Monday, March 21, 2011

Technology, Alienation and Humanity

Although both “Nova” and “Moon” imagine societies in which technological advancements are integrated into methods of economic production, I was intrigued by their differing depictions of how these advancements might affect work satisfaction. In “Nova”, workers are able to physically interact with the products of their labor by plugging into machines with their implants. This enables them to become more deeply connected with their job, making them less alienated from their everyday work and more satisfied with their job. “Moon”, on the other hand, suggests that technology might have the opposite effect, as it is set in a world in which technological advancements have enabled the establishment of mining bases on the moon which need only minimal human supervision. However, as the sole operator of his outpost, Sam has only the non-human Gerty for companionship, and constantly counts down the days till the end of his contract, suggesting that he is very much looking forward to leaving behind the terrible solitude of his workplace. Thus whereas Nova suggests how technological advancements might solve the problem of working-class citizens being dissatisfied with their working conditions, Moon depicts a future in which they actually worsen this problem.

While “Nova” and “Moon” may disagree on this point, both do appear to suggest that technology can alienate people from their humanity. During his confrontation with Lorq in the City of Dreadful Night, Prince is severely injured, and is only able to stay alive by encasing his body in a tank filled with nutrient liquids containing “alien proteins”, leaving him unable to vocalize except through a speaker. Thus medical advancements allow Prince to continue living, but in a state arguably less than human, as his body is no longer physically able to perform many actions a normal human would be able to. However, whereas Prince appears to lose his humanity in a physical sense, “Moon” suggests how technology can alienate people from their humanity from an ethical perspective. For example, Lunar Industries treats the clones of Sam unethically by using them as disposable tools and deceiving them regarding the terms of their employment contracts, but such inhumane treatment was only made possible by advancements in cloning technology. Thus both “Moon” and “Nova” suggest that technology can cause people to become alienated from or otherwise lose touch with their humanity, although in different senses.

In the process of making these suggestions, “Moon” and “Nova” raise uncomfortable questions about what exactly defines humanity. For example, the clones of Sam certainly seem very human to us, a point Sam himself drives home when he emphatically says to Gerty, “We’re not programs. We’re people.” But are they really? Normal humans do not have years of memories implanted into them, or life expectancies of only three years, as evidenced by the first Sam’s deteriorating health towards the end of his employment contract. As explained above, the extent to which Prince can be considered human after his confrontation with Lorq is also questionable, as normal human beings do not survive in nutrient tanks or vocalize through speakers. Do Prince’s and the clones’ possession of human thought processes suffice to categorize them as human? Or must the presence of a human mind be coupled with physical characteristics possessed by normal humans, in order for a being to be considered human? “Nova” and “Moon” challenge our preconceived notions of what it means to be human with these questions, but do not appear to provide any straightforward answers to them.


Post a Comment