Fearing the Machine

When thinking of technophobia and the roots of that fear, it's helpful to consider the idea of the internet as a mechanical/mind construct and the long history in literature, movies, and television of themes centered on fearing the machine as well as the feeling that creativity can go too far. Ultimately, these factors add up to a disquieting loss of perceived control, one that is seen as even more unsettling because it is a blending of human and machine, which by definition is not natural. One of the earliest examples from fiction is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), not coincidentally dating to the Industrial Revolution. Another example from the 1950s and 60s is the Japanese movie Gojira (1954), released in the United States as Godzilla and first in a series of movies featuring the radiation-induced monster. Although Godzilla was a living creature, his origin was in the effluvia of technology, specifically humanity's careless use of nuclear technology. One of the most interesting movies in the series is Gojira tai Makagojira (1974), titled for U.S. audiences as Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. The creation of the mechanical Mechagodzilla in that movie was intended to defeat the incredibly resilient Godzilla. In this case, the only possible recourse seen for the fearful problem humanity's carelessness had created was to pursue and defeat it with another man-made creation; in other words, fighting tech with tech, machine-caused monster with another machine, an idea that sounds strangely like plagiarism detection software on the hunt for textual transgressions lifted from the web. In this view, when faced with internet-based plagiarism, no mere human instuctor can fathom the intricacies of finding a specific passage on the world-wide-web. A machine must find the machine-induced transgressions.

In the last twenty years or so, technology fears have multiplied about computers and the vast number of social media, databases, and many, many other elements commonly referred to as the internet, conflating the machinery and the idea-space so much that popularly they are the same. As evidence, movie representations of computers are magical and unfathomable by those not of the tribe geek. To reach for one of the earliest examples, the laptop Sandra Bullock totes in The Net (1995) does things no other 1995 laptop could do such as work instantly while she runs for her life, and better yet, have infinite battery life, wireless access pre-ubiquitous wireless, and internet-like connections as well as location mapping while in the Compuserve era. Such movie-shenanigans made viewers feel that computers really were magical devices that could do all that if one only knew how to work the magic. But viewers did not know how since it wasn't real, and that ignorance, fed by pop culture images that don't reflect technological reality, can lead to a specific, very academic sort of fear, the fear that, to paraphrase futuristic everyman George Jetson [link to video], one will never be able understand (or stop) those crazy things. Next: Fear Metaphors