Electric Surrogates

Two parents go into a holodeck. They may never come back. But their kids, Peter and Wendy, may not be troubled by this. Ray Bradbury leaves it all a little unclear in “The Veldt”, his famous story from 1950, included in his 1951 collection The Illustrated Man. The fact that the terrible incident is never spelled out, the motives never truly revealed, is integral to the story’s impression of the sinister. If the reader must find and decipher the clues, what else might go unnoticed in this home, this world, ruled by convenient electronic devices?

Obviously it’s a story that remains relevant—arguably it grows more relevant every year as the algorthims that shape your social media reality become subtly more powerful as your attentions and appetites are successfully manipulated.

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Remarkable how the nursery caught the telepathic emanations of the children’s minds and created life to fulfil their every desire. The children thought lions, and there were lions. The children though zebras, and there were zebras. Sun—sun. Giraffes—Giraffes. Death and death.

Peter and Wendy’s mother, Lydia, wonders if it’s unhealthy to allow their lives to be run by machines. They also have a psychiatrist to diagnose their children based on their violent holographic fantasy of lions. Is it really so new? The names Peter and Wendy recall Peter Pan and the phenomenon associated with, but not confined to, the Victorian nanny who displaced the mother in the affections of children for being obliged to spend more time with them.

The impression I have is that the machine nanny doesn’t make Wendy and Peter vicious as much as callous. What value can human life have when the machines are so much more accommodating?

Above image “The Wounded Lion” by Raden Saleh (1839)

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