Technology And Emotions In Sherry Turkle’S “Alone Together” And Aldous Huxley’S “Brave New World”

Technology has been assimilated into the functionality of our daily lives. As more profound achievements are made, technology seems unfeasible to avoid. The fear has become a reality: our dependence on technology has grown to be inevitable. Sherry Turkle’s excerpt from “Alone Together” and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World both distinctly indicate that our society is steadfastly discarding empathetic emotions and reinstating unambiguous technology in its place. Human emotions can be negatively controlled by technology as it becomes a paramount source of dependence in society.

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Due to the continuous enhancements of technology, the quality of social interactions is rapidly diminishing. As the dependence on technology increases, it also predominantly influences social communication skills. For many, technology has mediated a majority of their relationships among other people, thus making it as being the only known way to connect with one another. Not only does this alter the depiction of social engagement, but this anonymous interaction can also negatively modify behavior. As described by Sherry Turkle, many individuals often use technology to confide their emotions in secrecy due to a fear an overwhelming fear of judgment. Turkle remarks upon such bizarre social mannerisms that “the idea of sociable robots suggests that we might navigate intimacy by skirting it. People seem comforted by the belief that if we alienate or fail each other, robots will be there, programmed to provide simulations of love,” which people prefer in fear of rejection or judgment from the other individual. Advancements in technology provide the gift of anonymity among others, allowing individuals to express their beliefs without the fear of being criticized. Although technology breaks many communication barriers, such as social anxiety or shyness, Turkle explains the severity of this reliance on future generations. Focusing on teens especially, the technology could lead to an influx of online romances, which allows humans to connect with each other without the need for intimacy. Online relationships construct a way for people to be both together but also be alone.

Comparatively, Huxley utilizes the technology made in the World State to further limit real emotional connections. Soma, believed to be sedative and a calming drug, is used to distract the people from realizing they are completely enslaved. As a result of the mass population taking this drug, the World State government is utilizing the technology needed to govern its peoples’ thoughts and actions. Similar to Turkle’s online relationships in the excerpt, Huxley uses soma’s sedative properties to create meaningless companionships. Huxley integrates such ideas “swallowing half an hour before closing time, that second dose of soma had raised a quite impenetrable wall between the actual universe and their minds. Bottled, they crossed the street; bottled, they took the lift up to Henry’s room on the twenty-eighth floor.” through the portrayal of Lenina and Foster’s relationship built on the drug. Primarily used to divert the focus from independent thought, the Controllers exploit the substance to prevent seclusion. Although the characters engage in physical relationships, soma temporarily alters their mental stability, thus creating a relationship built on magnified imaginary feelings.

Turkle and Huxley present similar ideas in which technology is stripping away human interaction to where relationships are built on false happiness. Both texts demonstrate that while technology progresses, it also catalyzes the growing abyss of emotional detachment. The predominant use of technology has directly created an illusion which encases all of life’s vivid emotions, ultimately resulting in an emotionally unresponsive population. As technology has transformed, its intimacy with one’s psychic has become immense. However, many take advantage of this aspect to exploit one’s emotional vulnerabilities. As detailed by Huxley, the World State is restrained from chaos through scientific practices meant to deprive oneself of any emotional attachment. For the World State, soma was explicitly created as a constraint to prevent instability. Soma’s narcotic components turn people into mindless drones; thus authorizing the World State to possess ideal jurisdiction over its oblivious population. Conditioned to love the drug, this hallucinogen manipulates its citizens from believing in genuine happiness. By mass distributing soma, the government further demonstrates collectivist ideology in which the status of the group is worth far more than that of the individual. Huxley exhibits this concept by stating “Mass production demanded the shift. Universal happiness keeps the wheels steadily turning; truth and beauty can’t. And, of course, whenever the masses seized political power, then it was happiness rather than truth and beauty that mattered.”

Established here, the World State will go to any length to ensure stability. Through technology’s power to preserve conditioned behavior, the World State can disengage all emotional attachment from forming. To the governing body, its citizens’ experience “genuine” happiness fulfilled by the consumption of soma. By giving people a false sense of contentment, there is no wish to satisfy a need for authentic happiness. Soma provides its people quintessential happiness for an elongated period, hence, real emotions are deemed gratuitous. In Turkle’s except, emotional detachment is further exhibited through technologically mediated relationships. Rather than engaging in physical communication, people often prefer to connect with online boundaries presented in e-mails and text messages. Through online communication, one can fabricate an entirely new embodiment of themselves to whatever is desired. However, this further emotionally isolates one from their community. As explicated by Turkle, “Tethered to technology, we are shaken when that world “unplugged” does not signify, does not satisfy. After an evening of avatar-to-avatar talk in a networked game, we fell, at one moment, in possession of a full social life and, in the next, curiously isolated, in tenuous complicity with strangers.”

Similar to the effects of soma, one can create their most enticing version of themselves through online chat rooms without being emotionally exposed. Even though those in Huxley’s dystopian society are under the influence of a real drug, both impose the same effects. By engrossing oneself through technological means, real emotional connections are relinquished and disregarded. One could be communicating with another over the span of a multitude of hours, speaking about their innermost fears and desires in life. Despite all of this, there still is no physical semblance. Human tendency requires connections to be fulfilled through physical moments, such as touch, which is absent through technology. A connection made online could merely be fictitious, which can conceive a false deception of reality. As a result of the absence of palpable emotions, one then creates an artificial reality as a coping mechanism. Human beings possess the natural inclination to delude oneself from accepting the true condition; forging an ideal reality in its place. One just does not want to accept the harsh truth when an archetypal scenario can readily be conceived. This type of behavior is shown through Turkle’s observations as the idolization of technology causes the people to view the robots as a route for salvation. Turkle implements “Robots have become a twenty-first-century deus ex machina. Putting hope in robots expresses an enduring technological optimism, a belief that as other things go wrong, science will go right.”

By definition, deus ex machina is an unsuspected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation. Comparing robots to deus ex machina illustrates Turkle’s high esteem on technology’s significance. Despite being made completely of machinery, robots are seemingly able to perform the same tasks as humans. As discussed throughout the excerpt, many people confide their emotional instability in robots even though they lack empathetic qualities. To one’s surprise, many individuals are inclined to speak candidly through technological means. In essence, this particular facet weighs human beings and robots as the same, which in turn, muddles the fine line between being a human and a robot. This self-deception is devising an inevitable false sense of reality, which hazes one from viewing the true problem: these inhumane connections are distracting one from realizing the engulfment of technology in human lives. Likewise, as Turkle views robots as a source of salvation, soma acts in the same way in Huxley’s world. For many, soma is seen as the solution to all problems. Lenina turns to soma as an answer, simply stating “‘Why you don’t take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly’” By merely taking soma, one can be abdicated from all of their problems, allowing an escape from a somber reality in a matter of minutes. However, the citizens of the World State fail to realize that this clouds their vision of seeing actual reality. By neglecting to realize their reality is not quite so perfect after all, the citizens are continually growing more reclusive and detached; thus exemplifying its full circle effect.

Both Turkle and Huxley include this forewarning in attempts to salvage what’s left of a technologically-independent future, however, it has become irreversible in both texts. Observably, technological progression has expedited the rate at which human relationships are affected. By becoming intertwined with one’s life, it has begun to replace empathetic emotions with affectless. Both texts warn the overwhelming amount of anesthetic emotion forces which cause people to withdraw themselves from social settings, which in turn, forges a false sense of reality.

11 February 2020

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