There is an underlying theme encrypted throughout Ellen Ullman’s The Bug; humans created technology only to then be consumed by the “simplicity” and “efficiency” it brings our lives. Ullman illustrates how the world of technology, invented with the purpose of connecting the world, has in large part been the very thing causing such a cold disconnect within it.
Ullman emphasizes the way technology pulls us into this disconnect by contrasting the relationship Ethan has with the people in his life and the blinking white characters waiting for his command. Ullman describes this relationship most vividly when describing his and Joanna’s relationship. One interaction Ullman uses is when Joanna is about to board her plane and “took Ethan’s hips in her hands, drew him toward her, looked into his eyes, and said “give me a real farewell”” (page 24). Ullman introduces the real human need for love, interaction, security and most importantly, reciprocation. Ethan, unfortunately, is unable to fulfill those innate human needs. Joanna seeks her emotional needs from Ethan but turns to another man when they are not met, and Ethan increasingly discovers his sense of freedom from humanistic needs in his technological relationships. Ullman describes it as “his digital companion, algorithmic pal, one of the two programmatic assistants with whom a programmer comes to pass more time with than with a friend, or a parent, or a lover, or a spouse.”(page 136).
What makes us up as humans never really changes. We seek our own desires and wish for them to be fulfilled, but the way in which an individual goes about that is ever changing. Ullman seems to be hitting on this by illustrating the role technology has assumed in that equation. We want affection and security, and while this has traditionally been fought for in relationships, more and more are finding it through the technological mirages of virtual worlds, facebook, email, texting, and games. It has become the common escape where we know all of the variables in play and can master control over them. We don’t have to face real-life consequences, pain, or disappointment.
We feel closer and more connected to each other because of technology, but it has proven to only serve as an intermediary in human to human contact. It is ironic that having the world at my finger tips can cause me to be “worlds away” from my date sitting across the dinner table. This is attributed to the same technology distancing Ethan from the rest of his world. Ullman seems to be conveying this same message. She is aware that in our efforts to enhance our present reality, we have only muddied the waters, enabling alter-realities to consume what was once normal and true.
This youtube video is a short clip on the movie, Her. It is about a man who falls in love with his artificially female Operating System. The video is a collection of people talking about what love is in the modern world._ _It is kind of long, but worth watching all the way through: