Henry David Thoreau, a leading philosopher of the 19th century, stated that “Men have become the tools of their tools.” Machine Man, written by Max Barry, holds true to this quote. In this fiction novel, scientist Charles Neumann surrounds his entire life based on mechanical parts for which he switches out his biological parts. Up until nearly the end of the novel, Charles can be referred to as a cyborg, meaning he relies on these mechanical parts to extend his physical capabilities. He loses his morality for biology increasingly, as he allows mechanical parts to take over his entire body. Although technology continues advancing and is becoming more resourceful, it can have damaging effects. In Charles Neumann’s case, the use of technology is detrimental to his overall health.
First, using technology negatively impacts Charles’ mental health. Machine Man immediately begins with Charles criticizing robots as a child. For example, he claims “Instead of doing one thing right, they [robots] did everything badly” (Barry 3). As early as the first page, readers pick up on the fact that Charles has a hunch for improving machinery. Later, in his adult life, Charles becomes a scientist, and he works for an engineering company called Better Future. Ironically, Charles loses a leg in an unfortunate work accident because he becomes worried about finding his phone. Unhappy about the choice between several undesirable prosthetic legs, Charles creates his own artificial leg, but he finds that having one biological leg and one mechanical leg hinders him from reaching his full walking potential. Without delay, Charles begins constructing a second leg, and, without remorse, he removes his last biological leg from his body. Throughout the plot, Charles constantly makes new parts for his body. In a logical sense, it is not normal for one to remove his or her own body parts when they are functional. Not to mention, he puts this type of work before everything else, making no time for socializing. Isolation and the constant need for control are symptoms of an obsessive compulsive personality disorder, those of which Charles displays. According to The New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health, “Typically people with this disorder are unjustifiably stingy with time and money, and often are workaholics, valuing productivity or possessions above other people” (Carlson, “Personality Disorders”). This description holds true of Charles, as he is always focused on his strange work, many times forgetting to eat or sleep.
Additionally, Charles believes his mechanical body parts will drive attention to him. Lola Shanks, Charles’ prosthetist and love interest, contributes to his desire for more mechanical body parts. For instance, she compliments his work, saying “Oh, Charlie. It’s beautiful. It’s completely beautiful” (Barry, 56). Lola makes Charlie feel as though he matters, and that’s a feeling he’s never had, as he mentions his dating life has been nonexistent for quite some time (Barry 9). Perhaps his insecurity is lessened by Lola’s compliments to the point where he believes, ironically, that people will appreciate him as a person if he becomes more of a machine. Of course, in the natural world, an actual machine man might be marveled at; however, Charles is only fooling himself by thinking that going through the extremes of changing his body to the point where he has no body will gain him a love worth having. Insecurity means “lacking self-confidence,” and that is just how Charles can be described (The American Heritage Dictionary of Medicine, “insecure”). By and large, rather than facing his insecurities and doubts, Charles takes advantage of technology, leading to his downfall.
Charles proves that technology weakens his social well-being. In the beginning chapter, Charles says “I have no friends, am estranged from my family, and haven’t dated in this decade” (Barry 9). This early description of his social life guarantees an understanding of later behavior, and it seems like that of an introverted personality. The Macquarie Dictionary refers to an introvert as “somebody whose attention and interests are directed towards his or her own mental life” and “somebody who is uneasy in company [and] shy” (“Introvert”). Perhaps because of his introverted personality, he isn’t often surrounded by others. Furthermore, if Charles believes his mechanical body will gain himself validation and approval from others, he has stepped in the wrong direction. Technology is a tool used to improve interaction between people, but in Charles’ case, his physicality distances himself from others. Also, Charles’ obsessive nature heavily impacts his relationship with Lola Shanks. Lola cares about Carl, another prosthetic patient, and she tends to him, which brings out the jealousy in Charles. Because of his emotions, Charles decides he isn’t going to allow Carl the pleasure of using the other marvelous mechanical body parts he has composed. Charles’ selfishness becomes apparent, and, consequently, Lola pushes Charles out of her life. Finally, technology is an overall hindrance to Charles’ well-being in the long run. For example, Charles loses all evidence of being human when he becomes a soul inside of a screen (Barry 271). Clearly the purpose of technology is redefined in Charles’ mind. Oddly enough, Charles’ social life spirals downhill as he goes from using technology to actually becoming it.
Charles Neumann’s life revolves around technology, just as many other humans depend on it in the 21st century. Charles represents a society that cannot function without the use of technology, and his life portrays the consequences. Max Barry presents the idea that one should not become so dependent on technology that his or her life ends up on the line of uncertainty. Charles busies himself with becoming someone of importance, yet he ends up as nothing but a box. All things considered, Charles no longer lives a normal nor healthy lifestyle, all because of his one-track mind.
Barry, Max. Machine Man. N.p.: Vintage, 2011. Print. “insecure.” The American Heritage Dictionary of Medicine, edited by Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries, Houghton Mifflin, 2nd edition, 2015. Credo Reference. Accessed 28 Mar 2017. “introvert.” Def.1. The Penguin English Dictionary. Ed. R. E. Allen, Penguin, 3rd edition, 2007. Credo Reference. Accessed 28 Mar 2017. “Personality Disorders.” New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health, The, Karen J. Carlson, et al., Harvard University Press, 1st edition, 2004. Credo Reference. Accessed 28 Mar 2017.