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03/07/2020 The Communication Science magazine

Dystopia and Technology: A Symbiosis

There is an ongoing debate of whether the technological innovations that have become an integral part of modern society are actually beneficial. On the other hand, could it be that we are heading for an apocalyptic dystopian future which the media so frequently portrays? Does technology and dystopia go hand in hand?


For years, innovative technology has always been associated with a dystopian future. Contemporary media, ranging from comedy skits to full-length films have portrayed technology as humanity’s creation gone terribly wrong. With technology being an integral part of our lives, it’s worth seeing how technology has influenced the content we enjoy today, especially with regards to dystopian fiction.

The concept of a dystopia has always been entertained by creators throughout history. Most dystopian media explore themes such as oppression and totalitarianism and are linked to a technologically advanced future. Contemporary dystopian media claim that technology exacerbates the worst aspects of human nature, is detrimental to communication, and reinforces societal hierarchies. In this article, two common themes will be explored in relation to dystopia and technology: humanity and oppression.

Technology’s inhibition of humanity
Most dystopian scenarios place technology as the reason why individuals in their respective societies, are unable to communicate properly. While technology allows for new channels of communication to flourish, a dystopian narrative suggests that it has allowed for a higher degree of depersonalization between one another.

A classic example comes from the famed 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner. The grimy, dark universe that our protagonist (Deckard) lives in, is one with lifelike androids named replicants; Deckard’s role is to eliminate and hunt them down. Despite their realistic appearance, replicants do not respond well to emotionally sensitive questions; this makes them seem less than human in society’s eyes. This, despite the replicants’ reasoning, gives the government (and to an extent, Deckard) a justification to kill them, as they are seen as inhuman.

The dehumanization of replicants forces the audience to contemplate the meaning of being truly human; thanks to technology, it is easier to see one another as cold and detached and not entirely human, especially upon the realization that the communication between one another is mediated through code or electronics.

Enabling oppression through technology
Famed author Philip K. Dick once wrote, “There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.” Oppression, especially through surveillance, has been a key point that dystopian media discusses. The ease of which technology allows governments to have access to individuals’ private lives and even thoughts can certainly be worrying. Stories often show humans subjugated to invasive technology that permits the government to strip them of their freedom.

George Orwell’s 1984 takes this concept to extreme levels; the totalitarian government installs cameras in houses, rewrites history, and uses television as a method of surveillance. Technology is implicated in this process of close supervision. As a result, technology is seen as a tool that is used to further discrimination and suffering. With a person’s information and life being exposed for the government to use, it might be possible that there might be unseen consequences for the person in question.

Is it all that bad?
Despite being shown in an overwhelmingly negative light, technology may not be the boogeyman dystopian media made it out to be. Technology has made leaps and bounds in improving communication and has overall improved our quality of life. Hence, it’s important to keep in mind that while there will be adverse effects to using technology, whether as individuals or a society, there will always be benefits to technology.

Cover: Vassilij Gureev/NY Photo / Final editor: Erica Boyce

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