Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mid-Term: Blurring the Line Between Humanity and Technology.

In the most basic sense, human beings have been making use of technology since even before we were considered human. That is, if we take this strictly as ‘the use of techniques’, one can easily say the tool-making primates were the effective inventors of technology in the first place. Because that is all that we are, in essence. Our evolution as living beings is kind of dependent on the fact that we created things to make life easier. Tools for building, weapons for hunting, and so on. It all leads straight to our current lifestyles, using machines and our learned skills to get by in life. So, if technology has been around as long as we have, why doesn’t it have a voice? Why don’t we hear any complaints or philosophical arguments juxtaposed against us? Since it is technically our creation, we humans haven’t given it that option yet. A machine has yet to voice its own opinion on anything in society, at least outside of fiction. But even fiction is suppose to teach us something, and that is Blade Runner’s purpose. Technology needs a voice, because in a sense…it’s having a lot to say and we’re just not listening.

Human beings are totally dependent on technology. It’s why we developed these things in the first place. For every change caused by a machine or a special technique, there was literally someone who said or thought, “I don’t like the way this has to be done. There has to be a different method to accomplish this.”, or words to that effect. You could argue that technology has made us lazy in of the fact that we use it to get things done quicker and easier without all the time-consuming work involved, but that’s the society that we are, and the work IS still there. It’s merely changed hands a bit. Our relation with technology is that we’re co-dependent. We need it to get our work done, to entertain us, and so on…and it needs us to exist and be maintained. And so, Philip K. Dick devised this book to see how it is when we’ve taken things too far. It isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine a dystopian future in which we have all but destroyed ourselves. Fighting and waging conflict is something high in human nature and technology went along with us, so Dick has our society effectively destroyed. I’m almost certain that it’s possible to get this bad or worse, but not necessarily in this fashion. As the World War Terminus mentioned (6), the population and environment of humanity is in such decline that there is no hope of ever really spawning life here again. Everyone who can leave Earth had already, and everything else is just basically rotting around those who stayed behind. It probably can’t happen that way, per se, but Dick wanted it to in order to fully drive home how reduced and deformed we can actually get because of our technology.

In a sense, we are what we’ve created. Human beings evolved because of tool-making. Our abilities multiplied in mind and body because we taught ourselves things and augmented our daily lives. Knowledge of techniques and methods of accomplishing feats determines who well we live in the society we’ve created, and the machinery we make determines how advanced that society will be. Our swords and our plowshares have shaped our ways of thinking and our ways of being. And we, as creators of this product – our technology – would probably be lost without it. Without industry and electricity, we’re farmers. Without tools, we’re hunter-gatherers. Without even the most basic of survival skills honed through the ages, we’re dead. Many will argue this point, but I’d like to see them tough it out in the jungle any time soon. With our technology, it is possible to destroy ourselves – and boy have we been trying to at times – but we still need it no matter how many bombs are dropped or guns are fired.

Phillip K. Dick has more or less made this entirely the point of Blade Runner. And given that we’re so totally dependent on our technology, the fruits or our labors gain their voice by saying “You can’t live without me, so why do you alienate me?”. You take the point of an android replicants, for instance. In a world where biotech is the field that seems most potent, a series of beings who are physically greater than human, think and act with variable difference, and make them totally subservient, and they suddenly round on you and say, “No”. No, they will not be your slaves. You’re maybe wondering why at this point? It is because…the development of all the machines and all the varied techniques has been entirely controlled by humans and look what they’ve done with it SO FAR! Any logical thinking machine like an android would immediately understand that humanity doesn’t do to well for itself at that point. And for suddenly putting all the hard work and suffering on their limited lives when they have always been equal aspects in the growth and development of the human? Not a chance.

Because…we humans dominate and control a lot of things, as much as we entirely can. Androids are slave labor. Why? Because we made them and we own them. Do they resent that? Yes. Because we give them minds of their own and now they see just how bad we can be. Androids are fleeing Mars for the same reasons humanity is fleeing Earth. They believe it’s nothing but death and hardship there. Different reasons, but the same conclusion. There are so many parallels drawn in the book. The two police offices in the same city (104), the replication of Rachael Rosen (164), and even Roy Baty’s attempt to replicate an android-equivalent of enlightenment (162)… These are all signs thrown in our faces to point out that whether it is human or technology doing it, we’re all dipping into the same pool of knowledge. It’s just from opposite ends, driving towards the center for similar answers. Some of the details may be different, but it boils down to a level of reasoning that explains how similar we are to the thing we’ve made. All of our technology is a reflection, an extension, of ourselves. A tool is an extension of the arm, no matter how complex. (A crane is, therefore, a very large arm, say.) A car is an extension to our feet, getting us around quicker. And computers… All their mental power, leading straight up to the android. Isn’t it obvious that once you extend our minds into our machines, our machines can start being like us?

