Dana Freeman ’25
The Impacts of Technology on People in the Near Future
Dana Freeman analyzes our overwhelming use of technology, exploring extremes that could one day become reality. She ironically describes “Openness” as the opposite– an isolating world where people rely on little-to-no verbal communication. She notes that this disconnect extends to families as well as professionals. “In ‘Saying Goodbye to Yang,” two parents rely on Yang, a robot, to “compensate for their lack of knowledge.” It is only when Yang malfunctions that the father reads Mika a bedtime story. Freeman criticizes technology for becoming easier “to share information [than] to actually get to know someone,” noting the imbalance between human connection and technology. In describing the aftermath of both Andy and Mika’s family losing technology, Freeman observes that they became more aware and appreciative of the people and places around them. —Barbara Kay, Expose Editorial Fellow
Now and in the near future, the positive impacts of technology are apparent and numerous. These benefits are evident with simple technology like a thermometer or as complicated as undergoing surgery with the DaVinci Robotic Surgery Machine. However, the negative impacts of technology are equally unmistakable. These adverse consequences are clearly demonstrated in Alexander Weinstein’s short stories “Openness” and “Saying Goodbye to Yang.” In “Openness,” people share information and communicate telepathically by sharing different “layers” of themselves. In “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” a family has bought an older brother and babysitter robot to help take care of their adopted daughter, but issues arise when the robot malfunctions. Both stories are set in the near future and they display how technology negatively impacts people by increasing dependence on it to the point of inducing laziness or apathy, reducing our capacity for intimacy, and distracting users from fully experiencing reality.
Technology negatively impacts people in the near future as it increases dependence on technology to the point of laziness, or apathy. This is evident in “Openness” when the protagonist, Andy, describes how people rarely speak to each other but instead use the technology of “layers” to communicate. Weinstein writes, “It was tiring to labor through the sentences needed to explain how you ran into a friend - much easier to share the memory, the friend’s name and photo appearing organically” (185). Weinstein employs indicative diction in this excerpt, especially by choosing the words “tiring,” “labor,” and “easier.” These three words all display how tiring and laborious regular communication is and how relying on technology has become so much easier. This quote also illustrates how people in the near future will put less effort into communicating because they can just use their “layers” to show what they are thinking instead of going through the effort of actually articulating what they want to say. Furthermore, Andy describes how the class he teaches does not even greet him, indicating that technology has superseded the need for formalities and respect (186). Similarly, in “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” the robot Yang is described as the perfect mix of brother and babysitter, along with a “breadth of cultural knowledge that [the parents] could never match” (4). The parents are using Yang to compensate for their lack of knowledge instead of actually trying to learn anything about the language and culture of China. Reliance on technology resulting in a lack of effort is exemplifies the negative impact of technology on people in the near future. Both in “Saying Goodbye to Yang” and “Openness,” Weinstein makes the negative impacts of technology explicit as he displays how the increased dependence on technology leads to laziness and disengagement from one another.
Another negative impact of technology on people in the near future is the way it compromises physical and emotional intimacy. For example, in “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” Weinstein describes that after Yang malfunctions and is unable to perform his usual duties, the father reads a bedtime story to his daughter Mika for the first time in months (17). This absence of emotional intimacy illustrates the idea that the robot Yang is spending more quality time with Mika than her own father. There is a disconnect, as Yang is supposed to increase the closeness of the family, when in fact he makes them more separate. Also in “Openness,” intimacy is decreased as a result of using the “layers.” Andy ends up “sleeping with people that knew little more than [his] username” (184). It is as if physical and emotional intimacy becomes less important because the ease in sharing information through the “layers” replaces it. It is so easy to share information that it is hard to actually get to know someone. Interactions become superficial, since technology is meant to increase connection, but instead does the opposite and weakens bonds between people. As seen in both of Weinstein’s short stories, technology reduces both physical and emotional intimacy leading to fewer connections and less enriching relationships.
Finally, technology negatively affects people in the near future by distracting them from experiencing reality. For instance, in “Saying Goodbye to Yang,” after Yang malfunctions and then no longer works anymore, the narrator describes time slowing down and how he notices more of the world around him, especially sensory input like sounds seeming more crisp and the feel of his neighbor George’s hand as George comforts the narrator by patting him on the shoulder (Weinstein 18-19, 17). Similarly, in “Openness,” after Andy loses connection to the “layers” in rural Maine and must communicate through speaking, there are heightened sensory descriptions of the lake, atmosphere, and food that Andy now notices (Weinstein 188-191). Andy is witnessing and experiencing more and therefore living more richly without technology to distract him. Andy describes how “there were no messages coming from anyone, no buzz-posts to read, just the three of us in a cabin” displaying how technology as a distraction from reality stops the user from actually experiencing life and its sensations (Weinstein “Openness” 187-188). Andy did not realize he was missing out on life until he disconnected from the “layers.” Only then could he begin to appreciate the world around him. In both Weinstein stories, once both protagonists lose the ability to use their respective technologies, they experience life more vividly, exhibiting how technology distracts its users from reality.
In both “Saying Goodbye to Yang” and “Openness” the benefits of technology are outweighed by the negative impacts that come along with it; dependence on technology invites laziness and apathy, reduces our capacity for physical and emotional intimacy, and distracts users from fully experiencing and enjoying reality. The entire purpose of technology is to help people make their realities easier, but perhaps technology does its job too well. Both of Weinstein’s stories raise the question of how society could mitigate the negative effects of technology while also harnessing and taking advantage of the positive aspects. Is it possible to do both? Perhaps. It will depend on the people in the present to dictate the future of how humans interact with technology.
Weinstein, Alexander. “Openness.” Children of the New World, Picador, 2016, pp. 183-199.
Weinstein, Alexander. “Saying Goodbye to Yang.” Children of the New World, Picador, 2016, pp. 1-22.