A Warning Against the Digital Age and the Destruction of Self

I believe that this book could have only been written after the advent of the Internet due to not only the digital language throughout the text (“looping,” “virus,” “machinery,” etc.), but also the conception of a sort of “wireless” connection. No, I do not mean the Linksys wireless Internet in your house. Instead, I refer to the idea that communication must not come in the form of physical, verbal, or tangible written material, but through processes that may not be seen or understood. These processes are what is investigated throughout the text. Furthermore, if we can see this book as being one connected to the investigation of the digital age as much as it is the protagonists’ investigation of this underground, unseen world of “sharks” that snatch memory and aspects of self, we can also see it as indicative of a sort of warning about what can happen in the future as the digital age persists.

Sanderson and Scout’s journey through the underground tunnel of un-space is indicative of the invention of the Internet in a few ways. For one, the fact that they are traveling in something called “un-space” is a concept perhaps only invented through the Internet. In a way, the Internet invented the idea that information, pictures, communication, etc. could be contained in something that is made up and intangible: the World Wide Web. Furthermore, their search is seemingly like a videogame in that they are on a quest, strategically following a maze and opening up different paths in a specific order, like a game. The significant different, however, is the fact that they are doing this “live” but within something called “un-space.”  The concept of the ability to maneuver the underground depths of un-space is, as I said, something perhaps invented by the Internet. In this way, the “players” are not separated by a joystick or a keypad, but are instead entrenched in the very confines of the space. They must be careful to do everything “right”—in a specific order or algorithm, in order to survive within this digital world.

Further evidence for applying this text to the advent of the Internet can be seen when Scout says, “The way I look at it…things are always happening. Sometimes things that nobody believed were possible just happen. Beforehand everyone says that’s impossible, or I’ll never live to see something like that but afterwards, it’s just a fact, it’s just history. These things become history every day” (229). While she, of course, does not come right out and say it, the Internet is something that was completely mind-boggling when it was invented, even seen as impossible or something so far out in the future that we would never see it in our lifetime. Because of the fact that this book was written after the invention of the Internet, perhaps we can apply it further; perhaps the author is saying to us, “Look at what can happen; we have already seen how the impossible turned into fact and then history, so what else can happen?” In this way, perhaps we can see this novel as a sort of warning by the author about what could happen. In the age of Facebook, Twitter, and other personalized accounts in which we put our identities out into this digital world, maybe we should be a little more careful. As seen through the example of Mycroft Word (a hilarious pun off Microsoft Word), we can see how the digital world might someday be able to steal our identities and harm us in this way. Seeing as “the Ward thing had become a huge online database of self with dozens of permanently connected node bodies protecting against system damage and outside attack,” perhaps the warning is that our selves will become attached to a digital network and never be able to detach itself.

This idea of the changing concept of “self” is also important to the text as the author distinguishes between the body and the mind. Scout explains to Eric about Mr. Nobody that “He wasn’t really a human being anymore, just the idea of one. A concept wrapped in skin and chemicals” (178). In this way, while Mr. Nobody had a physical body on this earth, his personality was synthesized through a transmission process—a personality, or concept of self, was wrapped in the physicality of skin but created artificially through the use of chemicals. Not only is the idea of losing your own self frightening, but the author also speaks to the idea of being entrapped in your condition once it happens. For example, when Scout explains how a part of her got stolen and was replaced with a piece of something else, “it,”  even when “The it is deactivated, a mass of information packets, like a virus code,” remains “inside my head and there’s no way of getting it out” (197).  Here, the author obviously relates us to aspects of the Internet, as viruses spawn from the Internet; even further, though, this is a virus that there is no way to dispel or overwrite.

Lastly, the usefulness and reliance on written paper in this text for the protagonist’s survival (i.e. the need to recover/ write more letters once they got damaged in the rain) is perhaps an obvious warning that a reliance on digital recording may not be as reliable. I found it interesting that the library was seen as “un-space,” something destroyed, vacant, or unused; it speaks to perhaps how we are getting away from the use of print and relying too heavily on computers, e-readers, etc.  In one of his many letters, the first Eric expresses his concern that “it’s dangerous here in the past where I am and things get muddled or lost or destroyed” (77). Here, we can see how his tragic end might have to do with not writing down the past or his thoughts. This is a timely idea as our society is moving towards the expression of ideas and the recording of history on the Web; perhaps, then, the author warns us yet again that our ideas, our history, and even our very selves might be lost if the Internet (this intangible thing or concept) fails or turns against us.

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~ by khughes80 on January 13, 2013.

5 Responses to “A Warning Against the Digital Age and the Destruction of Self”

  1. This post cuts to fact that the internet innately changes everything that comes after it and although people theorized memes and the internet before they existed, Raw Shark Texts is the concrete manifestation of those ideas.

  2. A digital Age and the destruction of self. This post is a thorough analysis of the negative and positive aspects of virtual reality while also relating it back to identity and the self.

  3. Longwinded, but articulates the relation between the novel’s reality and the internet very well.

  4. Kelsey eloquently compiles concepts together with specific textual evidence that an relate their reality to technology.

  5. A Warning Against the Digital Age and the Destruction of Self thoroughly explores the historical context of The Raw Shark Text while discussing the central mechanics that make it a compelling narrative which plays on the new primal fears that are emerging to prey on humanity in the new digital age

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