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.
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tom Doherty Associates, 2008.
Rossi, Veronica. Under the Never Sky. HarperCollins, 2012.
I have never been totally enchanted by America’s public education system. In fact, since leaving high school, I have become fairly disgusted by it, and Doctorow’s Little Brother did little to improve my views. Throughout America, a fairly substantial number of people are growing more and more aware of the ways in which public education does not live up to its ideals. Take, for example, this critical article that highlighting some of the major failures in public schools. Personally, standardized testing tops my list, but I also feel that the surveillance and prison-like status of the school in Little Brother is a huge deal in society today.
While no school is nearly as strict and technologically secure as Cesar Chavez High, we get closer and closer every day. It is difficult to skip a high school class without phone calls home and permanent strikes on one’s record. Furthermore, more and more schools are installing cameras in hallways and classrooms, and this article talks about having teachers wear cameras to combat misbehaviour. In my opinion, increased security is not the solution. By stifling the students, it is quite possible that they will only become more determined to undermine the system. Like Marcus, they will continue their behaviours, even under threat of punishment if they get caught. Cameras, rules, and other security measures only attack the symptoms of misbehaving children. To truly eliminate this issue, and allow schools to go back to focusing on teaching, rather than discipline, the root causes need to be addressed. Unfortunately, root causes arise from a number of factors, including family life, income, and personal beliefs. To address these will involve huge efforts by the entire country, which is honestly not something we are ready or willing to do at the moment. In fact, improving the quality of life overall is an aspect of utopianizing America as a whole.
Little Brother introduces one path that life can take for those whose behaviours do not suit those in power. These destructive paths could be eliminated if the behaviours are solved at the source. However, to do seems to require both technological and societal advances, to the point that security is either strong enough to work or until we believe security is not necessary in public schools. Yet to get to that point will require huge leaps in American values or scientific research, both of which are hindered by the public education system. This means it may be impossible to ever improve our current system, and brings up the necessity for total reform. Total reform, however, will also likely require major efforts on the behalf of all Americans. Until most people are united in this goal, it will be impossible to drastically induce change.
For the dystopian heroine, as for the young adult reader who shares her despairs and triumphs, the quest for agency is the principle focus of the ascent to adulthood. In the realm of utopian literature, one can scarcely conceive of a society absent agency as anything other than a disaster.
In my conference presentation, A Sympathetic Tantalus: The Scorpion Rules and the Broken Promise of Agency, I will be discussing the role agency plays in young adult dystopian narratives, and more importantly the role young adult dystopian literature plays in developing a sense of agency in our youth. The talk will focus on Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules, following Princess Greta’s development from hostage schoolgirl to tortured captive, and finally to awe-inspiring trans-human intellect. Will we cover the intricacies of goat husbandry, or the intrigue of princess/goddess/farm boy love triangles?
Probably not. We do have our time constraints. Nevertheless, you will not want to miss the classic dystopian staples: ecological disaster, global war, genocide, filicide, panopticism, un-nerving robot intelligences that make us question the very nature of humanity, and more. We will also be forced to consider Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, painfully immediate though it is. Remembering the rumbling of dissatisfaction with the fate of Marcus’ revolution, the continuing existence of the DHS, and the absence of any true punishment for the dreaded Severe Haircut Lady, we will consider the efficacy of the ambiguous ending in literature as a spur to real-world action.
I argue that this pattern is greater than fear alone and more affective than mere hope. It is a thing that unsettles and forces a response. Having experienced the arduous road to revolution and the crushing defeat that follows, how do we choose to fill the void in our hearts and the vacant space the author leaves for our own story?
Bow, Erin. The Scorpion Rules. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2016, New York.
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Tom Doherty Associates, LLC., 2008, New York.
Elgaard. Goat in Argan Nut tree, Morocco. Wikimedia Commons, 22 Feb. 2015, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ArganTreeGoat.jpg.
For my presentation, I will be discussing the effects that Dystopian novels have in influencing the minds of their young adult readers. Ever since we’ve been analyzing dystopia from the beginning of the semester, I’ve managed to catch onto the underlying subliminal messages that Dystopian novels try to convey to young adults in many of the different novels and films we have studied. Since this is a prominent aspect of the novels that I have found interest in, I thought it would be a perfect topic for my research paper and presentation.
The role of dystopia itself is a warning. It portrays a dysfunctional society which has some sort of qualities or aspects that are akin to our own society and shows us that if we don’t fix something soon, we could end up falling into a dystopian type society similar to the one in the book. In Little Brother and Homeland, we see the dangers on a society becoming too technology oriented. In the Hunger Games, we see the rise and revolution of a nation against an unjust and overly oppressive government. In the 100, we see the problems of a government keeping information from their citizens while trying to maintain a sustainable society. All of these have some aspect which subliminally warns the reader (or viewer) about our own society and now the writers and trying to cater this to their younger readers. The writers of these books and TV shows know that the younger generation is going to be the leaders of the future and if anyone is going to be able to make a difference in our society, it will be them.
One source that has been incredibly useful has been the charts off of the article, “Understanding the Appeal of Dystopian Young Adult Fiction.” They go very in depth on what aspects are added to Dystopian novels that make them appeal to young adults and they cover a fair bit of ground, analyzing 16 different dystopian novels and seeing what major themes and elements each one has. This has been a very useful source and I’m looking forward to synthesizing it into my essay and presentation.
Scholes, Justin, and Jon Ostenson. “Understanding the Appeal of Dystopian Young Adult Fiction.” Scholarly Communication Department, Research & Informatics, Virginia Tech Libraries, Scholarly Communication, Virginia Tech University Libraries, 2013, scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v40n2/scholes.html. Accessed 24 Feb. 2017.
