Living The Utopian Fantasy Essay, Research Paper
In the late 1960 s, the U.S. Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) created a large, wide-area network for the free exchange of information between universities and research organizations. Since that time, the number of computers connected to this network has grown exponentially, creating what we now call the Internet. In 1996, more than 30 million computers were connected to the Internet in over 180 countries. Now, the Internet is globally accepted as an indispensable source of information exchange, including searchable databases, ongoing private and public discussions, real-time chat sessions, electronic mail, and others. As technology has sped this information exchange along, it now comes packaged in a multimedia environment, delivering text, images, moving pictures, and sound to your computer. With all its vast possibilities, the Internet has become a prime mode of communication in the corporate environment, as well as for the personal user. It proves to be a cheap, fast, and efficient method of interacting with people throughout the world.Since the emergence of the Internet, the idea of communicating through a cyber environment has become a rapidly growing and more universally accepted mode of communication, much to the expense of real life, physical communication. While cyber-communication does have its great advantages, it also instills many problems in a society, such as impersonalized communication, falsified identities, and a variety of sociological concerns. What attracts most people to communicating via cyberspace is the opportunity to reconstruct the self and live a life in a utopian society, where the individual can assume a more desirable identity. Douglas Coupland s novel, Microserfs does just that. The novel s central theme is the possibility of reconstructing the self. The main characters in the novel are a group of Microsoft employees, who spend countless hours of their day working on a computer without much sleep. They feel their lives going absolutely nowhere and are in need of an escape from their boring routine. The entire novel is told from the perspective of Daniel, the main character, a Microsoft employee. Daniel s average day consists of about 18 hours of hanging over the computer checking programming code and obtaining about 6 hours of sleep. That is on a good day. Occasionally he works until 3 A.M. to meet a shipping date deadline. Daniel s incredibly long and monotonous job earns him only around $26,000 a year, which is barely enough to support himself in the Seattle area. Daniel lives in a group house with a few other Microsoft workers, who all spend their days in a similar manner. His self-professed lifestyle is lived day to day, one line of bug-free code at a time (4). He also says that living in a group house is a little bit like admitting you re deficient in the having-a-life department, but at work you spend your entire life crunching code and testing for bugs, and what else are you supposed to do? Work, sleep, work, sleep, work, sleep (4). Throughout the novel, Daniel describes everything he encounters in an esoteric manner. For instance, when we are introduced to the other main characters in the novel, Daniel describes them by listing their seven Jeopardy categories that best describe them. Within the stories of these Microsoft workers, we are presented with all the possibilities that technology has to offer. While they all rely on technology, specifically computers and the Internet as a source of communication, they realize how impersonal it is.For instance, one passage describes how impersonal a simple e-mail message is: I m an e-mail addict. Everybody at Microsoft is an addict. The future of e-mail usage is being pioneered right here. The cool thing with e-mail is that when you send it, there s no possibility of connecting with the person on the other end. It s better than phone answering machines, because with them, the person on the other line might actually pick up the phone and you might have to talk (21-22). While this form of communication is new and easy to use, it takes away from the effectiveness and intimacy of real life communication. This form of cyber communication also introduces the opportunity to reproduce one s identity. One conversation between Daniel and Michael describes how trusting someone over the computer could be problematic: I m in love, Daniel. Congratulations. With who? I don t know. What do you mean you don t know who. Well, I do and I don t. I m in love with an entity called BarCode. And I don t know who he-slash-she is, how old or anything. But I m in love with…it. The BarCode entity lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. I think it s a student. That s all I know. So let me be sure I understand this. You ve fallen in love with a person, but you have no idea who the person is (323). While Michael has this belief and desire that BarCode is a female around his age with his same interests, the person he is conversing with could possibly be a 13-year-old teenager having some fun over the computer. The uncertainties and superficiality of reconstructing one s identity is one of the central themes presented throughout Microserfs.While reconstructing one s identity can be problematic in one sense, Coupland demonstrates a positive effect through the software product OOP! . Michael, one of the Microsoft employees introduced in the beginning of the novel, sees this product as a way of escaping from his dead-end lifestyle. He leaves Microsoft and travels to the Silicon Valley to begin working on the new product. Michael then offers the rest of his friends at Microsoft the opportunity of escaping their boring lifestyles at Microsoft and working with him on OOP! . Seeing this as an opportunity to change their identity and start over, they accept his offer. Although the salary was not any higher than what they were making at Microsoft, it gave them an escape from working endless hours and living sheltered lifestyles.The whole idea of reconstructing one s identity is also visited in Julian Stallabrass essay Empowering Technology and Mike Davis essay The View from Futures Past. These essays raise the specific problems of trying to live in a utopian world, including communicating via computer, and the expansion of cities around the world. Stallabrass both praises and critiques the idea of reconstructing one s identity, particularly in a cyberspace environment. First he starts by listing the advantages of communication through a cyberspace environment. According to Stallabrass, in a conversation in cyberspace there is no risk of violence or infection. One has the freedom to debate, exchange information, or merely chew the fat (347), and is not inclined to discuss what anyone else says, like one would be in a face-to-face conversation.
