Technology anxiety and why we need an apocalypse

I was just reading a fascinating article my friend linked on Facebook called ‘Where technology goes next will change us all” by Craig Simms which describes the future of technology as being like magic, that we don’t want it out for all to see, but integrated completely with our lives. He writes of the development of Project Glass by Google to be a turn to cyborgs. “Humans are the next device to plug in.” Wall-E shows a similar future, but has an adorable robot that falls in love and inspires humanity.

This interests me on so many levels, but it’s one of the comments below the article that got my attention and made me think of my dear zombies and cultural anxiety. MariaK1 wrote “I find this article incredibly depressing and if I had money I would be tempted to move to the country and avoid the whole stinking mess.”

I thought of the article completely opposite: a wide viewing of the reach of the human imagination. I thought more of Star Trek and its utopian future rather than the bleak Battlestar Galactica. This is probably due to my upbringing as a nerd.

Technology becomes scary, to me, not just when used for war, but with the unintended side effects. When robots rise up against us, when our lives have such little meaning because technology sustains us so long that we no longer seek to produce anything ourselves but become mindless consumers.

Starting to sound familiar now?

It’s very much a theme of the film Surrogates with Bruce Willis. People don’t need to go outside anymore, they just lay down, hook into a robot, and the robot goes out and does all the work for them. Imagine the muscle waste from laying down so much and doing nothing! Where most of society goes about in these robots, there is a community living in a separate area that are against the use of surrogates and that humanness is the apex of society, not the technology.

So back to zombies. It could be technology used to extend life (Cybermen are sorta zombies maybe?) or radioactive waste that infects people (Redneck Zombies!), or just in general scientific experiments to see how far human life can survive, or maybe exposure to aliens or alien substances (space dust in Fido, facehugger things in Half Life). With the zombie apocalypse, we are forced to strive to survive for any significant amount of time; we must create, build, plant, and grow as the stocks in the stores won’t last forever. Survival is not just for the next day, but for life.

The major theme/moral/etc of so many stories is that technology and its conveniences make us weak and further from nature/true goodness/godliness/whatever and prevents our evolution. That’s why we need a Wall-E, a Greer, a Zombie Apocalypse to ‘reset’ us to this natural state.

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The future for humanity

Much like the Doomsday Clock, fiction is indicator of the future. Think of all the inventions that were created or are currently being developed after being shown on Star Trek, or the Invisibility Cloak from Harry Potter.

But a lot of modern fiction doesn’t show the utopia that Star Trek did, much more like Battlestar Galactica (and Caprica, which was killed too soon!). Two non-zombie books are particularly prominent for me, The Human Rites trilogy by Ian Irvine and The End Specialist by Drew Magary.

A million lifetimes at your disposal: what would you do with them?  

What good is an eternal life if everyone you care about is dead?

The End Specialist shows a world where a cure is created that has the side effect of pausing the ageing process. While you can still die from a gun shot or cancer, you will never die of old age. Think of what that means where nature has been tamed. More people will live on. In a world already overpopulated, what does it mean when death becomes rare?

From bestselling Australian author and environmental scientist Ian Irvine comes a chillingly realistic thriller that will have you asking:
Is there life after global warming?

The Human Rites trilogy by Ian Irvine (The Last Albatross, Terminator Gene, The Life Lottery) is a story that is much closer to home. There is no magical scientific discovery, but it shows a cruel, twisted world that has developed from what we have now. Global warming, the drying up of natural resources, over-population, and still humanity is in denial of how royally screwed up the world is.

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Both books deal with issues that you see often in zombie texts. Humans consuming, not producing. Human greed. Human comfort above all else. Humans in vast amounts of denial. There are more than just these two books, but these I have and really enjoy. They show a truly screwed up world.

What will happen when over-population goes too far? Will politicians let it go, or institute some sort of one-child policy or eugenics? Or will the earth/spiritual blob create an ice age, plague or meteor to thin us out?

What will happen when everyone wants to be a lawyer and no one wants to be a farmer? There’s already a shortage of production jobs, and waves of rural students who go to the city.

What about when our technology outstrips us and goes all Terminator/Cylon/Robopocalyse (Daniel H Wilson) on us and our creations become our doom?

What does love and marriage mean when your life is forever at risk, or what does ‘until death do us part’ mean when you are expected to live for centuries?

What point is there in school and education when you will either live millennia or barely decades? When death is staved off, or always around the corner.

Why live when life is so limited that you can’t make a difference? Or why make a difference now when life is eternal?

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Recommended Reading

  • I Shopped with a Zombie by Philip Horne in Critical Quarterly vol 24, no 4
  • The Idle Proletariat: Dawn of the Dead, Consumer Ideology an the Loss of Production Labor by Kyle William Bishop in the Journal of Popular Culture, vol 43, no 2 2010
  • Eating Dawn in the Dark: Zombie desire and commodified identity in George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead  by A Loudermilk in Journal of Consumer Culture vol 3 (1)