With the dawn of technology in society, humans’ unbridled access to these novel, omnipresent tools arouses both hope and fear. In her novel A Visit from the Goon Squad, Egan explores the complex effects of such technology on human interaction and capabilities. In discussing the heavy inevitability of change with the passage of time, she highlights the idea that progressive digital advancements are in a certain future. Egan explores this concept in various ways throughout the novel, but her message is conveyed most strongly through Lulu. With Lulu’s confident persona and remarkable social intelligence, Egan draws attention to technology’s ability to both suppress and amplify such a powerful character. Lulu’s evolution amidst major technological advances in society reveals the immense, inevitable power of technology as both a negative source of disconnection and a valuable tool for empowerment with potential for good.
In “Pure Language,” Lulu emerges as an adult amidst a new society dominated by digital influence, in which technology detaches her from authentic, effective interactions yet also empowers her to lead. As a handset employee, Lulu prefers the ease of disconnected communication by handset rather than face-to-face interaction. After a verbal conversation with Alex, she remarks, “I just get tired of talking… there are so many ways to go wrong… you can’t ever just Say. The. Thing”. Thus, despite her deep social maturity and perceptiveness, she finds relief in the mundane nature of digital communication over the emotional complexities and spontaneousness of real dialogue. Along with this paradox, Lulu’s attachment to digital communication creates rifts in understanding with those around her. In her conversations with Alex, she asserts that “No one says ‘viral’ anymore” and brings up numerous modern terms that are foreign to Alex. While Lulu previously effectively communicated with all people as a child, she now experiences such generational differences in understanding due to her preoccupation with technology. Additionally, her reliance on online interactions results in skewed interpretations of her intentions. When Lulu messages “nyc” to Alex, for example, he feels “confused at first [because] the sarcasm seemed unlike her”. Such instances convey that digital interfaces place relationships in precarious positions when messages are misinterpreted or lost in translation. On the other hand, amidst this digital era, Lulu has gained success, stability, and independence, largely due to her expert use of technology. As described by Alex, “[Lulu’s] confidence seemed more drastic than the outcome of a happy childhood; it was cellular confidence, as if Lulu were a queen in disguise, without need or wish to be recognized”. Thus, Lulu derives power from her technological capabilities, and she harnesses this authority by taking on important roles. In one major role, she contributes her expertise in parrothood marketing to lead the efforts for Scotty’s highly-influential concert. In all, Lulu’s multi-faceted progression in “Pure Language” reveals the ability of technology to simultaneously limit the depth and quality of social interactions and provide the opportunity for positive empowerment.
Beyond her work as a handset employee, Lulu’s digitally-fueled mission in “Black Box '' reveals how technology can both detach her from reality and enable her to pursue empowered heroism and redemption. With Egan’s novel A Visit From The Goon Squad released in individual one hundred forty-character tweets, this creates a disjointed, fragmented effect, which emphasizes the heightened disconnect in this futuristic age. Egan also primarily writes in declarative and imperative sentences, such as the command, “Avoid excessive self-reflection; your job is to look out, not in.” This mirrors the language of an instruction manual, in which there is a lack of emotional connection, and conveys a solemn, grave tone. Additionally, as a spy, Lulu has the power to utilize technology to physically dissociate from her body. In deploying the Dissociation Technique in threatening moments, Lulu must “Keep [her] body in view at all times… if [her] mind loses track of [her] body, it may be hard—even impossible—to reunite the two.” Thus, this technology has the potential to completely separate Lulu’s true thoughts from her being, which cuts off her ability to communicate wholly with those around her. Yet, Lulu gains significant power and control through her autonomous decisions to utilize the technology in carrying out the mission. In command of her actions, she also leverages the technology towards an empowering and honorable purpose. Indeed, “In the new heroism, the goal is to merge with something larger than yourself… Technology has afforded ordinary people a chance to glow in the cosmos of human achievement.” Lulu’s digital abilities allow her to prioritize the collective over the individual, and the magnitude of her patriotic efforts arouses personal empowerment and fulfillment. Further, in such work combatting crime, technology allows her to redeem the traumatic childhood experience of witnessing the horrors of genocide, as fueled by her mother, in “Selling the General.” Ultimately, Lulu’s mission in “Black Box” highlights both the striking disconnect created by digital tools and the noble purposes fostered by technology.
In depicting Lulu’s evolution alongside a simultaneously evolving technological world, Egan enforces the notion that technology acts as both a source of disconnect and beneficial empowerment. Throughout Lulu’s journey of complex changes, she acts as a “digital witness” as the progressing digital world influences her from every angle in its processes. In her novel “A visit from the goon squad”, Egan is betting that we will have great successes in the future, that such effects will inevitably increase over time. Yet, rather than choosing a clear side on the effects of technology, she presents a compelling argument on either side. Her penultimate message conveys that while we cannot necessarily control the digital complexities that naturally follow the passage of time, we can control how we respond to these powerful developments. Thus, we are bestowed with enormous power as we face a digital world of unknowns.
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