Technology’s Effect on Human Relationships: Comparing Station Eleven and Frankenstein
In western society, technology has become so entrenched into our lives that we are seemingly unable to perform daily tasks without it. Technology is ubiquitous, rapidly evolving, and provides many benefits to society. From smartphones, to digital tablets, and aircrafts, technology is able to connect us with each other from any corner of the globe through travel and communication. However, despite these advances, technology has also come with many negative impacts as well. Although technology brings us together, it has created a hiatus in our society causing individuals to have fewer face-to-face interactions with each other. Emily St. John Mandel’s novel Station Eleven and Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein both utilize character development to portray technology’s role in the isolation of individuals through the destruction of their current and future relationships with friends and family.
In the novel Frankenstein, Mary Shelley portrays technology’s influence on isolating individuals from their relationships through the example of Victor Frankenstein. The use of constant technology has changed the relationship dynamic of society today. Individuals who spend more than six hours per day on their phones or watching televisions tend to become tech addicts, and they neglect important aspects of their life like their relationships (Hodis and Brunner 840). Moreover, Victor Frankenstein dedicated every hour of every day to technology, and neglected his relationship with the love of his life. In the beginning of the novel, Victor falls in love with his adopted sister Elizabeth. However, as the novel progresses Victor’s obsession with creating the creature, causes him to neglect her. In chapter 5, when Elizabeth writes a letter to Victor, she confesses her love for him, saying “I love you and that in my airy dreams of futurity you have been my constant friend and companion” (Shelley 130). Conversely, In Victor’s letter to Elizabeth, he dedicates only one sentence to describe his love for her, because he is fully engrossed with discussing his own “secret” (Shelley 131). All of his attention is focused on creating the monster and he disregards his relationship with Elizabeth. Another example of Victor’s seclusion from his relationships due to technology is shown during the process of creating the monster. In the novel, Victor expresses his withdrawal from his friend Henry to the readers by quoting, “I saw plainly that he was surprised, but he never attempted to draw my secret from me; and although I loved him with a mixture of affection and reverence that knew no bounds, yet I could never persuade myself to confide to him that event which was so often present to my recollection but which I feared the detail to another would impress more deeply”(Shelley 66). Withholding the secret of the monster he created, Victor reinforces his isolation from Henry. The seclusion described in the quote is more mental than physical. Technology addicts usually display symptoms such as loneliness and depression, from family and friends because of their unhealthy obsession. They create a self-absorbed world in which they ignore the care for others as they are too invested in their own digital lives (Hodis and Brunner 842). After the creating the creature, Victor becomes paranoid and is unable to express his feelings to anyone. His over obsession with the monster traps Victor inside his own thoughts, and further separates him from his loved ones.
Moreover, Mandel’s novel Station Eleven reflects a decline in emotional connections, and relationships due to the overuse of technology. Throughout the novel, Mandel describes technological advancement before the collapse as problematic and toxic. In today’s golden age of technology the author labels humans as “zombies,” who sleepwalk through life. In chapter 26, as Clark Thompson interviews a young woman named Dahlia, she criticizes her boss Dan for his obsession with technology and corporate life. Dahlia explains how Dan is senselessly wandering through life as a “high functioning sleep walker” (Mandel 161), and is living in a “corporate world full of ghosts” (Mandel 161). The “high functioning sleep walker”, as described by Dahlia is a clear criticism of the use of technology in modern society, as it blinds individuals to their surroundings. Technology has allowed individuals to become independent as it can now handle multiple different complex tasks that once used to be done by people. Jobs such as mail carrier, weatherman, news anchor; have all been replaced by apps, further limiting interactions, as a majority of information can be accessed directly through a mobile device. The rise of individualism has resulted in a decline in relationship values, since technology is immersed in people’s daily routines more than ever before (Hodis and Brunner 840). When Dahlia refers to this world as one full of ghosts, she complains that people (like Dan) who preoccupy themselves with technology, and lead their lives on their own have lost their ability to connect with others. Technology grants individuals independence, but this excessive self-reliance leads to ignorance towards society and others (Hodis and Brunner 841). After the collapse of civilization many characters in the novel reflect upon their isolation in past relationships, and the regrets they may have. An example of this is shown through Garett, one of the few survivors of the Georgian flu. When Garett talks to Clark about his past, author Emily Mandel quotes, “Garrett had a wife and four-year-old twins in Halifax, but the last call he’d made was to his boss. The last words he’d spoken into a telephone were a bouquet of corporate clichés, seared horribly into memory” (Mandel 49). This quote reflects the emptiness he experienced with technology and his corporate life before the collapse of civilization; and compares it to the more connected nature of existence that replaced it. Before the collapse, advanced technology and fast paced societal development had undermined family values and relationships. After the outbreak of the Georgian flu, the first person Garett called was his boss, rather than immediately checking on his family.
