Technology in dystopias is quite a broad topic for conducting research, and I soon found many articles connecting the two. But throughout my time searching, one such source stood above the rest. In “Technology in the Dystopian novel,” Gorman Beauchamp explores the depth at which technology exists within societies, and how it brings about their destruction. Primarily, Beauchamp bases his argument on the dangerous possibilities that arise with the expansion of technology. A totalitarian empire coupled with an advanced technological apparatus could conceivably arise in the future. This type of technotopia would bring into question the methods a government would employ that would limit the general public’s use of such devices. Furthermore, Beauchamp insists that if a society eventually develops into a dystopia, people will worship the Machine, abandoning much of their power as individuals. He concludes that the fall of man will end with the aspirations to become such a machine, and so too lose what makes us human.
Beauchamp employs interesting key terms to combine the fears of dystopia and technology. He presents the idea of a technotopia, an advanced totalitarian government which controls the country via a far reaching technological device. This sort of technological dystopia could arise when man is ignorant of his creations, and they eventually transcend his reach. This evolves into Beauchamp’s concept of the Machine, which takes the faith of the people who worship it mindlessly. This occurs when the state is taken over by technology to the point where life itself relies on the mechanical deity to survive. Many other researchers interested in technology and dystopia would find a use for the source. The concepts Beauchamp introduces are good food for thought when considering what to search for next.
The article is organized in a thoughtful, comprehensive way. Beauchamp presents his ideas by outlining how technology becomes more and more incorporated into society over time. The article begins with how technology is incorporated in modern society and ends with the full takeover of machine power. It is an important source because of the unique views offered about how controlling technology can become. He presents this view of the future to provide an interesting view on how societies could fall through the overuse of technology. The dehumanization of people and emersion of technology as a ruling power emphasizes how fine a line we are on when it comes to progress and society. Beauchamp’s article highlights how bad a dystopia can be when we are enslaved to the very machines we create, and it offers a new look on what kind of dystopia will form from our own actions.
- Beauchamp, Gorman. “Technology in the Dystopian Novel.” Modern Fiction Studies, vol. 32 no. 1, 1986, pp. 53-63. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/mfs.0.1315. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/244281.
Imagine a world without technology. What do you think might happen? A global search engine vanishing. Communication systems shut down. Transportation stagnating as communities become isolated. Access to food, water, friends, and information: all restricted and unobtainable. It is quite hard to conceptualize, as our generation relies heavily on technology for much in our everyday lives. But in dystopian societies, people live this challenge constantly. The fearful majority usually have no access to what we would refer to as modern innovations. Contrasting this is the powerful few who hold advanced technology easily in the palm of their hand. This difference in technological prowess is a defining aspect of what makes a society a dystopia. In my conference presentation, The Tyranny of Technology, I will explain how this disparity is evident through acclaimed YA dystopian novels like The Hunger Games and Red Queen.
Dystopian societies are notoriously protective about the media. The ways in which the elite communicate among each other and with the public is a careful process. The message they send out always has an undercurrent of strength and brutality while emphasizing peace and prosperity on the surface. But it is also broadcast in public avenues in a complex technological way. The Hunger Games gathers many people in rundown streets to watch a game of horror on a big, high definition screen or on advanced projectors. Meanwhile, there is only one citizen in the entire district who even has access to a phone. Similarly, the inhabitants in Red Queen have barely working generators that fail to keep the lights on half of the time while the elite rulers have all manners of communication to spread their tyranny over the land. This allows them to broadcast propaganda and gather information at a much faster rate than any sort of rebellion. In turn, this vicious cycle allows the government to amass a large amount of power and influence.
The big turn that allows the resistance to start winning battles begins when the playing field of technology is leveled. Other sectors that this may occur in can include militarization, transportation, and engineering. Popular YA dystopian novels introduce a new factor in one of these areas to compensate for the offset in influence. When District 13 comes into play, Katniss now has the weapons and resources at her disposal to launch propaganda campaigns and begin her attack on the Capitol. When Mare obtains her lightning ability, she, a commoner turned royal, is then able to promote a strong symbol of freedom and power back at the government. It is important to recognize the power technology can bring to the table, whether in our world or in books. For if a gap starts to form between us and the government, who knows what kind of imaginary technological dystopia might eventually become a reality.
