Young Adult Lit and Technology

Following on from my previous post, technology in YA is a bit weird to me.

The fear of technology is definitely not new in science fiction or Western culture. Look at the Matrix, look at Terminator, look at all the billions of books that I couldn’t possibly name them all. Technology is scary! It will rise up against us, or cause our destruction in some way (some zombies are caused because of bio-chemical weapons, testing of new plagues or even for cures). Technology seems to be a pretty persistent social anxiety in modern times, that it will irrevocably change our society and our very nature in some way, Technology is a threat to humanness.

Technology has a great lot to offer us, but in science fiction there’s a decidedly sinister undercurrent. In Technophobia, Dinello demonstrates how science fiction shows technology as subverting human values, changing human behaviour, and doesn’t provide us with the utopia as it promises, “we end up oppressed by our own inventions”. I really enjoyed The End Specialist by Drew Magary, a world where there is a cure for old-age, disease, and most types of deaths. Great huh? Immortality! But then as it gets used and legalised, the real societal and personal problems emerge. No matter how benign the technology may seem at first, it has long reaching consequences that will make us all suffer eventually.

So where I don’t get it is that the recent generations are growing up in a world of ever-increasing technological advancement, a world of wonders with a tablet and smartphone in the hands of every toddler (yes, I’m super-generalising here), and yet there is this imposing of the view that technology is a negative thing into fiction for them. I’m not the first to find it odd, Noga Applebaum has already written a book on this (which I purchased a few days ago and am eagerly awaiting). She states that “young readers, internalising this technophobic message, are in danger of learning to fear the future”. Ball calls YA scifi a socially conservative genre, as it clings to these older traditions that are not the lived experience of the intended readership. These negative attitudes are not so dominant in adult science fiction, so why here? Why now? Why does society produce an overall negative perception of technology for young adult readers?

We think of technology as changing and taking away from human ‘essence’. We cling to these historical perceptions of what is human, without considering that the human essence, and even what it means to be human, is itself a product of cultural context. This firmly sets humans at the top of the hierarchy, but it also assumes universality and denies the ‘Other’, making a certain type of person as the ‘default’ model of human, and thus privileged.

This is what I’ll explore into next, the argument about the future of humanity and posthumanity from both sides.

Recommended Reading

  • Ball, Jonathan. “Young Adult Science Fiction as a Socially Conservative Genre.” Jeunesse: Young people, texts, cultures 3.2 (2011): 162–174. Print.
  • Applebaum, Noga Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge, 2010.
  • Mendlesohn, Farah. The Intergalactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction. Jefferson: McFarland, 2009.
  • Vint, Sherryl. Bodies of Tomorrow: Technology, Subjectivity, Science. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2007. Print.
  • Fletcher, David-jack. “Recalibrating the ‘ Human ’.” Neo 5 (2012)
  • Dinello, Daniel. Technophobia: Science Fiction Visions of Posthuman Technology. Austin: University of Texas Press. 2005. Print.
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