So, we have our android replicants here, teaching us a lesson because we’ve extended the power of our bodies and minds outside of ourselves, and now we start to wonder…have we gone too far? Are we piling so much into our technology that there’s no longer any ‘us’? In the book, humanity has largely degenerated. Society has now crumbled so much that nobody has the ability to live properly without an emotion box, a lead codpiece, and some sort of animal. The world that we have destroyed with the power of technology is now barely tolerable with it, and we have these androids passing off as humans because we needed durable human companionship so badly that our best brains put them together along with the fake animals. But then, we have these androids walking around, pretending to have bodies, souls, and minds like we do and we don’t like that for some reason. Why? They’re our product! They’re doing what we made them to do. This is no longer a world that can stand to be so choosey about things. Half the population relies on Wilbur Mercer, if not nearly all of it, and we know that everybody watches Buster Friendly, alone with his perpetual guests like Amanda Werner and other brilliantly-portrayed guests. But then, you have the chapter where we found out that Buster Friendly is a replicant himself, exposing Mercer as a fraud. And the funny part about that is how an android (a fake) is telling us that a man is nothing but an actor who knows nothing about the religion around him. Does that actually change who or what Mercer is, and what he does? Perhaps not. People still need this power to believe, to reach beyond. Because without that, there wouldn’t be technology.

Human beings aren’t threatened by technology. The only thing we’re threatened by is ourselves. We are the ones with the great capacity to hate, kill, and destroy. Our technology is completely neutral on all of these accounts unless otherwise pushed into action. The way an android might surrender (117) and admit its an android shows just how unlike humans they can be. So really, we only have ourselves to blame for any predicament brought forth with technology. No, our problem is that humans threaten technology itself. Remember, I said that it doesn’t have an actual voice, but Philip K. Dick made an honest attempt here. Because while humans create these things, they also counter-intuitively destroy them for being different. If technology DID have our brains, our way of thinking, and saw how much we are creator and destroyer, using them empirically for all this… If the voice of technology were a replicant, even one that society had accepted into itself as equal, it would feel very uncomfortable. Technology IS our slave, because we lord over our creations, and that literally how it has always been, straight back to the hunter-gatherer. And while we are dependent on it, we never quite acknowledge it as our equal, being the reason we are what we are.


Dick, Philip K. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner)" Del Rey, 1968

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

I like your opening a lot. I'd like another couple sentences (maybe philosophically grounded?) on *why* technology needs a voice - but it's certainly an interesting and provocative opening.

There is interesting material in the second paragraph, too, but it isn't as cleanly focused as the first one. Your greatest strength as a writer is on the level of the sentence; your greatest weakness is on the level of the argument. You know how to write a great sentence, but have some difficulty with following a consistent argument.

By the third paragraph, I'm less happy. You follow generalization with generalization. *Have* "our swords and our plowshares ... shaped our ways of thinking"? You should ask and answer questions, sometimes (maybe with research) instead of assuming answering.

"These are all signs thrown in our faces to point out that whether it is human or technology doing it, we’re all dipping into the same pool of knowledge." This helps to refocus a paper that was drifting; you remind us that your reading of DADES is related to your claim that technology needs a voice. Still, I'd like to see this phrased as an argument/claim/assertion about Dick.

The closing paragraph is just as provocative, but more frustrating than the introduction. You claim that technology doesn't threaten us, that it is completely neutral - and yet you also claimed earlier that it was unclear whether we or technology were in the driver's seat. If we don't have agency, and technology does, isn't it threatening? Or are you going back on your earlier claim? You seem to have come around, at the end, to the idea that we are in charge, that the agency is ours, *but that it should not be* - maybe?

As it stands, this piece as an interesting *exploration*. It's not fully developed as an essay. So let's say that you want to defend the idea that technology should have a voice - you might have systematically argued that, or at least systematically argued that Dick is making that point (your reading of DADES of problematic - the fact that you insistently use the term "replicant," which is never used in the book, is one example of the problem).

There's a lot to like here - it's imaginative, thoughtful and interesting - but it's not a finished essay, for all its promise.