Data: the driving force for knowledge, the evidence behind scientific theory, and the basis of tracking your existence. The collection of large amounts data is not a new concept, but recently in the 2010’s, the presence of “Big Data” has far exceeded the capacity it once held in its early days. As you log onto the web, websites record your digital footprint. The likelihood that this specific data will be used and analyzed is slim, but the potential it holds for companies and institutions to reconstruct your persona through this data is unprecedented.
The fear that new technological phenomena will begin to cross the line between innovation and oppression is reflected in modern YA dystopian literature. In my paper, titled Big Data and Its facilitation of oppression: In Their Dystopia and Ours, I will discuss the way Big Data appears in YA dystopian literature, and how it’s reflective of current and prospective Big Data usage in our own society. One such fictional Dystopia that relies heavily on Big Data collection is that in Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. The Department of Homeland security strengthens its already close watch on its citizens through increased surveillance; students are tracked with library books and gait recognition, average citizens with their cars, and the entire population with surveillance cameras. All these devices collect location data, and send them to the DHS. These means would be illegal to implement in our own society (besides the surveillance cameras- those are everywhere), but there is a much easier way to know everything about anything, especially since this data is willingly given to the public. We are readily giving up information about ourselves as we shop, browse, tweet, pin, and post all over the World Wide Web.
The use of Big Data presents itself in a different, but equally unsettling way in Ally Condie’s Matched. At the age of 17, everyone is given a match, the person that will be their future spouse and life partner. A choice does not exist, given that the government possess data about a child’s genetic information, interests, and temperament and can make the “best” decision through data analytics and algorithms. As I will point out in my presentation, something similar exists in our society, but with a little more deliberate choice: online dating profiles. The use of these sights can be harmless, even useful to those who seemed to have exhausted every other mean to find love. However, imagine this taken too far; government owned profiles on ordinary citizens, where new data is added at exponential rates until the it may seem to resemble that of a serial killer, or even a terrorist, tying back into the Big Data usage in Little Brother. The millions of terabytes of data that exists publicly and privately is more than corporate and governmental institutions know how to deal with, but as processing power and analytics continue their exponential growth in the digital revolution, we may soon find ourselves with less privacy and a new “Big Brother”.
For the upcoming presentation, I will be discussing the negative consequences of systemic oppression on individuals in YA dystopias. My paper is called Race, Gender, and Oppression: How Invisible Forces Affect Individual Experiences in Dystopias.
I will begin by giving a brief explanation of the term, oppression, and the argument that oppression should not be perceived as a uniform force that affects everyone in the same way. In my research, I have come up with logical and sound evidence that uniform oppression is impossible in societies that are hierarchal by nature. Throughout my presentation, I hope to topple the common misperception that everyone suffers to the same extent in dystopias.
To provide evidence for my claim, I will be analyzing several characters to demonstrate the effects of race and gender on individual experiences. I will explore how race and gender can affect a person’s standing in society and how oppression is not only a byproduct of totalitarian rule, but also a byproduct of an ingrained social hierarchy – based on race, gender, and other factors.
Specifically, for this presentation, I will draw examples from Legend, Little Brother, and The Handmaid’s Tale to examine the lives of characters who are disadvantaged by systemic oppression. In each dystopian novel, there are characters who are oppressed in different ways, depending on his or her background. For example, in Little Brother, some characters are disadvantaged by their race/ethnicity, while in The Handmaid’s Tale, female characters are subordinated and live in a society controlled by men. Legend is a foray into another type of oppression that divides characters by socioeconomic status.
After analyzing characters individually, I will then analyze characters as a group. In the second half of my presentation, I will be comparing and/or contrasting the experiences of privileged characters to those of characters who are less fortunate. I will explain why characters think and behave the way they do, and why some characters cannot afford to act as rashly as other characters. To end my presentation, I will reiterate the main points of my argument and (hopefully) leave the audience convinced.
For my conference presentation on Monday, March 13th, I will be presenting the highlights of my research paper How an Author’s Perception of Perfection Influences His/Her Dystopian Society. I believe that “perfect” is a term that is relative to an author’s own unique life. I will use contextual examples from our readings thus far to point out where I see each author’s values showcased in their writing. I will argue that what a given author perceives as a “perfect society” will ultimately determine the type of dystopia that he or she creates. Consequently, I will bring up the fact that a lot of what authors prioritize in shaping a dystopian flaw is developed from their backgrounds, the way they were raised, and their beliefs. Additionally, I will give an overview of the key discoveries I have made, simply because there has not been much prior research done on the topic.
My presentation will begin with an outline of my thesis and my overarching thoughts. I will then give a brief summary of the origin of dystopias and the idea of “perfection.” I will then segue into literary examples that I use in my paper, such as Shatter Me, The Hunger Games, and Little Brother. In my presentation, I will analyze the societal flaws that I see present in the novels and I will consider how those relate to the authors’ backgrounds and upbringings. I also utilize two different samples of forums where people of varying ages have shared what they believe a perfect society to look like. One shares responses from a college-level English class while the other presents opinions from the older adult population, which helps me to contrast the varying values that different ages possess. With the ideas presented in the forums, I will extrapolate what I believe their dystopias would look like based on what they value when creating their utopias.
I hope that the synopsis of my research is intriguing to you, and that my usage of both concrete evidence and inferred material is interesting to you. In order to see where my research thus far has brought me, you will have to listen to my conference presentation and read my paper. I encourage you to reach out to me about any questions or suggestions you may have regarding my research-especially considering that much of it is being developed based on my own ideas.