- Henderson, Greg. “Futurespect: Utopia vs Dystopia – 10 Depictions Of The Future.” Rootnotion, 22 Aug. 2014, http://rootnotion.co.uk/utopia-vs-dystopia-10-depictions-future/.
Dystopias have a very close relationship with technology. Their synergy arises on two fronts. The first relies on complete control by a sophisticated and advanced government. Maintaining a fearful atmosphere is a key factor in keeping such technology from the public. It is also a deciding factor in shutting down revolts from the masses. In Red Queen, the elite ruling class (Silvers) subjected many to the horrible conditions of a working town. In these poverty stricken locations, regular people (Reds) are forced to work from dawn to dusk to make governmental devices. These gadgets would then never again touch citizen hands, but were used exclusively at the behest of the rulers. Reds walked cobblestone paths in villages of wood while Silvers flew airplanes from one glass city to the next. When the revolution began, the government held a distinct advantage over the freedom fighters when it came to weapons, transportation, and communication. This disparity made it very troublesome for the resistance to win its battles. But what if the two sides spar on an even playing field?
This is where a more post-apocalyptic view can be explored. The other relationship preys on the anarchy that rises up from the ashes of disaster. In a society that has been torn apart, there is a new standard on technology. It is still coveted by the strong, but the capabilities of the leftover devices are severely limited. Machines that remain operate at a much lower degree, and those who know how to use them are difficult to find. A single stroke of luck could bring power to a group if such a piece from the past is found. This contrasts with the value placed upon these rare items. Even though beforehand had much better technology, it was not as precious as the little machines that remain in a broken world. As The 100 reveals, something like a simple radio can create many different problems when it is desired by different people. But since no one actually has a superior advantage in technology, the few have an easier chance in gaining power than before.
What interests me most about this topic involves how technology is employed by both sides in a dystopia. Dystopian subjects utilize advanced machines or the leftovers from days long past to a devastating effect in their respective time periods. I am curious as to how the rulers of a dystopia control the masses by limiting their access to technology and advancement. Our society is ever changing, evolving with new forms of thought and innovation. Indeed, one of the fastest growing sectors of our lives involves technology. So what happens when the pace of machine creation stagnates? Or on the other hand, what happens when it advances at a speed outside our control? We will only know what the future holds with time. But whether a dystopia arises with a controlling machine monopoly or from some artificial intelligence that enslaves us all, it is only certain that technology will achieve new heights in the years to come.
Kathleen, Laura. “Utopia & Dystopia.” Science & Technology, 18 March 2014, https://prepareyourselfenglish.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/utopia-2/.
In the novel the Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard, there are two classes that coexist in a modernized world. One rules with wizardry and fear, with silver blood that makes them special. The other, much greater in size, consists of normal citizens with red blood running through their veins. But, as in a typical dystopia, numbers mean nothing against such a strong totalitarian government. The superior power of the Silver elite allows for control of all technology, including the media. Television and news channels repeat the glory and fortunes of the empire while simultaneously crushing the hopes of millions of Reds that live in poverty.
With all this tension comes the rise of the Scarlet Guard, a group of rebel fighters tasked with taking down the existing rulers. Their path towards freedom is an arduous journey, but the group had gained momentum in recent times. They spread the seeds of rebellion in a quiet way. Eventually, there came a day when one girl, born of red blood, had powers that rivaled the strongest Silver. Mare Barrow’s ordinary, albeit horrible and suppressed, life is flipped upside down when she revealed her ability to control lightning. Captured by the government and subjected to unique torture, she was forced to become a pawn in the government’s plan to take down the Scarlet Guard.
