Tech in Connection: The Similarities of Low Tech, High Tech, and Ecotopias
Through the course of this semester, we have studied multiple scenarios regarding the narratives of Literature of the Future. We have studied Evolution, Creation\Apocalypse, Alternate Futures and Realties and so forth. As we have discovered, each of these narratives, though different in execution and practice, each contain similarities and connections that qualify their classifications as narrative for Literature of the Future, as well as lend to them each a storytelling bond. This bond, while simultaneously acknowledge the unique aspects to each narrative, reveals the structure as well as the singular purpose that each narrative is built around. Same is true for studying the latter narratives covered in this class: Low Tech, High Tech, and Ecotopia. All three of these narratives, like the ones before them, share a bond amongst their narrative purposes. That bond hinges on how they treat technology and its importance to the human race, as well how either its overwhelming and violating control, sudden and complete absence, or harmonic balance with nature can spell either doom or success for the future. But all as one acknowledge that technology is crucial to the human experience, and that, if not monitored, could lead to disaster for us all.
For the first scenario, the Low Tech Narrative, a definition must be provided. According the course’s webpage, the Low Tech narrative “encourages re-engagement with actual reality, particularly biological human existence”. This is true, as Low Tech stresses the dangers of a future where technology has become overabundant and invasive, and thus returns to a setting where humans have rediscovered their connections with nature, or are forced to. The latter is true in the short story “The Logical Legend of Heliopause and Cyberfiddle”. The state of human society in this story is one of complete domination by technological advances. So much to the point that physical descriptions for the characters have been abandoned in place of terms such as “chambered, neuro-jacked, hard-wired” (Virtually Now, 159). Technological terms are the only ones capable to describe a person in this story: no mentioning of eyes, hair, physique, and such. There is only the technology. And yet the technology cannot provide the answers that the humans seek. They wish to travel through the stars, but standing in their way is Heliopause; it will not let the humans pass (161). The protagonist, Pryer, eventually finds the solution to this problem in the form of constructing a violin. To do this, Pryer first must create steel tools (168), and then gather wood (173). So, Pryer has resorted to relatively primitive means in order to construct a rather primitive tool in order to overcome an immense problem that technology cannot seem to solve. Referring back to the definition of Low Tech, the connection to the earth is stressed in this story. Humans have ceased to use tools made of minerals and earth, and instead have opted for their technology. But when that technology fails, Pryer must go Outside, the realm which his ancestors escaped from (172). Thus, reconnection to earth and the environment is stressed in “The Logical Legend of Heliopause and Cyberfiddle”, where humans must either resort to the physical and natural ways of those before them, or remain confined to Earth and never fly beyond the sun.
And while “The Logical Legend of Heliopause and Cyberfiddle” provides the necessary example for the themes and stresses of the Low Tech Narrative, “Johnny Mnemonic” provides a clear model for the themes of the High Tech Narrative with its Cyberpunk storyline and setting. The course webpage defines the Cyberpunk offshoot of the High Tech Narrative in that it “assumes the ongoing evolution of computer technology under increasingly unregulated and state-less capitalism” . This is very true in the story of “Johnny Mnemonic”, the titular protagonist of which has had information vital to the Yakuza implanted in his brain. This setting is one where technology has progressed to point where it can be utilized to replace memories.
Such a scenario is reflective of the fear that technology will one day become so invasive that it can intrude upon the very aspects and essences of humanity. Johnny even laments this reality, saying “And one day I’ll have a surgeon dig all the silicon out of my amygdalae, and I’ll live with my own memories and nobody else’s, the way other people do”. Johnny yearns to be normal; to not have his body treated as a commodity. And this theme runs throughout the story from beginning to end in the form of implants and surgeries. Cosmetics are able to alter people’s complexions to the extent that they can essentially change a person’s race, as well as implanting weapons into one’s body. Human bodies are rendered to inhuman status; they are objects, able to be spliced and preened in accordance to whatever desire so dictates. This is concurrent with the theme of technological overload and oppression expressed in “Cyberfiddle”. Like in “Cyberfiddle”, the advancements present in “Jonny Mnemonic” have redefined what it means to be human, so much so that humanity is under threat of being lost altogether. Human bodies are capable of being used as data storage in “Johnny Mnemonic”, whereas in “Cyberfiddle” technology has rendered humanity unrecognizable as well as inarticulable. As a result, Johnny is forced to adapt and utilize his abilities to protect himself, while simultaneously taking advantage of the information stored in him to make a profit. High Tech, therefore, forces its characters to adapt to the advances of the future, just as Johnny has, while Low Tech asks its characters to return to the old ways to find the solutions, just as Pryer did.
And then there stands the scenario of Ecotopia, that succeeds in some ways of balancing the ideas of Low Tech and High Tech to create a society that recognizes both the necessities of technology, as well as its detriments. The course webpage defines an Ecotopia as “a community whose collective social health imitates nature’s interconnectivity” Such is true in the story “Chocco”. In this story, the inhabitants of Chocco have established a society reminiscent of the Native Americans. The speaker relates the stories of Maya Melons and The Return of the Cliff-House Dweller’s Springs (Future Primitive, 189). Furthermore, when the conflict between Jon and Mikal begins (the two contenders for the position of Memory Keeper, which the current speaker holds) the audience is given a look back into the civilization dubbed as the Machine People who lived long before people of Chocco. Both Jon and Mikal are asked to recount the devastation that was wrought upon this civilization as well as the follies they committed, such as the obsession with physical artifacts, lack of land for recreation and agriculture, and lack of evidence for poetry (194).
This history bears resemblance to the representations of technology given in both the Low Tech and High Tech Narrative examples. As stated previously, technology in both Narratives has either erased culture or transformed it to the point that humanity possesses an almost alien definition. For the people of Chocco, technology served to demolish civilization and decimate its purpose; and so, the three are linked. This is not to say that the story of Chocco views advanced technology as a complete terror; the people of Chocco still use it to a degree, for the narrator mentions the use of solar collectors (190). It seems then that Ecotopia does not admonish against the use of technology; rather, it asks its characters, as well as its audience, to be aware that technology is capable of eradicating society and culture, as well as altering human lives to the point of uselessness if left unchecked, which is what has happened in both “Cyberfiddle” and “Johnny Mnemonic”. Ecotopia strives to find balance, which is why in the society of “Chocco”, the people still make use of technology insofar that it does not overwhelm or threaten them.
Low Tech, High Tech, and Ecotopia Narratives all have connections within their stories. Low Tech focuses on the characters locating their more physical and primitive roots in order to solve the problems created by technology. High Tech presents the audience with characters that have chosen to adapt the tyrannical demands of advanced technology, and hope through this adaption that they find a solution. Ecotopia tries to balance the two and provide a world where advanced technology has been rejected up to the point that its usefulness and purpose are restored, and do not violated the whims of nature. All three narratives tackle an issue very prevalent in the fears of the future: whether or not the final advancements of technology will either result in utopia, or lead to world-ending catastrophe.