Munmun Masud

April 24th, 2011

Something Wicked This Way Comes: Technology and its Chilling Affect on Achieving the American Dream (Early 20th Century)

Posted by munmunmasud in Uncategorized

Slide 1:   Title Page

Slide 2:   Technology and the American Dream

For many writers, technological developments have played a significant role in the decline of the American dream. This thought is perhaps controversial, as it counters the notion that America’s industrialization and technological change absorbed waves of immigrants and their children successfully into its growing middle class during the decades at the beginning of the 20th century. But it is also important to explore how it also served to exclude and disillusion.

Slide 3: During the 20th century, in order to attain the American dream, the following elements were necessary:

In the 20th century, the American dream came to be defined in the following manner: a standard family, decent profession, and most of all a content and (physically/emotionally)satisfied lifestyle.

Slide 4: …However

Many immigrants of the early 20th century were not able to attain much of this and believed that the machinery of society was being disrupted as it denied the necessities of life. Towards the end of the 19th century, people were expanding their knowledge and were on their way to modernity. However, the industrial revolution, which was what largely drove these changes, was a two-edged sword, and its new technology not only benefited individuals, but also disillusioned them. It was perhaps less obvious to people during this time, but also still important that long term social and technological changes were breaking down and altering the simple relations between man and nature.

Slide 5: Two Texts in Question

My thesis examines Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Anzia Yezierska’s story “The Fat of the Land,” as two examples of how technologies hinder the process of attaining the American Dream in opposition to conventional wisdom. I would like to discuss how technological developments have played a significant role in the decline of the American dream for immigrants in America during the early 20th century. While looking at these two fictions, my thesis tracks technology as it moves from emphasizing modern production machinery to modern consumer society, only to see the same pattern reemerging in the different periods.

Slide 6: The Jungle

Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle reveals the hardships of a poor working-class family’s struggle in Chicago, Illinois. The unanticipated side effects along with cruel intended effects of the new, transformative technologies affected the lives of immigrants in the era this novel was portrayed in. The intended effect applies to the truth that owners of the factory were well aware of how useful the impoverished unemployed were, as population increased as a result of immigration in the United States.

Slide 7: Pathway to disintegration

The muckraking novel portrays real life issues and aspects that occurred during the early 20th century. Those who wanted to achieve the American dream were hopeful and started to work in factories. Instead of a pathway that would lead to the dream, this period produced:

1. Dirty production based technology- work under strenuous and repulsive conditions, strict orders of assembly lines; the policy of attracting immigrants to make a too-large easy-to-manage labor pool and dealing with the physical evils of the “steam” era.

2. Physical oppression- as the nation deepened its technological base, old-fashioned artisan and craftsman became “deskilled” and replaced by specialized workers and engineers who used machines to replicate in minutes or hours work that would require the unskilled worker hours or days to complete. Increasing industrialization outpaced the supply of laborers able or willing to work in dangerous, low-paying, and dead-end jobs.

3. Cultural difference- the demand for low or unskilled jobs drove wages up and attracted waves of Irish, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Jewish immigrants who could earn more in America than in their homelands.

4. Social exclusion-immigrants were marginalized not because of culture, but due to new technology.

Slide 8: “Technology as the Enemy of Livelihood in “The Fat of the Land”

Anzia Yezierska’s “The Fat of the Land” is a short story from an immigrant woman’s perspective who escapes a past life, immigrates, and then lives ghettoized on the lower east side. When Hanneh Breineh breaks out of the ghetto, thanks to her children’s successes, she encounters not just the Anglo upper class prejudice but also a modern world—of new household technology and living arrangements. Here, Hanneh becomes excluded due to the overbearing position of technology. This stops her from pursuing the definitive American dream as this story illustrates a discomforting lifestyle derived from technological excess, and how it can disillusion an individual.

Slide 9: Consumption-based Technology

In the past, for many immigrants similar to Hanneh, there is a sense of exclusion due to the overbearing position of consumption based technology. The modern, clean and new technology is a kind of obstacle since it disallows one to live life the way one would ultimately desire. Many encountered the new kinds of consumer technologies that were being produced and tried to negotiate the social significances of them and the new world that was generally being produced. For many, there is no aspect of life left unaffected because over abundance of technology consumes life as one may begin to feel worthless if technology pursues most of their routine duties. For those who would feel this way, social marginalization occurs.

April 5th, 2011

Eisenberg and Technology

Posted by munmunmasud in Uncategorized

The line, “Alphabet users have a hard time giving up their literate intuitions, for the adoption of writing systems transformed human thought” is provocative, yet very true. Specifically, when Eisenberg adds that “human consciousness, perceptions, relationships, society” and “values were different from what they were before this innovation.” The first line I quoted seems like it is euphemized. Eisenberg substitutes the words, “writing system” but I get the sense that the direct usage of the word technology is better suited in regards to his argument. When Eisenberg writes, “literate intuitions,” I get the sense that he is writing about a time before the existence of technology; a point of time when information was stored in our minds (mentally), not necessarily on technologies like paper, computer or other modes of (physical) storage.

It is in fact true that before technology, human consciousness and perceptions were different. However, I disagree to the extent Eisenberg elevates it to. It is implied that it isn’t easy for us to look back into our own pasts and recall the technological changes that helped form our own culture. Personally, this line produces a feeling of inferiority in my part. I feel compared to a piece of technology (i.e. a computer) that can locate information from prior decades in a matter of a few seconds, whereas for a human being, it would take several minutes, hours or even days. Perhaps the insinuation is correct; it necessarily is not easy for us, as opposed to technology. However, behind technology stands the entity who meticulously devise and develops it—human beings. Therefore, the technological changes that transform human thought are induced by human beings, not technology.

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