The obsession with the technological and corporate world has forced individuals to detach themselves from their own family, without realizing it. Research itself has shown that technology-facilitated communication and work leads to miscommunications and detachment (Murray and Campbell 125). A study conducted in Netherland described the negative impact of the overuse of technology in work related environments on relationships. The results of the study showed that Individuals who worked more than 9 hours a day at a computer, have an increased risk of physiological problems in which they become completely aloof from their surroundings (Murray and Campbell 125). These individuals tend to feel cognitive and emotional symptoms such as loneliness, which diverts them from their relationships (Murray and Campbell 126). After the collapse, where the period of modern technological world has come to an end, Garrett realizes and criticizes the grasp his old life had over him. His overuse of technology and corporate life distanced him from his family. However, the loss of technology allows him to reconnect with his family, but in a different way. The novels Station Eleven and Frankenstein contrast in their abundance of technology; however, both novels use character development to convey the idea that excessive use of technology destroys human connections. In Frankenstein, the author believes seclusion between individuals is due to the overuse of technology, and uses Frankenstein’s monster as a symbol for technology, to better explain it. He (Frankenstein’s monster) becomes the product of Victor’s character development, and ultimately separates him from the love of his life. Victor’s decision to be consumed by technology is seen when the very representation of technology, directly causes the death of his beloved Elizabeth. Station Eleven presents the idea of redemption through Garett’s character. A man who was formerly immersed in technology, which resulted in neglect towards his family, was able to reflect upon his previous actions and build new relationships with the people living in Severn city. Both novels share the common theme that “technology destroys an individual’s relationships with their friends or family,” although they go about it in different ways.
Technology today is growing exponentially, almost out of our control. Research supports the idea, that although technology in today’s modern society is a necessity, obsessive use can cause isolation between individuals and their friends or family. It can cause a disconnect with things that truly matter in life, without the individual even knowing. In novels such as Station Eleven and Frankenstein, technology acts as an acid, eating way personal relationships, until nothing is left and individuals are immersed in their obsession. The characters in the novels become so engrossed in the technology they’re working with that they fail to realize the consequences they may face in the future for their actions. Through their own creative uses of storytelling, both authors are able to emphasize the extreme impact of technology on society in their own way. The authors collectively suggest that technology should not be excessively used in our day-to-day lives; rather it should only be used to enhance our relationships with others.
Gerhart, Natalie. “Technology Addiction: How Social Network Sites Impact our Lives.” Informing Science: The International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline, vol. 20, 2017, pp. 179–194.
Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven. CNIB, 2015.
Monica A. Hodis and Gordon C. Bruner II. “Technology Addiction: An Exploratory Study of the Negative Impact of Technology on Consumer Welfare.” Advances in Consumer Research, vol. 36, Jan. 2009, pp. 840-842.
Murray, Christine E. and Emily C. Campbell. “The pleasure and Perils of Technology in Intimate Relationships.” Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy, vol. 14 no. 2, Apr-June2015, pp. 116-140. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1080/15332691.2014.953561.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: A Norton Critical Edition. ed. J. Paul Hunter. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.
Art as a Measure of Society’s Competence in Station Eleven
In Emily St John Mandel’s 2014 science fiction, dystopian novel Station Eleven, a majority of the world is deceased due to the Georgia-flu pandemic spread unknowingly by a passenger on a flight from Russia to The United States causing an apocalyptic world. All technology and modern inventions during have collapsed but, the Arts remain as an important part of society even after the fall of civilization. While the preserved, broken technologies remain only in abandoned houses and the Severn airport museum of civilization unable to be used, the arts were one of only a few pre-pandemic aspects actively preserved in the aftermath of the Georgia flu. In this novel the arts function as a measure of how stable society is. When the arts begin to diminish, society begins to fall and when the arts slowly begin to strengthen again, as does society.
