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Technology, Literature, and Culture

Free «Technology, Literature, and Culture» Essay Sample

Technological advances are increasingly shaping the literary texts. Inarguably, technology has affected all spheres of human existence and significantly redefined humanity. For this reason, technology is no longer viewed simply as a human invention but an integral part of human nature that makes human just as much. As Modernist literature points out, technology is inherent not only in human culture but also in human nature, changing the way we view literary texts and the role of literature in twentieth century. According to Goody, modernist writers struggled to reveal the connection between technology and literature by persistently showing the effect of advance technologies, particularly, in transformation of the real world into a virtual one (Goody 42). As a result, a new literature genre, speculative fiction, has emerged. Speculative fiction is a genre in which a writer, by leveraging the current technological developments, self-consciously casts his or her imagination into the future world in attempt to address the present. Pike asserts that the connection between technology and literature is simply revealing the “relationship between speculating about the future and studying the past” (229). Firstly, this paper argues that speculative fiction has profoundly changed the way we imagine the future technological advances or developments. Secondly, the paper supports Goody’s argument that technology does not and will not eventually release humankind from the burden of materialism; alternatively, it will increase connection of people to the physical processes of this world.

At the present time, literature and technology are two closely linked disciplines. This position has resulted in two predominant approaches in literature studies: a literature approach to technology and a technological approach to literature. Some experts argue that contemporary literary works are an outcome of technological developments, while others assert that the current technological advances are a result of literary works. Pike, for example, notes that in order to establish proper relationship between literature and technology, it is imperative to explore the connection between the history of technology and past studies on literature of technology. Moreover, he points out that the overlap between the two approaches occurs mainly because of the lack of clarity between the two. Nevertheless, there is a growing consensus that the two disciplines, literature and technology, when viewed separately, are helpful in understanding the meaning of literary works and technological development; that is, when the object of study is shared. Pike terms this notion ‘technological imaginary.’ Thus, technological imaginary can be viewed as a form of speculative fiction.

Most importantly, when literature is approached in the perspective of technology, experts study not the social implication of technology but rather the implication of technology on literature. Interaction of literature and technology then simply considers the effect of technology on production of literary works. For example, mechanization of writing, transmission and distribution of literary works, and vision aesthetics have been greatly improved by adopting technology in literature. In accordance with this reasoning, Pike’s argument that literature adopted technology mainly to keep up with the societal and cultural pace of modern society that increasingly depend on technology is valid (Pike). To this end, technology has significantly affected literature in various ways. Firstly, writing and publishing literary works have become relatively easy and cheap. Contemporary writers have used technology effectively to produce quality literature. The use of typewriters, word editing software, and word processors has eased the editorial work. Secondly, transmission and distribution of books and other literary works have become cheaper and faster with adoption of technology. Authors can now reach wider audience through digital libraries as compared to traditional libraries that were limited by physical space. Additionally, digital books can be produced in many copies relatively easier, using the copy-paste technology, and distributed digitally. Thirdly, presentation of literary works can now be done in many forms, including audio and video. Traditionally, books, for example, were only available in static printed form; however, with adoption of technology, books can be published in other forms such as audio books, making it possible to reach diverse types of readers, including blind and illiterate individuals.

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However, when implication of technology in the social context is called to question, the approach discussed above have little to do with interaction of literature and technology. Gugane points out that literature follow culture; in turn, culture defines the historical context of technology. For example, digital age is culturally used to characterize a period when humanity depends on technology in all sphere of life including literature studies. Thus, it can be argued that a technological approach to literature entails adoption of technology as aid to literature studies. Furthermore, Goody points out that use of media technologies is inevitable in modernist literature. Consequently, technical approach to literature is not the aim of this paper and is beyond the scope of the study. For this reason, the paper will further employ the literature approach to technology in understanding the interaction of literature and technology. According to Gugane, technological imaginary and speculative fictions, the main point of concern in this paper, all falls under this category.

In particular, the study of speculative fiction is one critical approach to the study of relationship between literature and technology. Speculative fiction, based on Pike’s definition, is “the literary genre which self-consciously addresses the present by flinging the technology of today into the futurity of an imagined tomorrow” (Pike 229). Research studies observed that speculative fiction writers were on the rise even as technology advanced (Goody). This progression caused two contradicting arguments: one side insists that technological development has influenced contemporary writers to speculate on the future; the other side argues that the increasing number of speculative fiction novels and movies has led to advancement in technology. Thus, the main purpose of speculative fiction is to provide virtual representation of future world as it is imagined. In this regard, in interpreting literary works, the historical context of technology employed must be established.

