Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Link to Jennifer Fairbairn's Senior Art Thesis

Neal  Stephenson

Jennifer  Fairbairn 
Manhattan Project: The Role of Nuclear Policy on Scientist-Military Relations

Neal Stephenson and the Dehumanizing Effect of Technology

Curiosity has driven human beings to extraordinary scientific research and discoveries for centuries. The twentieth century, however, marked an end of a more benevolent age of science and witnessed a more perilous and uncertain one. Theoretical science and applied technology no longer focused on seeking cures for diseases or acquiring greater knowledge about the universe; instead, applied science gave birth to deadly weapons that not only dehumanized military planning but also destroyed a generation of Japanese people. In the 1940s, before the United States developed a weapon that was a source of both great pride and shame, fear permeated the atomic bomb program, code-named Manhattan Project. Fear motivated the project’s creation; it animated allied concerns about Nazi weapons research; it drove the allies of the war into a postwar competition; and fear colored the relationships among fellow scientists, military men, and government officials. Physicist Leo Szilard advocated international control of nuclear weapons while Edward Teller, seeking to maintain American control, worked to develop the second atomic generation, the hydrogen bomb. Scientists’ conflicts on nuclear policy led to hostility, not only with the United States Army, but within the scientific community as well.

Just as technology ultimately damages the relationships of colleagues in the Manhattan Project, Neal Stephenson's characters can damage their relationships with others when they seek escape from reality inside virtual worlds. Stephenson introduces the Metaverse and “ractives,” two forms of interactive technology in which users create an alternative personality in cyberspace and become more involved in it than real life. People are dehumanized as they become obsessed with fantasy worlds and shatter the tenuous line between reality and illusion. Stephenson’s depiction of this obsession reveals the irony inherent to the relationship between humans and technology: people feel attached to technology, but only because of the human touch that constructed it or acts behind it.Personal relationships are the most important elements of life; they are the only possible antidote to the dehumanizing effects of technology. As such, technology ultimately fails at any attempts to replace the real people in society because it lacks human emotion and ability to reason.

Major Works Consulted:

Baggott, Jim. The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939-1949. New York: Pegasus, 2010.
Stephenson, Neal. The Diamond Age. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1995.
---. Snow Crash. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1992.
VanDeMark, Brian. Pandora’s Keepers: Nine Men and the Atomic Bomb. Boston: Little Brown, 2003.
Photo Credit: Stephenson, Neal. Anathem. New York: HarperCollins, 2008.