This idea stated above is further supported in a research paper published by Princeton University entitled “How the Arts Impact Communities: An introduction to the literature on arts impact studies” written by Joshua Guetzkow, it is argued that the arts have a positive impact on the development of communities and society. This article acts as a lens to understand why members of the travelling symphony were able to collect themselves in the aftermath of the apocalypse and live thriving, productive lives. To explain why the arts help communities and society, Guetzkow uses three main pillars that can be found throughout Station Eleven. The first pillar in Guetzkow’s article argues that a direct involvement in the arts fosters the health of those involved in the arts by “Build[ing] interpersonal ties and […] increase[ing] opportunities for self-expression and enjoyment” (Guetzkow 3). The second pillar of Guetzkow’s article argues that a direct involvement in the arts allows for positive cognitive and psychological impacts through an “Increase[d] sense of individual efficacy and self-esteem [and an] Improve[d] […] sense of belonging or attachment to a community.” The third and final pillar in the article argues that amongst the aforementioned benefit’s, direct involvement in the arts improves one’s interpersonal skills by giving an “Enhanced ability to work with others and communicate ideas.” Each of these skills acquired from the incorporation of the arts in a person’s life are a key part to explaining why the amount and quality of the arts found in a society is a measure of societies competence. Simply put, the more art in society the more interpersonal ties, self-expression, sense of belonging, and communication there will be. Each of these things, provided by the arts, create a competent society especially in Station Eleven.
Initially in the first chapter of Mandels novel, the arts, specifically a rendition of Shakespeare’s play king Lear, are spoken of as an important aspect to the plot of the novel. Before the other character and the audience of the play realize Arthur is having a heart attack “there was a change in his face, he stumbled, he reached for a column but misjudged the distance and struck it hard with the side of his hand.” From one perspective this could be judged as Arthur ruining the play and in turn the arts being diminished as a whole. Following Arthurs death, and a decline in the arts because of his death and the ruined play, a mass death began. This is the first case of the amount and quality of art corresponding to the condition of society. This situation also relates to the first pillar of Guetzkow’s paper because when Arthur died the play ended and the other actors lost their way of self-expression then society went into a downward spiral into the apocalypse.
Chronologically, the next example happens towards the end of the novel but it is in a flashback that takes place at the beginning of the apocalypse. While sitting in the Severn-City airport the first winter after the epidemic, everything began to stop working. by the third day in the airport “all the vending machines in the airport were empty of snacks, and the battery on Tyler’s Nintendo console was dead.” Although video games are an unconventional form of art, time magazine argues that video games should be considered art because “They include many forms of traditional artistic expression—sculpture in the form of 3D modeling, illustration, narrative arcs, and dynamic music—that combine to create something that transcends any one type.” With the idea that video games are art in mind, Tyler’s Nintendo console dying is considered another type of are crashing as society crashes after the epidemic. When he found out his gaming console had died and wouldn’t be functional again “Tyler wept, inconsolable” as if he knew that society was worsening as the arts, his video game console, fell. Tyler’s loss of his video game console relates to the second pillar of Guetzkow’s paper because the loss of his video makes Tyler feel like he is losing his sense of belonging to his former life.
Another important case of the arts relating to how society is functioning happens when the novel fast forwards twenty years to the post plague world were once again people are beginning to live together in small groups or towns. The travelling Shakespearean company stops in a town named St. Deborah by the water to put on a performance. After their performance, once the traveling symphony left St. Deborah’s by the water they found a stow away twelve-year-old girl by the name of Eleanor. According to Eleanor she “was going to be [the prophets] next wife” (123) because “he had a dream where god told him he was to repopulate the earth” (123). Everyone in the symphony was disgusted by the prophet and kept asking “why would he marry a twelve-year-old” (123) By stowing away in the travelling symphonies caravan to get out of St. Deborah by the water, Eleanor escaped a life of being betrothed to someone she didn’t love. Therefore, the rekindling of the arts through the travelling symphony gave Eleanor her freedom and bettered society by setting the precedence that it is wrong for a twelve-year-old to marry a grown man.
Finally, at the end of the travelling symphony stays in the Severn City Airport for five weeks. During this time, life for the traveling symphony slowly begins to return back to the way it was pre-pandemic as members of the symphony began incorporating music into their daily activities as they had done before the Georgia flu changed their lives. One afternoon while still in the Airport “Garrett hummed a Brandenburg concerto while he worked in the gardens.” First, this quote is important because it shows the people in the symphony doing relaxing everyday chores that they couldn’t do post plague due to the condition of the world. Secondly, this quote shows the reemergence of music during these everyday chores meaning the world is beginning to heal. After garret was singing, Dolores was found “whisper[ing] fragments of Shakespeare to herself while she swept the concourse floor” (331) prior to living in the airport, while the symphony was moving around and camping in different places each night, they would never have swept. It is the “fragments of Shakespeare” Dolores was whispering that pulled her through the apocalypse into this time where she could be whispering them while sweeping like in her time before the flu hit. All of the people from the symphony coming together and doing different household chores while they were living in the airport is a blatant example of the third pillar of Guetzkow’s paper; as the arts were reintroduced into everyday activities the symphony began to work together more efficiently to take care of one another.