According to Pike, speculative fiction is a form of technological imaginary. The latter simply is a conceptual representation of future technological developments based on the imagined future needs of people at that time. For example, Time Machine (1895), as Pike points out, was a result of technological imaginary. However, the scope of technological imaginary is affected by the past and present technological development as well as cultural context consideration. In this regard, the technological imaginary is an integral part of literature studies. Past literature studies provided a critical basis for formulating new technologies that might be developed in future. Additionally, the current technologies help fictional writers predict possibilities of future technologies. Similarly, Gugane points out that technology is a subject of literature and not the other way round. Early fiction writers made technology one of their main subjects and attempted to predict, for instance, how technology could be used in a sinister way to wipe the entire generation of humanity. Science fiction, a type of speculative fiction, largely centers on imaginative technology. Gugane argues that technological imaginary was aimed at changing the way people were accustomed to think and do things. Moreover, he observes that the cultural context influenced technological imaginary as many writes were confined in their thinking to the cultural and societal needs that technology might provide to them.

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For example, Margaret Artwood’s novel Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction that attempts to speculate the negative effect of gene modification. The novel was written at a time when genetic science was a new discipline. The writer uses the literature approach to technology to provide suggestions of future technological developments as a result of present technological breakthrough. The book is a classic example of technological imaginary, and as Pike observes, science fiction helps expose technological stereotypes that are held at a particular time. Still, Artwood manages to use speculative fiction to form a mental picture of what the future might look like when the technology is adopted. In this case, it is possible to form mental representation of how the future will look like if genetic code modification is used for wrong purposes.

Moreover, speculative fiction provides a virtual environment to test how certain type of technological developments that are yet to be released to the world would be received. Goody argues that the science fiction novels depict imaginary world, which in reality is not far-fetched but actually is possible. For example, he also mentions that invention of cyberspace was credited to Gibson’s technological imaginary writing Burning Chrome (Goody). Gibson offered a virtual environment where cyberspace technology could be tested and its realization imagined before actual development begun. Artwood’s novel Oryx and Crake specifically attempt to achieve this. The author sets up a virtual environment in which genetic code modification and outcome could be tested. In particular, by combining genes of a pig and a human to produce pigoon and by combining genes of a wolf and a dog to produce a new breed called wolvogs, a person attempted to imagine the possibility of such kind of genetic modifications in future. Additionally, the reaction of people can be studied beforehand. Similarly, Autofac written by Philip Dick illustrates the possibilities of problems that might result from a planetwide automatic factory in future if the technology is adopted. The author speculatively demonstrates problems of a planetwide automatic factory and how to handle them. He also provides the possibility of machines taking over total control of people. For instance, O’Neill wants the machine to stop producing milk; however, the representative replies that the machine will continue to supply synthetically processed milk until a particular condition is met. Thus, the literature helps people evaluate beforehand consequences of adopting a particular technology.

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Furthermore, speculative fiction helps shape modern life. Goody argues that present technological developments are a result of predictive novels. For example, Gibson describes the cyberspace in his novel Burning Chrome before it was invented (Goody). Additionally, Artwood’s Oryx and Crake is based on thorough research since she knew the fact that science fiction was not far from reality and kept the scope of her technology imaginary within practicality. Gene modification is an area that scientists are currently exploring; therefore, the aim of the fiction was to help scientist achieve breakthrough in producing foolproof human tissues and organs (Artwood). Through technology imaginary, scientists are able to have in-depth understanding of a particular phenomenon. Arguably, technology imaginary is essential in determining the purpose of speculative fiction. Its scope helps in analyzing the contextual framework. That is to say, technology depicted in speculative fiction may appear almost real when the future is not far away, for example, ten years from the present time. For this reason, scientists and technologists could be attempting to develop the predicted technology at this very moment.

