A Love Letter to Technology?

I find modern literature (and perhaps society at large) generally disdainful of technology.  People want to dismiss the Internet, and social media in particular, as creating a less focused and present, and more superficial and inauthentic society.  I strongly, strongly disagree with this position.  Internet culture is not without its faults, certainly, but just look at this image.

A screenshot I took of all the languages available for instant translation on Google Translate (translate.google.com)

I can translate English into languages I’ve never even heard of instantly and at not cost to me.  I can meet someone in Zimbabwe over social media, and then can talk to them by translating English into Shona (a language I only just learned of) with speed and ease unprecedented in all of human history.  How is that anything less than exhilarating?

One of the things I’ve so enjoyed about Station Eleven is how it reminds me how awe-inspiring modern technology truly is.  Contrary to a lot of the current discourse, Station Eleven celebrates the miracle of technology, be it airplanes (pg 247) or the Internet (pg 202).  But what really struck me was two scenes on pages 208-209.

In the first scene, Miranda goes to Starbucks for a decaf latte and compliments the barista’s green hair.  In the second, she visits Arthur in his dressing room and he makes her a cup of tea with his electric tea kettle.

There’s nothing inherently remarkable about these two interactions, but juxtaposed with the primitiveness of the post-Georgia Flu world, I found myself in awe of them.  This awe may be partially because they center on three things I really enjoy (coffee shops, bright hair, and electric kettles), but nevertheless, Station Eleven is really good at making you appreciate technology.

We have shops where you can go and get a cup of coffee in under five minutes.  We have electricity to keep those shops running.  We have running water to make the drinks.  We’re able to import the non-native coffee bean in such enormous supply that it’s very easy and cheap to obtain.  We have factories that produce bleach and hair dye, and I can buy both of these for relatively little money.  I have access to a car to take me to the beauty supply store to buy the materials, so that the seven mile journey is but a small errand.  I have an electric tea kettle, and can have boiling hot water whenever I want it.  I have a variety of tea bags in my room.  I think you’re getting the point.

One of the things I am most enjoying about Station Eleven is how it makes me look at the world through new eyes.  By so vividly crafting a world without technology, St. John Mandel changes the way I see even the most mundane aspects of my life.  That’s not something I can say of many writers.

One Reply to “A Love Letter to Technology?”

  1. It’s the epitome of the whole “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” notion. And it’s very true. I remember Dr Sample mentioning in the first Digital Studies class I took that we often only notice technology when it’s not working. And it’s truly the case because it’s so prevalent and common in our everyday lives that it’s impossible to notice. It’s very similar to the way a fish is considered unaware of being in water, and I guess expanding on that, once you take a fish out of water, it becomes very aware of the lack of water. (That might have sounded a little silly, and I might have written it like that on purpose)

    But going back to the point, I think it’s easier to list the things that technology and electricity didn’t create, than the things it did. In fact, when you think about it, other than us (who are nevertheless heavily influenced by technology, and as such, a product of its presence and existence) I don’t think anything today isn’t heavily heavily dependent on sophisticated technology. I say sophisticated because if we lost our current technology, we would lost all technology, we would just have the primitive aspects of it remain. 

    I think one thing that we haven’t focused on, and that post-apocalyptic stories in general don’t focus on is life expectancy. And I don’t mean the chances of dying and whatnot, but over time, life expectancy would probably be half of what it is, if even that. Without medicine, and the level of hygiene we’re used to, it’d be surprising if people made it past their late thirties. It’s something that’s always on my mind. How would life expectancy fare without proper medical developments. And it’s interesting because our dependency on technology makes us lose a lot of primitive skills which help in situations where only primitive technology is available, so I feel all medical development would roll back and people would have to almost start from scratch. That to me is one of the scariest aspects of the post apocalypse. I mean, even things like toothpaste would be gone. And bad teeth are a huge detriment to health.

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