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In a Character vs. Technology conflict, the character is usually faced with a battle against technology that has become too powerful, or is being used by another force for evil.

Character vs. Technology

The Character vs. Technology conflict is a newer classification of external conflict, especially because of the popularity of so many fiction books and movies with technological advances that run amok. As our technology advances, so does our ability to create something with a mind of its own. The danger of a tyrannical government using this technology for their own purposes is always a popular theme in these books and movies as well.

In a typical Character vs. Technology scenario, the protagonist usually has to find a way to save the world (or his or her own life) from technology that has become destructive. Sometimes this involves robots, alternate universes, genetic alterations and mutations, or other science fiction-like catastrophes. In other scenarios, technology has advanced in a way in which it seems beneficial in the beginning, but then causes more harm than good and must be rectified or fixed. Sometimes this comes in the form of a seemingly promising medical treatment, or a new way to communicate using technological implants in the human body.

While not as common, a Character vs. Technology conflict in forms of literature can also be a character who cannot keep up with the advances in technology either mentally or physically, or they dislike those advances because it frustrates them. This is seen in Mitch Albom’s novel The Five People You Meet in Heaven when Eddie repeatedly expresses his frustration at Ruby Pier and society’s advances from the technology he was used to. Every ride is so fast, and has to be higher or crazier than they used to be. While Eddie can fix the machines, he does feel confused and left behind by their allure to younger generations.

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Character vs. Technology Examples

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Mr. Utterson reveals the horror of Dr. Jekyll’s descent into the scientific realm of potions and experiments to ultimately bring out the evil side of himself in the form of the terrifying Mr. Hyde. While Dr. Jekyll was attempting to experience that dark side of himself in a way that left his own conscience clear, the temptation to transform back into Hyde eventually overtook him. The advancements in his experiments brought him to a point of no return, and Jekyll ultimately makes himself, as Hyde, drink poison.

Arthur C. Clarke warns about the potential impact of technological warfare advances in his short story “If I Forget Thee, Oh Earth…” Marvin and his father go to view the Earth from their colony on the moon, which is the only surviving group of humans in their universe at that moment. There were great wars on Earth using nuclear weapons, which has left the Earth unsafe to return to for several generations. Clarke leaves the reader with hope that humans will one day be able to return, as long as they remember why they must keep the colony going on the moon: the hope of home.

Victor Frankenstein never meant any harm with his experiment in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, however, the doctor’s sewing together of body parts from a graveyard gave birth to a monster. While Dr. Frankenstein thinks he is doing a revolutionary thing by experimenting which his recently-discovered secret for bringing things to life, his monster spreads fear in himself and the townspeople. The monster ultimately turns his sights on his creator and seeks him out in revenge for creating him and dooming him to a life of scorn and solitude.

In George Orwell’s novel 1984, technology is used to spy on the citizens of Oceania, and to control every aspect of their lives. Winston and other citizens are watched by the telescreens in their apartments; there are listening devices planted all over the city; Big Brother’s face and voice are transmitted over TVs and speakers all day long; and Winston’s own job in the Ministry of Truth is to change the news stories of the past to fit the new truths of that day. Ultimately, the room above Mr. Charrington’s shop where Winston and Julia have been carrying out their illegal affair reveals a hidden telescreen, and they are turned over to the authorities.

In Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver, Jonas lives in a society that is seemingly perfect: there is no crime, the weather is regulated, and the Elders are in charge of determining people’s occupations and futures. The ability of the Elders to speak anywhere at any time, and of the Giver to pass on ancient memories to Jonas, reveals an advanced level of technology that is almost mystical, as well as one of the elements of irony. This technology, however, is used to control the people of their society, and to kill children who are not thriving.

Learn more about various devices in literature in our Picture Encyclopedia of Literary Elements!
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