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Similarly, speculative fiction depicts desires of modern life well. Most speculative fiction novels focus on the possible disastrous effects of advance technology as opposed to its possible future benefits. Gugane points out that most speculative fiction novelists depicted technology in a negative way. Artwood’s Oryx and Crake specifically illustrate the human innate desire to have foolproof human tissues and organs. Crake, the main character in the book, has a profound desire to find the right genetic code that will result into an organ that cannot be altered at all by other factors such as change of temperature or aging. Contemporary speculative fiction writers often speculate on the disastrous danger of using technology exclusively. For instance, Marx points out that technology is slowly eroding human culture. According to him, human culture is distinctive from technology (Marx). However, it is important to note that human culture is naturally modifying with changes in technology. Thus, Marx’s argument must be viewed in line with historical context of a cultural event. For example, the culture of writing with ink can be said to have been eroded by new technologies like typewriters. In Autofac, the adoption of an automatic factory causes serious problems to O’Neill and colleagues. It is critical to point out that heavy dependence on technology is often associated with looming total collapse of civilization. Based on this kind of fear, modernist writers focused mainly on the looming negative effect of technology.

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Moreover, speculative fiction shows the strong relationship between technology and human culture. Goody argues that technology is inherently a part of human nature. According to this argument, technology is simply an extension of human nature (Goody). Critical examination of modernist literature reveals the profound fusion of technology and humanity. Thus, technology depends on literature just in the same way literature depends on technology. Thus, as Pike notes, the non –fictional literature of past technology mainly focuses on reality of past technologies even as speculative fiction literature focus on reality of future technology. Since culture precedes literature, it can be argued that human culture in itself is a form of technology imaginary. It means that the human mind is capable of conceptualizing future technology. In Artwood’s Oryx and Crake, Crake’s curiosity in science, which is a part of human nature, is evident. It also puts the world in imminent danger. Mirenayat et al. argues that speculative fiction shapes human reality and predicts how technology will be changed by future conditions. Thus, while technology is intrinsic to the human nature, the future technological developments depend on the present social and cultural needs of human beings.

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Similarly, in Autofac, Dick speculates that humans will increasingly depend heavily on technology. The novel primarily focuses on the danger of automation. The curiosity to automate all factories in order to increase consumer products for humanity results in danger of depleting all the Earth resources. After the factories were automated because of war, O’Neill and his colleagues find out that they cannot shut the program despite the fact that the machine is heavily consuming Earth’s resources. Dick further depicts a future scenario in which robots will entirely take control of all jobs and will eventually limit innovation. Dick speculative fiction supports Goody’s argument on materialism and humanity. In Oryx and Crake, the invention of biophysical organism by Crake is an excellent way Artwood speculates on how human will connect more to the physical processes. Most importantly, speculative fiction is only concerned with future possibilities. For this reason, humankind connection to the physical processes of this world will increase as long as speculative literary works and more particularly those that are based on technology will continue to be produced.

Finally, modernist literature about speculative fiction focuses on constant struggle between humanity and technology. While people are the inventor of technology, humanity has become subordinate to technological advances. Goody argues that humankind will continue to be connected to physical processes rather than release humankind from burden of materialism. Goody points out two important factors as pertaining to literature, technology, and materialism. Firstly, humankind, with the increasing dependency on technology, cannot avoid cultural changes that are brought about by technological advances. For instance, modern writers cannot avoid technologies that are currently employed in production and distribution of literary works. With the digital age, technologies such as word processors, typewriters, digital libraries, and audio books will continue to effect literature. In this regard, speculative fiction will continue to address the modern life in relation to technological developments. Secondly, literature will continue to be closely connected to technological advances. Media technologies and literature are two indispensable disciplines. This fact means that future literary works are expected to embed in technology in such a way that makes distinction between the two difficult. Thus, contrary to popular belief, literature is not expected to kill technological advances through speculative fiction technique; alternatively, as Gugene also observes, speculative literature will continue to be integral part of technological development in modern times.

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In conclusion, speculative fiction has significantly changed how future technological advances are imagined. It also provides a framework to understanding relationship between literature and technology. Firstly, technology imaginary is a form of speculative fiction. Secondly, speculative fiction acts as the virtual environment in which future technologies can be tested. Thirdly, speculative fiction helps in shaping modern life by speculating how changes in future circumstances affects human condition and technology. Thus, predictive literature will continue to influence adoption of technologies in modernist literature and in society at large.

 
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