Thursday, January 31, 2013

Essay 3 - Prompt 1

Can one really distinguish between the mass media as instruments of information and entertainment, and as agents of manipulation and indoctrination? Between the automobile as nuisance and as convenience? Between the horrors and the comforts of functional architecture? Between the work for national defense and the work for corporate gain? Between the private pleasure and the commercial and political utility involved in increasing the birth rate?” This quote is from chapter 1 of Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man and really identifies the benefits as well as potential downsides of new technology. This idea of technology serving multiple purposes, whether good or bad, helps to explain what Philip Dick is writing about in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

The first major piece of new technology we encounter when reading this book is the Penfield mood organ. This machine gives the user the ability to dial any sort of emotion that they feel like. At first this seems like an amazing thing that people would only use to put them in cheery moods and ones that would help them be productive. Rick dials for “a creative and fresh attitude toward his job” before he leaves for work. It would seem that if everyone was using the mood organ for this beneficial purpose, no harm could ever come out of it. Soon we see however that moods such as rage can be dialed: “If you dial,” Iran said, eyes open and watching, “for greater venom, then I’ll dial the same. I’ll dial the maximum and you’ll see a fight that makes every argument we’ve had up to now seem like nothing.” Iran says this after a small argument she has with Rick over his job. Rick contemplates dialing to reduce his anger or increasing it to help him win the argument. This shows the power of the technology to either affect people positively or help to escalate problems. One more point about the mood organ I would like to make is that on the surface, it appears to be controlled by the humans. It is mentioned, however, that dialing a certain mood, namely, self-accusatory depression in Iran’s case, can be very dangerous. “You’re apt to stay in it, not dial your way out. Despair like that, about total reality, is self-perpetuating.” Iran says that she programs the mood organ to automatically dial another number after 3 hours, however, any sort of malfunction or even just forgetfulness may cause the person to dial a bad mood that they will never get out of. Also, I could easily see a scenario where humans would be dependent on the mood organ for their good moods. Technology like this has the power to have control over humans by causing them to be so dependent on them that they could not function properly without it.

Another piece of technology from the story with obvious good and bad qualities is the android. It is designed to be, essentially, a servant for the emigrants to Mars. Just about everyone chose to emigrate because they received one of these androids for free. The great appeal of an android was seen by almost everyone, and along with nuclear fallout, caused most of the people to leave Earth. Regardless of what is happening on Mars with the androids, these androids are clearly causing problems on Earth. They know they are hunted on Earth, and so they can become very dangerous when confronted by a bounty hunter. It doesn’t seem as if they are actively seeking out violence against humans at this point, but are monitoring the bounty hunters to know when they are being hunted themselves so they can be prepared or even proactive for their inevitable encounter. We can also see the androids on Earth beginning to exert some sort of control over the humans on a small scale. When organized, like at the separate android police station, they had the ability to take humans, like Rick, without the person being able to do anything about it. Because they were disguised as police officers, and people are generally raised to respect authority, they could have control over enforcing their own set of laws if they wanted.

The two sides of technology as mentioned by Marcuse are clearly seen in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I think overall, much like Bill Joy mentioned in his article, it should help the reader be mindful of the benefits as well as the harms that may come out of advanced technology. 

1 comment:

Adam said...

Excellent quote to begin with. By the end of the first paragraph, your area of interest is clear - but you don't really have a clear argument yet. Clarifying/focusing on a precise argument would be your first priority in a revision.

The 2nd paragraph doesn't really connect with the first - you summarize a new technology in the novel, explain how it has its plusses and minuses (would everyone really find even the "good" side of the mood organ beneficial, though? It's not like the use of mood-altering drugs is universally sanctioned). It has nothing to do with the opening Marcuse quote, though, other than in the very general sense that in both the quote and the 2nd paragraph technology has plusses and minuses. That's a cliche, though, not an argument.

In the third paragraph, you discuss the androids at a surface level - it probably would have been better to do either the mood organ or the androids, rather than trying to fit in both.

How to get beyond the surface level, and develop a clear argument?

Think of your Marcuse quote. It begins with media as entertainment vs. indoctrination. This alone provides a way to read the entire novel (especially the Penfield mood organ, but also the androids). In other words, applying this quote to the novel could help us to see that what the survivors believe they "need" is to be indoctrinated.

You don't need to do that if you revise. My point is that you have potential for something more focused here. You need to ask what it means, or why we should care, that there is some level of similarity between Marcuse and PKD - and what can we learn from that similarity? A comparison (which you have) is more of a launching pad for an argument, rather than the argument itself.