Mare became the keystone piece for the totalitarian Silvers in order to discredit the Red opposition. She was at the forefront of every news update, discrediting the rebels at every turn. She gave speeches on the prosperous state of the empire. She marveled at the generosity and benevolence of every Silver in the palace. But while all this was going on, Mare was being used. The relationship between her and her captors was based on cruelty and deceit. She despised all the Silvers, and was forced to speak against her beliefs else her family suffer a horrible fate. Everything she said was a lie, fed to her by the ruthless rulers of the country.
The Silver government went through an enormous amount of effort in order to influence the public. They relieved Mare’s family from duty in a war, reworked her entire identity, and lied to both Silvers and Reds alike in order to create an image for the poverty stricken citizens to believe in. Keeping the masses complacent on the eve of a rebellion relied heavily on the actions of the media to promote a message of supposed peace throughout the empire. In turn, this would ease anger and tensions, uniting the plentiful poor in another cycle of false hope. The media acts in such a way that it shoves a message of prosperity down the throats of all who view it. Despite the fact that the benefits are only gained by a select few, the propaganda clouds the better judgement of those watching. And it is devastatingly successful when applied correctly. But, as Mare reveals, utilizing the media for your own devices can also spread a message that can incite a revolution.
1. Aveyard, Victoria. Red queen. HarperTeen, 2015.
2. “Cover Reveal: King’s Cage By Victoria Aveyard.” Reads and Reels, 15 Nov. 2016, readsandreels.com/2016/11/.
3. Brittdraws. “Mare Barrow.” DeviantArt, 15 July 2015, brittdraws.deviantart.com/art/Mare-Barrow-546512899.
It is a word that conveys many different thing, including the destruction of worlds, the fear of the many, and the power of the few. But beyond a mere glance of well-known science fiction dystopian works lies a web of characteristics that illustrate the darker aspects of society. Contrasting this is the term utopia, which references a location of good and perfection. But it does not reveal the happiness and joy that is present in society; rather, utopia illustrates the pinnacle of human existence that, while desired, can never be reached. So while both utopia and dystopia lie on opposite ends of the social spectrum, they share many similarities that only serve to heighten discontent and tensions within a society.
The word dystopia comes from the Greek prefix of dys, meaning bad or diseased. In particularly, this describes a place of darkness filled with despair and hardship. Typically, a small congregation of individuals amass enormous power and are able to subjugate the masses through a show of strength. That stratagem employs one of the most impactful emotional responses known to humankind: fear. And such a fear confines those subjected to the cruelty to salvage for scraps among themselves. As in The Hunger Games, a common misdirection of hate runs rampant between the poor, and the focus on who is the real evil there is lost. These negative emotions break down a society from within, and all good thoughts are abandoned.
The word utopia compounds the Greek prefix ouk, meaning not, and suffix topos, meaning place. In this instance, it is a description of nothing, or, to be more specific, a place that does not exist. Over time, this has translated into a sort of “good place” where you can search for in order to escape the horrors of society that someone is existing in. But the concept of perfection confines us in another way: hope. The partner to fear, it is potent in its own right. The potential to reach a kind of Elysium holds our hearts in a cage that is just as binding as before, as in The Matrix. And the entrance to such a location is a very selective path, with devastatingly few being able to set foot on those softer beaches. So where as dystopian rule destroys any ideas of hope, utopian societies elevate it into a plane that traps all who dare dream of a better life.
So where is the perfect middle ground? What qualities are necessary to allow society to achieve its full potential without overdoing it and leaving the majority behind? To be completely honest, we may never know. As a species, we are plagued with conflict and inequality. It is, quite simply, just how the world works. But when the dust settles, something is revealed. This is the fact that one cannot exist without the other. For humans have the power to hope in the darkest of places, and despair in the best of times. It is what makes us human. But as long as we accept our shortcomings and revel in our successes, we can truly find harmony in whatever disharmony the world decides to throw at us.
- The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Edited by Claeys, Gregory, Cambridge University Press, 2010.
- Henderson, Greg. “Futurespect: Utopia vs Dystopia – 10 Depictions Of The Future.” Rootnotion, 22 Aug. 2014, http://rootnotion.co.uk/utopia-vs-dystopia-10-depictions-future/. Accessed 22 Jan. 2017.