I would like to respond to some of the ideas presented by Adam in his post, “What’s Bugging Ethan Levin?”. Adam makes some interesting points about how technology can hinder relationships by providing a sense of virtual comfort. However, I think the role of technology in the novel, especially Ethan’s relationship with technology, is a bit more complex. Author Ellen Ullman clearly shows us how Ethan’s coding habits have a tendency of disconnecting him from his surroundings. Ethan is often portrayed like a machine when he becomes absorbed in his work, churning out code and stopping only briefly to satisfy his human need to eat. However, Ethan’s relationship with technology also emphasizes his very human characteristics. Although technology often causes Ethan to lose touch with the real world and enter an almost machine-like trance, it also brings out his humanity.
Ethan’s attempts to debug his project have caused frustration several times in the sections that we have examined thus far. In these scenes, Ethan is certainly not disconnected from the real world. In fact, when he accidentally deletes his work on page 107, Ethan is portrayed to us not as some mindless coding automaton, but as a frustrated and animated human being: “He sat there breathing in and out, too rapidly, unable to stop. He could hear the blood pulsing in his ears, squishy and insistent” (Ullman, 108). On these pages, technology seems to draw Ethan closer to reality, triggering his emotions and forcing him to seek help from another person in an attempt to resolve his problem. While Ethan’s use of technology as an escape seems to pull him away from the realm of reality, it also reinforces the fact that he, like the rest of us, is a flawed human.
In today’s society, frustration at the failures of our various devices is all too familiar. At one moment we may be mindlessly scrolling through online news feeds like some automated reading robot, but once technology falters, we return to a state of human animation. Although we can use technology as a way of escaping our “humanistic needs” (as Adam puts it), technology has a way of reminding us that we are indeed human.
I have included these two images to showcase two of the points I brought up in my post. The picture on the left shows how technology can dehumanize us, while the picture on the right shows how technology reinforces our humanity by pushing our buttons and causing us to revert to prehistoric stone age trends of smashing things with clubs.
Picture 1: http://indiadaily.org/internet/is-negative-seo-real-if-so-can-negative-seo-effect-your-rankings/attachment/angry-businessman-cartoon-computer
Picture 2: http://www.wsj.com/articles/automation-makes-us-dumb-1416589342