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Reading Doctorow’s Little Brother has definitely brought my attention to digital privacy. One of the reasons why Little Brother is such a thought-provoking dystopia is that the novel uses contemporary technology in modern-day San Francisco which gives its readers the sense that they may actually be living in a similar dystopia not too far in the future whereas it’s difficult to put myself in the shoes of Aria in Under the Never Sky because I don’t live in a post-apocalyptic world in an augmented reality controlled by the government. 

Digital privacy is becoming an increasingly controversial topic, especially now that President Donald Trump has signed a law that loosens the restrictions on what internet service providers could do with the data they collect. Due to the lack of competition among internet service providers and the fact that internet is practically a necessity now, there isn’t really a convenient way to avoid having data collected on you, and most people wouldn’t go out of their way to prevent data from being collected on them.

I will admit I do not fully understand what the consequences of this law will be, but after reading Little Brother, I think it’s safer to side with the individual consumers than the big data companies. There is something uncomfortably invasive about the idea of having data being collected on you and then sold, even if it’s just to advertisers. Little Brother has also drawn my attention to how difficult it can be to protect your digital information from being collected if restrictions aren’t put in place. Most people understandably don’t understand what happens behind their computer screens and are easy prey for businesses that want to sell their information. In Little Brother, if people wanted to access the internet while protecting their privacy, someone who understood how the technology worked like Marcus had to figure out a countermeasure and then teach it to everyone first. A similar series of steps must occur already in the real world for internet users to protect themselves. First they have to learn about the potential threat in the first place. Then the majority of them will have to hope someone else has created a tutorial for a countermeasure. Realistically, most people won’t go through all that trouble, so I think it’s the responsibility of the lawmakers to protect citizens from being taken advantage of.

Image: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-violation-of-online-privacy

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tom Doherty Associates, 2008.

Rossi, Veronica. Under the Never Sky. HarperCollins, 2012.

https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v40n2/scholes.html

This article discusses a study conducted by Jon Ostenson, an assistant professor at Brigham Young University who teaches courses on young adult literature, and Justin Scholes, a high school language arts teacher. As the title suggests, the goal of the study was to analyze popular young adult dystopian novels written in the 21st century to see what they had in common in hopes of explaining what made these books so popular. Among the books studied are many we’ve discussed in class or had the option to read in our independent readings, such as the Hunger Games, Divergent, Little Brother, Feed, and a few others shown in the tables below.

A screenshot of a table of elements young adult dystopias tend to have

Second part of the table

Ostenson and Scholes then go on to explain how the dystopian fiction genre is great for developing adolescents because of its ability to introduce deeper and more complex societal issues that adolescents are beginning to understand and become interested in. Then specific elements that they believed to be attractive to young adult readers are grouped into 3 categories and discussed.

The first of these categories is “Inhumanity and Isolation.” They found that many of the novels in the study involve protagonists that see some kind of inhumanity in their society and feel isolated from friends and family that don’t share their views. Ostenson and Scholes believe many young adults can relate to this feeling of separation as they develop their own viewpoints on controversial issues.

The transition to adulthood is discussed more in the next category, “Agency and Conscience: The Brink of Adulthood.” In this section, Ostenson and Scholes discuss how in many popular young adult novels, the protagonists realize their roles in society and are able to greatly contribute to reforming their respective societies, a concept that is very empowering for young adults as they begin to experience the responsibilities and power of becoming independent adults. For example, in the Hunger Games, Katniss goes from taking care of her family to becoming the figurehead for a revolution that results in the end of an oppressive government as her influence on the society of Panem increases.

The final category is an interesting one that hasn’t been discussed too often and is titled “Relationships: Platonic and Romantic.” The development of the protagonists discussed in the previous sections are often facilitated by a relationship the protagonist has, either platonic or romantic. The relationships developing young adults form influence their beliefs heavily and vice versa, an idea reflected in many popular young adult novels. For example, Marcus’ decisions in Little Brother are influenced by his friends and his love interest, Ange.

Judging from the presentations I saw this week, this source could be useful for a lot of different research topics since it analyzes what popular young adult dystopian novels seem to have in common, and many presentations I saw this week dealt with these kinds of novels and how they relate to young adults in our society, such as Young Adults: The Key to a Dystopian Hit, Dystopias and Depression: The Implications of Social Taboos in Young Adult Literature, and A Diamond From the Rough: How reading YA dystopia benefits our society.

Works Cited:

Scholes, Justin and Jon Ostenson. “Understanding the Appeal of Dytopian Young Adult Fiction.” The Alan Review, vol. 40, no. 2, 2013, https://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v40n2/scholes.html. Accessed 13 Mar. 2017.

Here’s a quick preview of my research. Enjoy!

Here’s the article by Bill Joy I talked about if you’re interested.

Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us

What interests me about dystopian novels is their tendency to create worlds in which people are controlled by technology intended to help them. It’s similar to the common science fiction trope of a robot revolution, but the fact that a small group of humans is behind the machines makes it more realistic and possibly more frightening. These technologies range from simple surveillance tools like cameras (and the software necessary to filter through all the information for anything relevant) to augmented realities in the most extreme cases which allow those with the authority to directly observe and change the worlds in which their users live. For my independent reading novel, Under the Never Sky, the latter is used to allow large amounts of people, known as the Dwellers, to live in a small space, while spending most of their attention and time in virtual realms created and monitored by the government.

The Matrix is another example of an augmented reality which is regulated by the Agents who have the ability to bend reality.

Even more interesting is the tendency of these novels to antagonize technology completely and have their protagonists revert to more primitive ways of life. In my experience, Marcus in Little Brother is the only protagonist I’ve seen try to use primarily technology to fight back against a dystopian government. Bows and blades are much more commonly used by protagonists, even in worlds where hovercrafts and other advanced war technologies dominate battlefields which is the case in Under the Never Sky. In this novel, the post-apocalyptic world outside of the pods in which the Dwellers live is ruined by war and Aether storms that set the ground ablaze. Savages and cannibals roam the lands unclaimed by tribes, and extreme mutations are not uncommon, yet the reader still gets the sense that this natural way of life is better than the artificial one in the Realms. To emphasize this, mutations in the novel often amplify human senses to superhuman levels, giving the author an excuse to explain how sensuously rich the real world is compared to any artificial one. I wonder why authors so often write stories that seem to suggest that primitive lifestyles are better than the lifestyles permeated with technology that we’re headed towards, rather than stories that show how we can fight to keep our rights as technology inevitably develops further which I believe Doctorow does very well in Little Brother.

Works Cited:
http://i.huffpost.com/gen/799955/images/o-THE-MATRIX-AND-HINDUISM-facebook.jpg

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic, 2008.

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tom Doherty Associates, 2008.

Rossi, Veronica. Under the Never Sky. Harper Collins, 2012.

In my experience, the media and propaganda almost always serve the same function in dystopian societies, that is to keep the common citizens ignorant. This is likely because technology often plays an important role in dystopias, and as a result, most dystopias include societies with either primitive or incredibly advanced technology. Primitive dystopian societies aren’t able to use propaganda on a scale large enough to be interesting, but for more advanced dystopian societies, propaganda offers a peaceful way to control people while also allowing the author to introduce relevant themes regarding the control of media. In the case of my independent reading novel, Under the Never Sky, both types of societies exist. There are the “Savages” who live in the post-apocalyptic wilderness and are mostly concerned with staying alive and protecting their tribes, and those who live in the Pods and spend most of their time in a type of augmented reality known as the Realms using a device called a Smarteye.

The Smarteye does more than augment vision. It tricks the nervous system, allowing users to truly feel as if they’re in the virtual world.

As one can imagine, the Realms allow the government to control the information available to its citizens to a great degree, even for a dystopia, since they are able to virtually shape reality as they see fit. Even familial interactions take place in the Realms. People are raised to believe the outside world, known simply as the Real, is a terrible place filled with pain, suffering, disease, and cannibals. Even worse, the Real is boring. You have to actually walk places, and one’s appearance can’t be changed instantaneously. This is perhaps one of the most effective uses of propaganda by a dystopian government I have ever seen. The government does not need to force its citizens to obey. Instead, it only needs to convince them that obeying is an enjoyable experience. Different Realms are created to cater to people of various interests, and because it’s all virtual, the government does not actually have to divert resources to keep its citizens happy. As long as the government keeps its darker actions secret, which isn’t hard when it has so much control over reality, who in their right mind would rebel in what is seemingly paradise?

 

Works Cited:

Rossi, Veronica. Under the Never Sky. HarperCollins, 2012.

Image: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/2b/f5/42/2bf542f0e077e0bc40372f255c4b487a.jpg

I originally defined a dystopia as a world in which the worst-case scenario became a reality. This definition is similar to how The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature defines a dystopia as a portrayal of “feasible negative visions of social and political development, cast principally in fictional form” (109). However, these definitions exclude much of science fiction due to its “extraordinary or utterly unrealistic features,” and I have come to believe feasibility is too subjective to be used to define a dystopia. To me, a dystopia is any fictional place in which the majority of people live in an undesirable condition and are relatively powerless to change it, often because they are kept unorganized, uninformed, and in fear.

The government in one of my favorite dystopian films, Equilibrium, maintains power by forcing people to take emotion-suppressing drugs and using an elite task force to further its own cause by any means necessary.

In The Matrix, a dystopia is achieved by keeping its people completely unaware of their oppression, and therefore unable to organize against it without being broken out.

I believe this broader definition allows dystopian literature to be more easily combined with other genres, especially science fiction.  Combining dystopian literature with YA literature brings interesting subjects of YA literature, such as growth and identity, into a dystopian world. In The Hunger Games, Katniss struggles with forming close relationships while also growing up with a single parent, which are issues many young adults can relate to or at least understand because of friends who may be in similar situations. I think relatability is especially important in dystopian characters because it allows readers to more easily put themselves in the characters’ shoes and understand life in a dystopia on a deeper level. The point of a dystopia is not whether or not the technology or apocalypse that created it is realistic enough, but how people in this fictional world live their lives in comparison to ours.

Works Cited:

Claeys, Gregory. The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature. Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. Scholastic Inc., 2008.

Images courtesy of http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/17054/top-10-disturbing-dystopias