- Beyond the Digital Border:Modern Life on the Network
To consider our modern world as technologically mediated could be an understatement, as I type on my laptop a review I will submit through an online portal and people will read on the journal's webpage. Technology's growing ubiquity has shaped the way we define ourselves and live in modern society. Four YA novels take up the questions of how technology has changed us and, more importantly, how it has changed our relationships: these texts articulate how technology challenges, disrupts, or removes borders. The novels Jinxed, The Exact Opposite of Okay, All the Lonely People, and Floored engage the spaces of technology. Ranging from realistic fiction to wholly science fictional spaces, these novels approach technological intervention in daily life. Each novel engages with a digital existence, showing the power, potential, and danger of our technologically grounded relation to the world.
Donna Haraway's 1985 article "The Cyborg Manifesto" has become more prescient as modern technology has become a more constant element of our everyday life. The incorporation of the digital into our everyday space has resulted in a world that is networked, integrated, and defiant of boundaries and norms. Haraway argues that the figure of the cyborg disrupts barriers between the human and animal: the categories of living things are blended [End Page 321] through technology. She considers this science-fictional trope as a means of thinking through our relationship with technology. The hybridization of our reality appears reflected in our integration and embrace of technology, as "[l]ate twentieth-century machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines" (Haraway 152). The physical aspects of technology become integrated into our own bodies, as medical or voluntary devices join the network, from blood sugar monitors and pacemakers to fitness trackers and wireless headphones. The miniaturization of technology and tools of distribution make it more ubiquitous and thus more pervasive, which Haraway articulates as an examination of how technology is no longer simply physical objects: "Modern machines are quintessentially microelectronic devices: they are everywhere and they are invisible. … Our best machines are made of sunshine; they are all light and clean because they are nothing but signals, electromagnetic waves, a section of a spectrum, and these machines are eminently portable, mobile …" (153). The embrace of this technological ubiquity is something in which modern youth have had no say: this is the world they are growing into. Each of the four novels addresses the potential of technology to shape, define, or disrupt the lives of young people, who have neither the option of opting out nor the luxury of avoiding technology: phones, internet, and perpetual connectivity are central elements in each narrative. The texts examine the complexity of late modernity, characterized by fluidity of boundaries and the power of the virtual community.
Interestingly, while the texts do identify positive elements of digital connections, an underpinning threat drives the narratives of Jinxed, The Exact Opposite of Okay, and All the Lonely People. These texts reflect adult social anxieties, as numerous news sources discuss the dangers of screen-time, social media, internet use, and cyberbulling and popular press highlights the prevalence of both harmful content and contact in online spaces: "One in three (34%) UK children have experienced cyber-bullying, accessed harmful content such as a website promoting self-harm or had some other type of negative experience when using social media" (Campbell). The body of statistics lionize adult anxieties about harassment and mental health, the reception of unwanted images or messages and the potential threats that perpetual [End Page 322...