"Bloodchild:" A Story of Humans and Technology?

spreston's picture

“Bloodchild:” A Story of Humans and Technology?

 

            This interpretation of Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” is really interesting to me. After voicing this interpretation, Hilary asked whether this story might show a deeper bond between humans and technology. That is, do humans develop feelings and love for their own technological tools?

                        In “Bloodchild,” the Tlic are completely dependent on the Terran – without the Terran they would not be able to procreate and would die out as a species. This dependence on Terran suggests the Terran would have the power; after all, the Tlic need the Terran to survive. Similarly, humans in the modern nations need technology. Can you imagine a bank or grocery store or college running without computers, phones, and other technologies? From this lens, humans are cast as the Tlic and technology as the Terrans in “Bloodchild.”

 

 Image from http://kristiriley.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/12basics.L.jpg

                        This image depicts the dependence displayed in “Bloodchild.” Just as the baby Tlic need the Terran body for nourishment in developing, this human baby needs technology (a phone and a bluetooth device) for his nourishment. This depiction brings up an interesting question: is the relationship between humans and technology simply one of dependence? Do we just use technology for our own advancement or do we develop feelings and a bond with the technology we need so much?

                        Looking at “Bloodchild” helps answer this question:

 “T’Gatoi and my mother had been friends all my mother’s life” (4).

 

                                               “T’Gatoi was not interested in being honored in the house            

                                                she considered her second home” (4).

 

“We [Terrans] were necessities” (5).

           

                        “I was first caged within T’Gatoi’s many limbs only three minutes after my birth. I tell Terrans that when they ask whether I was ever afraid of her” (8).

                                               

                                                            “Back when the Tlic saw us as not more than                                                                         convenient, big, warm-blooded animals” (9).

 

“‘You’re [Gan] just her [T’Gatoi’s] property’” (18).

 

                        I picked out these quotes because they reveal many dimensions of the relationship between Tlic and Terran. T’Gatoi shares friendship with Gan’s mother. She thinks of his home as her second home. In the afterward, Butler calls this story “a love story between two very different beings” (30). Applying this to our human-technology metaphor, humans and technology are capable of friendship and love. I decided to think about whether this is true in my life.  I think that I have developed a relationship that is more than just dependency with some of my electronics. For example, my old blackberry, which broke from some water damage, is still in my desk drawer, next to my pens, stapler, tape, etc. It is no longer useful as a phone, but I cannot part with it because it was my beloved blackberry. Even though I do not depend on it any longer, I cannot part with the memories I have with that phone. So, it may sound strange, but I do think that the Terran-Tlic relationship evolving into more than just dependency parallels a real relationship between technology and humans. To see if other people agreed or not, I Facebook chatted a friend:

 Me: soooo....question......

do you feel like you are dependent on technology? i.e. your computer, phone, etc.?

Grace: hiii

Yesss

wheni broke my phone by dropping y phone in the toilet i like couldnnnt survive

Me: do you think that it is more than just a relationship of dependency? For example, do you feel a connection to technology that could ever be described as a friendship?

Grace: i am def just dependent

no friendship for me

but it is a security thing

 

                        This shows a disagreement between Grace and me about whether humans and technology have any kind of “partnership” (a word Gan uses in talking to T’Gatoi”, but it reminds me of how the Tlics once saw Terrans merely as animals to be used. Although some may still see technology as a tool that we can use without developing any deeper relationship with, “Bloodchild” predicts that this will change. This seems likely to me, especially as technology is progressing and developing more of an ability to “think” (think of Watson on jeopardy, a machine that shows technology becoming closer to humans, able to compete and even beat humans). 

 

                        In “Bloodchild,” T’Gatoi still has the control over Gan: she can “cage” him in her limbs and exerts control over him throughout the story. In the scene where Gan holds the gun, however, we see the possibility that Gan could overpower T’Gatoi. This makes me wonder about the ability of technology to overpower humans. Although humans may have created technology, might it become more powerful than us? And have the ability to kill us? After all, Watson beat humans at jeopardy. If humans and technology are integrated, as we explored with Michael Chorost, would humans still be in control?

Image from http://daily.swarthmore.edu/static/uploads/by_date/2009/02/19/evolution.jpg

 

                        I thought this image provided some perspective on my questions. From this image, I take that as humans become dependent on more advanced tools, we are devolving rather than evolving. The fourth man in the image looks most powerful to me. Standing upright, he looks powerful. The modern man, hunched over a computer, looks little more evolved than the ape—he appears almost back to being on all fours! While I disagree that technology takes us back, I think that this image provided an interesting perspective. Here is another image that I thought disapproved of human dependency on technology:

 Image from http://prichila.wordpress.com/

 

                        I think this image illustrate that while technology can help us advance, it is extremely important that we do not become completely dependent on it because technology, like everything else, has the ability to fail. If I cannot function when I drop my phone into a puddle or my computer crashes, I will not be able to live a flexible life. In reading “Bloodchild” from a perspective of the Tlic-Terran relationship as a Human-Technology relationship, I have taken an important lesson: while it is fine for me to love and have a partnership with my technology, I should not completely depend on it. I hope that, unlike T’Gatoi, I do not come to rely on my technology in order to survive. In this way, I see “Bloodchild” as both illuminating a deeper connection between humans and technology and also as a warning of not becoming so dependent on technology that I cannot survive without it or that it may be able to overpower me.

 

Comments

Anne Dalke's picture

"A real relationship? A friendship?"

spreston--

In many ways, though you explicitly ground your essay on an interpretation made by several of your classmates, you are harkening back here (though you doesn't acknowledge this!) to the ideas explored @ the beginning of the class, when Andy Clark said,

"My body is an electronic virgin.   I incorporate no silicon chips... but I am slowly becoming more and more a cyborg.  For we shall be cyborgs not in the mere superficial sense of combining flesh and wires but in the more profound sense being human-technology symbionts: thinking and reasoning systems whose minds and selves are spread across biological brain and nonbiological circuitry."

You are tracing here the ways in which we are dependent on-- and therefore inevitably vulnerable to the failure of-- our technological extensions. I'm actually not sure that you can separate these two phenomena, as you do in your conclusion, where you try both to "illuminate a deeper connection" and warn us against "becoming so dependent."

There are a number of other ways in which I'd like to see your argument refined. The interpretation by your classmates, on which your analysis is built, says that "humans represent technology, the creatures represent us" in Butler's story "Bloodchild." Later you call this a "human-technology metaphor," even later "a real relationship between technology and humans," "a friendship," and later than that you "wonder about the ability of technology to overpower humans." So what exactly are you tracing here: a representation? a metaphor? a relationship? a friendship? an ability? I have a query, too, about your use of the word "devolution," which charts less actual change than a judgment on its direction and quality.

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