Stallabrass also says that the problem of communicating over long distances can be solved by a conversation in cyberspace. He goes on to say that cyberspace seems to offer simultaneously the advantages of privacy and cultural wealth, self-sufficiency and opportunities for sociability (347). This suggests that an individual does not have to worry about being poor or how they fit into society in a cyberspace conversation. The user can create or alter their identity in an attempt to fit into their utopian lifestyle. The greatest freedom cyberspace promises is that of recasting the self: from static beings, bound by the body and betrayed by appearances, Net-surfers may reconstruct themselves in a multiplicity of dazzling roles, changing from moment to moment according to whim. From being restricted to a single time and place, the Net being may distribute itself over the wired-up globe and make its acts and statements eternal. The new technology offers us freedom of the most fundamental and necessary kind, from identity itself (357). In addition, Stallabrass explains the dangers of changing one s identity by saying the extreme mutability and multiplication of identity possible in cyberspace collides with the desire to build communities based upon honest communication with the people of diverse backgrounds and interests. Role-playing, and the potential for dishonesty which goes with it, militates against community (358). The whole concept of role-playing, as Stallabrass describes it, can be seen in a widely used Internet communications program called ICQ. Users are given the opportunity to create their own user name, user information, and chat with whomever they wish. One experience I encountered with ICQ involved this reconstruction of identity. The men across the hall from me in my dorm thought it would be funny if they changed their user information so that it matched the information of my girlfriend. Then, when they sent me a message, I thought it was coming from my girlfriend, and we had a long and very personal conversation with each other. They still make fun of me to this day about the things I said. This prank, performed in jest, illustrates the relative ease with which anyone, including your closest friends, can assume a completely different identity with the stroke of a few keys. With the ability to recreate your identity, you can never know to whom you are really talking, as Michael faced in Microserfs. From this and other examples, we can see that a society based on this kind of communication is problematic. A true community cannot be formed from a society filled with surreal, utopian identities and impersonal communication.In Mike Davis essay, The View from Futures Past, the author describes the specific problems of living in a utopian society by comparing it to the overpopulation of Los Angeles. The city is expanding in size due to the growing interest in building this large utopian society. Davis describes the “dream of southern California” as a society free from war, drugs, and violence, and the desire for money. The city has been expanded over an area of land previously covered by Joshua trees, a very symbolic, important feature of the land. The developers do not care for the trees. They say that they are not as beautiful as pines and such, and that they just get in the way of their potentially developed land. Davis describes the expansion by saying the eutopic (literally no-place) logic of their subdivisions, in sterilized sites stripped bare of nature and history, masterplanned only for privatized family consumption, evokes much of the past evolution of tract-home Southern California (219). The author continues to say that this desire to live in a utopian society will never be reached because of the economical problems such as crime, pollution, and gangs that evolve from a large increase in population. While it seems ideal to live in a society based on the premise that money holds no great importance, the inherent desire for money will always prevail, therefore eliminating the possibility of living this utopian dream. Since the birth of the Internet and the desire to improve technology, there have been many advances in our methods of communication. It is now possible to talk to someone on the other side of the world instantaneously, either by chatting on one of millions of public chat rooms, video conferencing, or even through e-mail. This new, innovative method of communication has saved time and money by offering the user a chance to talk to someone free of charge and without travelling across the world to talk to him/her. However, this new, somewhat ideal method of communication has presented many problems in the expansion of our society. A community built on this method of impersonal communication would rely on the fact that we know the identities of everyone in that community. But since the cyberspace environment offers the user the opportunity to recreate one s identity to fit his/her utopian lifestyle, the true identity of a person within the community is unknown. As the three above writings have exemplified, the whole idea of living in a utopian society is in and of itself problematic. While there is a desire to live in a society free from crime, racism, and violence, this utopian society will never exist, solely because of the fact that an exponential growth in population (as exemplified by Los Angeles in Davis essay) eventually breeds the growth of these economic conditions. Living a problem-free life that is rich with our fulfilled desires is what most people strive to achieve. While one would like to escape from the problems that are encountered in today s society by forming a new identity in cyberspace, or anywhere else for that matter, an individual must learn to cope with it instead. Reconstructing identities and expecting to live based solely on our fulfilled desires would be unrealistic. Instead, we must take a realistic view of ourselves and life, and build an honest community that our real selves can represent.