Science fiction deals primarily with the effects of imagined or legitimate science upon individuals and/or society. Often, texts of the genre provide commentary on or caution against events occurring in present-day society. Andrew Niccol’s ‘Gattaca’ (1997) and Aliette de Bodard’s ‘Immersion’ (2012) explore the present-day overdependence on technology, but while ‘Immersion’ uses character to convey individual overdependence, ‘Gattaca’ uses setting to convey the overdependence on technology of society as a whole. However, both texts incorporate the theme of loss of identity to highlight the implications of this overdependence on technology.
Character is often employed in science fiction texts to exhibit the effects of certain science fiction conventions upon individuals and society. ‘Immersion’ implements character to show the effect of technology on individuals. The text presents the internal monologue of Agnes, who belongs to a minority culture and abandons it to assimilate to the predominant ‘Galactic’ culture using a Galactic piece of technology called an immerser. Shortly after adopting use of it, Agnes becomes heavily addicted to the conventional Galactic that it disguises her as, and soon relies entirely on the immerser to perform mundane, everyday activities, existing in a catatonic-like state. Through this portrayal of Agnes, ‘Immersion’ criticizes society’s overdependence on technology. The quote, “You stare at the food spread out on the table: bread and some colored liquid - you come up blank for a moment before your immerser kicks in, reminding you that it’s coffee, just as you always take it”, underlines Agnes’ inability to think independently and perceive the world around her without prompts from her immerser, rendering her a shell of a person. Bodard thus criticizes modern society’s overdependence of technology by highlighting Agnes’ complete inability to function without it.
‘Gattaca’ conveys a similar message, but uses setting to show the effect of technology on society as a whole. Niccol explores a fictional future, where gene-editing technology allows parents to select traits they deem favorable for their children. ‘Gattaca’ follows the journey of Vincent, who dreams of becoming a navigator at the space program ‘Gattaca’ despite repeatedly failing to secure a position due to his genetic inferiority that his employees are able to detect using technology. By using the space program as a metaphor for society and demonstrating its dependence on technology to employ staff, Niccol comments on contemporary society’s overdependence on technology. This message is evident in Vincent’s ‘interview’ at Gattaca, where he provides a doctor with a urine sample, which, when poured into a machine, affirms him as ‘valid’. “Congratulations”, the doctor says. “What about the interview?”. Vincent queries, to which the doctor replies, “That was it”. This exchange shows that the sole method of admission into Gattaca is through gene-editing technology, and the fate of people in the society of Gattaca depends entirely on it- this message is further strengthened by the diegetic sound of faint whirring of machinery and an automated voice speaking. Hence, the movie highlights modern society’s overdependence on technology by symbolizing Gattaca as society, and thus showing that the sole method of acceptance into society is through technology.
The theme of loss of identity is incorporated in ‘Immersion’ to present it as a harmful implication of overdependence on technology. The text presents two perspectives: one of Agnes, and the other of Quy. The narration of Agnes’ perspective in second person emphasizes the extreme disconnection she feels between her true self and the self her immerser disguises her as, and thus indicates her loss of identity. This is further amplified in the quote, “You remember the names your mother gave you. Be-Nho, Be-Yeu. Like a memory of red maple leaves on a planet you never knew”, in which the names are symbolic of her true self, and hence, the quote’s second sentence reflects her vague, fading sense of self. Loss of identity is also prevalent within ‘Gattaca’, wherein genetic identity supersedes personal identity - what traditionally ‘makes up’ a person: values, personality, etc., has been reduced purely to their DNA. A scene which is centralized upon this idea is Vincent performing his routine of removing all traces of his DNA in the process of transforming into Eugene. The scene uses extreme close-up to show Vincent’s macroscopic hair cuttings and skin flakes falling to the ground, which symbolizes the disposal of his own identity in order to pursue societal conformity. When coupled with the non-diegetic booming sound effect of the hair’s impact on the ground, an emphasis is placed on the role of genetics on the loss of one’s identity. Therefore, ‘Immersion’ and ‘Gattaca’ both employ the theme of loss of identity to underline it as an implication of present-day society’s overdependence on technology.
Overall, the science fiction texts ‘Immersion’ and ‘Gattaca’ explore alternate fictional futures to comment on contemporary society’s overdependence on technology. While they convey the same message, ‘Immersion’ does so through character and exploring an individual’s experience of technological overdependence, while ‘Gattaca’ does so through setting and exploring a societal overdependence on technology. The theme of loss of identity, however, is deeply interwoven into both texts to highlight the harmful implications of overdependence on technology of present-day society.