottled embryos. Surrogate wombs. Cloning.

Genetic screening. Genetic manipulation. Organ harvesting. Chimeras. Brain implants.

Ritalin for the young, Viagra for the old, Prozac for everyone. And, to leave this vale of tears,

a little extra morphine accompanied by Muzak.” Ronald Bailey, though, counters the claims

of Kass (who he labels a “bioluddite”) in his book Liberation Biology, which he says seeks to

show that the bioconservative fears are vastly exaggerated, that their objections are largely

misconceived and rather than diminishing human dignity, the biotech revolution will
                                                                                 Paquette 20


instead enhance and enlarge them. In one passage Bailey states that, “Unlike Huxley’s

fictional conditioning regimens, none of the modern biomedical technologies cited by Kass

diminish the life prospects of any individual. In fact, they do the opposite. Many enable

people who would otherwise be ‘dehumanized’ by disease, disability, or death to survive

and flourish. Others allow people to bear children and manage their reproductive lives”

(12). The true brave new world, Bailey says, is not one populated by clones, but one in

which more and more individuals can exercise enhanced intellectual, creative, and physical

capacities while being liberated from the immemorial curses of disease, disability, and

early death.

       The cloning craze, we remember, all began with the birth of an unassuming little

lamb named Dolly in 1997, engineered by Scottish biotechnologist Ian Wilmut. Only a week

after the birth of Dolly was revealed, President Clinton rushed to ban federal funding of

human cloning research and asked privately funded researchers to stop such research until

the National Bioethic Advisory Commission could consider the matter. Since Dolly’s

arrival, the debate over the morality of cloning has never flagged. One of the most recent

controversial developments relating to organ donation comes from Cass Sunstein, who

President Barack Obama has elected to head the Office of Information and Regulatory

Affairs (OIRA). Sunstein has advocated a policy under which the government would

presume someone has consented to having his or her organs removed for transplantation

into someone else when they die unless that person has explicitly indicated that his or her

organs should not be taken.
                                                                                   Paquette 21


       Bailey’s remarks in defense of innovation in biotechnology are reminiscent of the

explanations given by “Madame”, or Miss Emily, the former head of their boarding school

where children are farmed and never told their true identity and purpose. In one moving

scene, the main characters, Tommy and Kathy, go to the home of “Madame”, after they have

grown up and come to understand their purpose. After the couple fall in love, they

persuade themselves to believe a myth that other students from Hailsham have stirred up:

If Hailsham-raised couples can prove that they are in love, they can win a deferral, an

extended time before they begin their “donations” or operations. Madame, though, explains

that this is a groundless rumor. She also gives an explanation that seeks to justify why

human cloning for organ transplantation was ever made possible.

               But you must try to see it historically. After the war in the early fifties, when
               the great breakthroughs in science followed one after the other so rapidly,
               there wasn’t time to take stock, to ask the sensible questions. Suddenly there
               were all these new possibilities laid before us, all these ways to cure so many
               previously incurable conditions. This was what the world noticed the most,
               wanted the most. And for a long time, people preferred to believe these
               organs appeared from nowhere, or at most that they grew in a kind of
               vacuum. Yes, there were arguments. But by the time people became
               concerned about…about students, by the time they came to consider just how
               you were reared, whether you should have been brought into existence at all,
               well by then it was too late. There was no way to reverse the process. How
               can you ask a world that has come to regard cancer as curable, how can you
               ask such a world to put away that cure, to go back to the dark days? There
               was no going back. However uncomfortable people were about your
               existence, their overwhelming concern was that their own children, their
               spouses, their parents, their friends, did not die from cancer, motor neuron
               disease, heart disease. So for a long time you were kept in the shadows, and
               people did their best not to think about you. (262-263)

If there is one voice of resistance in the story who speaks out against the inhumanity of

what is happening at the school, it is Miss Lucy, one of the “guardians” at Hailsham, who

shares the secret that all the adults are forbidden to tell.
                                                                                   Paquette 22


              “If no one else will talk to you,” she continued, “then I will. The problem, as I
              see it, is that you’ve been told and not told. You’ve been told, but none of you
              really understand, and I dare say, some people are quite happy to leave it
              that way. But I’m not. If you’re going to have decent lives, then you’ve got to
              know and know properly. None of you will go to America, none of you will be
              film stars. And none of you will be working in supermarkets as I heard some
              of you planning the other day. Your lives are set out for you. You’ll become
              adults, then before you’re old, before you’re even middle-aged, you’ll start to
              donate your vital organs. That’s what each of you was created to do. […]
              You’ll be leaving Hailsham before long, and it’s not so far off, the day you’ll be
              preparing for your first donations. You need to remember that. If you’re to
              have decent lives, you have to know who you are and what lies ahead of you,
              every one of you” (81).
       On the most literal level Ishiguro is asking precisely the questions about cloning and

other genetic experiments that we all should be asking—about what it means to be human

and how far reproductive technology should proceed. Do clones have souls and are they

therefore equal to human beings? Do clones have the right to know from whom they were

cloned? Do they have a right to a good education? Do they have the right to say "no" to the

donation of their organs? Do they feel pain like humans do? Is it morally correct for humans

to propagate clones for their own benefit? If cloning is allowed, how does a society raise

them? After reading Never Let Me Go, one is left with the conviction that cloning is a an

inhumane endeavor that we should never cross over into. Yet, many Transhumanists stand

at the ready and support the statements that Bailey makes. These remarks are from a

chapter in Liberation Biology titled, “Who’s Afraid of Human Cloning?”.

              Which ethical principle does cloning violate? Stealing? Lying? Coveting?
              Murdering? What? Most of the arguments against cloning amount to little
              more than a reformulation of the familiar refrain of Luddites everywhere: “If
              God had meant for man to fly, he would have given us wings. And if God had
              meant for man to clone, he would have given us spores.” What would a clone
              be? He or she would simply be a complete human being who happens to
              share the same genes as another person. Today, we call such people identical
              twins. To my knowledge no one has argued that twins are immoral (138).

              […] others worry about a scenario in which clones would be created to
              provide spare parts, such as organs that would not be rejected by the
                                                              Paquette 23


predecessor’s immune system. The creation of a human being should not be
for spare parts or as a replacement. People who would be born as clones
would be people. You must treat them like people. We don’t forcibly take
organs from one twin and give them to the other. Why would we do that in
the case of clones?” (141).
                                                                                  Paquette 24


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[CONCLUSION: PHAEDRUS COMMENTS FROM “IS GOOGLE MAKING US STUPID?” with a
positive element. Maybe Freud comment on beginning of Technopoly]

								
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