Overall, it is the amount of music, plays, paintings, and all other forms of art in Station Eleven that measures how competent society is. In the beginning of the Georgia flu outbreak art began to fall as society did. However, when the symphony began travelling and spreading the arts, society began to revive itself by reverting back to its old ways while also adopting new customs.
Melissinos, Chris. “Video Games Are One of the Most Important Art Forms in History” N.d. Web. 22 Sept 2015.
Guetzkow, Joshua. “How the Arts Impact Communities: An introduction to the literature on arts impact studies” N.d. 7 June 2002.
Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven. Subterranean Press. 2014. Print
Internal Journeys of the Characters of Station Eleven
Station Eleven includes a vast number of key characters and storylines, focusing on both the internal and external battles these characters face. Some characters, such as Kirsten, Jeevan, and Clark, long for community after a life of disarray, sadness, or lack of belonging. Others, like Miranda, realize their life was not what they believed and come to reality with how they truly feel. However, characters like Tyler find refuge in illogical explanation for the pandemic. Regardless of the differences, all of the characters changed—some for the worse, others for the better—as their journey progressed through the challenges of overcoming an apocalypse.
Kirsten, who plays a pivotal role as the central character of Station Eleven, gives a unique perspective due to the fact that she remembers very little before the Georgia Flu. Before the flu occurred, Kirsten was a child actor and there is evidence of her being lonely and independent. A few years after the pandemic, Kirsten lost her brother and found herself alone once again. However, a year after being on her own, she joins the Traveling Symphony and finally finds herself as part of a community for the first time in her life. The key difference in Kirsten’s internal transformation is that now, twenty years after the flu, she longs for companionship. Before, she felt indifferent with being an outsider and only associating with a few people. The change is most notable when August and Kirsten are stranded for the first time without the Symphony and Kirsten thinks, “Hell is the absence of people you long for” (144). Compared to before when Kirsten was used to being alone, now she cannot imagine a life without her community.
Like Kirsten, Jeevan also offers a unique perspective because his internal journey was a constant rollercoaster before the flu even occurred. At the beginning of the novel, it is clear to the reader that Jeevan cares deeply about people due to his efforts of trying to save Arthur and also learning that he is studying to be a paramedic. However, before the flu, Jeevan was a paparazzo who was only in it for the money and had no shame about taking scandalous pictures of people, like Miranda, for his own personal gain before quitting that life forever. He experiences difficulty with having healthy relationships with others. His girlfriend, Laura, does not treat him well and he avoids previous colleagues whenever possible. When the flu hits, he goes straight to his brother’s place and stays there for as long as possible, not wanting to go out into the new world. However, he eventually does go out and settles in a town called McKinley. He finds community there, becomes the doctor, and even has a wife and child, whom he honors his brother with the name. Although before and after the flu, Jeevan has a continuous profound care for others, the key change is that he learns to go out and find what he longs for—which, like Kirsten, is community, love, and the ability to no longer fear the judgment of others.
Miranda dies in the first few days of the Georgia Flu, but her death on a beach in Malaysia is a poetic end to her internal journey. The key change for Miranda was that she finally accepted that she belonged where she was. Before the flu, she spent her life searching for happiness in other people like Pablo and Arthur, but “she knows she’ll never belong here no matter how hard she tries” (92). When she returns to her work at Neptune Logistics and moves up the ranks, she finds she “almost always loves her life but is often lonely” (107). She draws her comics in hotels at night, which is what she truly loves. In her final moments, she imagines the Station Eleven comic books and how her death is like waking up from a dream. This comparison is Miranda accepting that the life she was pretending to live was like a dream—she did not belong there.
Clark Thompson lived a somewhat insignificant life before the plague occurred. His job was mundane, he attended superficial dinners, but he valued his friendship with Arthur. Despite the friendship he shared, he can’t help “thinking about the terrible gulf of years between eighteen and fifty” (112). The key change for Clark is that the plague gives him a purpose, and changes his attitude from one of a realist to one of a dreamer. His purpose becomes the Museum of Civilization and he is now fascinated with the idea that life as we knew it is possible one day. He values his relationship with people very deeply and shares his hope and optimism with others.
Probably the most drastic internal journey occurs within Tyler, Arthur Leander’s son. Before the pandemic, he is a young, innocent boy who enjoys playing his Nintendo and longs for his father. However, he begins to transform after the flu occurs when he reads the Book of Revelations and begins quoting his mother by saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” Tyler ends up becoming an evangelical, polygamous, cult leader with a ruthless reputation that stems hundreds of miles away from his town of Saint Deborah. Despite this, there is evidence that Tyler still longs for life as it used to be. He keeps the Station Eleven comics that his father gave him and names his dog after the one in the books.