All posts tagged security

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.

After reading a few dystopian novels, I noticed the obvious and prominent presence of technology. Technology is a powerful tool which can be used in many ways. In the cases of these novels, it’s used usually for panoptical surveillance (such as in After) or for counterattacking such surveillance (such as in Little Brother). I wanted to look more into this recurring theme and study its role in dystopian societies throughout time. This involves looking at imagined technology from the past, present technology, possible desecration of present technology, and future possible technology. Looking through different ages and examining the existing an imagined technology available helps us extrapolate future. That’s one purpose of dystopian novels; to help us work towards a better present in the future.

One of my favorite authors is Ray Bradbury, because of his imagination for beautiful [and sometimes terrifying] machines. One of his most well-known novels is Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953. During that post-war period, simple technology like TV, radio, and telephones existed. Though simple compared to today’s technology, the people imagined aliens feared nuclear powered devices. In 451, Bradbury imagined air propelled trains (monorails), seashell radio (music players), the green bullet (earpieces), and the mechanical hound (land drones). His views were that in the future, technology would be powerful enough to make our life so easy and lazy, but also powerful enough to dictate us.

Other dystopian novels that are set in the present also show how current technology can be used for surveillance purposes. For example in Francine Prose’s After, metal detectors, urine tests, email, cameras, and prisons were not new technology, however they were implemented in a new environment: a school. The novel showed an example of how present technology can easily be configured together to create a dystopian environment.

The contrast also exists. In Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, the Department of Homeland Security turns existing infrastructure into a tool to track all the citizens in San Francisco. RFID chips in books, FasTrak Cards, toll passes, computer bugs, internet monitors, and security cameras are turned into eyes for panoptical security. The one twist to this is that Marcus also uses technology to deter surveillance.

Though not necessarily implemented everywhere or to its full potential, our current technology is perfect infrastructure for panoptical security. I’m interested in studying the developement of technology and its uses. This involves looking at old dreams, present realities, present nightmares, and future possibilities.


Works Cited
Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. Stuttgart, Klett Sprachen, 2016.
“Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Science Fiction Inventions, Technology and Ideas.” Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Science Fiction Inventions, Technology and Ideas, Technovelgy LLC, Accessed 19 Feb. 2017.
Prose, Francine. After. New York, HarperCollins, 2004.