2022 Sejong Writing Competition
Winning Entries :: Essays :: Senior third place
third place, senior essay division
Title: The Human Cost of Technology
Holding a Biochemistry degree, Choyeop Kim, author of “The Girl in the Cylinder,” clearly uses her scientific background to add realism to her fictional piece. Moreover, as a relatively young writer, Kim possesses a modern awareness of the world that adds further realism to the society she creates. In her novel, Kim successfully dramatizes the duality of the relationship between technology and society. While technology clearly isolates both protagonists Jiyu and Noah from the rest of society, it also initiates their meeting and ultimate friendship. Despite not having met each other physically ever in the story, Jiyu and Noah form a deep relationship centered around the mutual marginalization they suffer at the hands of a technologically-advanced society. True to her scientific background and her modern awareness, Kim delivers a compelling message about technology and society -- as we enjoy new advancements, we must consider the consequences they may have on our humanity.
Kim’s use of the marginalized protagonist’s viewpoint clearly describes the current situation as one which benefits the majority of society. Indeed, Jiyu’s circumstances are obviously tragic to the reader, but Kim does not spare the emotions of the larger society as she describes their perspective on air-roids, a new technology developed to “combat climate change…pollution,” as a “gift from god” (Kim, page 4). After their safety (for the majority) had been verified, many innovations in air-roids took off, with their abilities ranging from “air purifiers” to “weather forecasts” that were completely accurate to reducing “pollution” to even being able to command “forces of nature like floods…and…typhoons” (Page 5). With such a divine gift that would help humanity to no end, it looked truly as if mankind’s command over the earth and their societies was absolute.
However, such a general picture glosses over the fact that such technological advancements directly lead to the creation of new ostracized groups, which Kim says is not a fair trade. Jiyu, the female protagonist, is “a small minority of the population [who] showed adverse reactions to the air-roids—Jiyu was one of the few…specifically allergic to beta- protein…of air-roids” (Page 5-6). Kim uses Jiyu to clearly dramatize the abstract concept of marginalization as the cylinder she is put in is a physical representation of her isolation from the rest of society. Jiyu’s entire circumstance is a result of the rapid technological advancements of society, which Kim warns about. Kim agrees that some did consider the air roids to be a gift “from god” but also uses Jiyu’s voice to continue and say that is “a rather foolish idea” as “[they] transformed the entire planet”, rather “their creation [was] a mistake” (Page 4). Here, Kim clearly establishes a central message which warns against the supposed benefits of fast innovating and advancing technology in the world today. It also draws a parallel between the populace’s reaction to the air-roids and the world's reaction to new technology, eagerly jumping over the few who would adversely be affected in favor of serving the majority.
Additionally, Kim continues her style of questioning in drawing attention to the human cost of technological improvements.
Moreover, Kim introduces her next controversial topic of bioethics via her second protagonist: Noah. Noah is “a medical clone”, one of many developed for “organ transplants” with their original doppelgangers (Page 15). But Noah is not just any clone; he is “a detective one [with a brain]”, something not common in clones developed just to house organs for their original body. And while clone scientists did take “strict precautions to ensure that the clones did not develop a brain”, Noah was an anomaly who needed to be silenced because the “moment a clone developed a brain and becomes sentient…it is impossible to legally distinguish one from a real human being” (Page 15). Thus, Noah also knows the shame of ostracization, being locked away in a secret facility and only interacting with others through a camera, never knowing true companionship until he meets Jiyu. More importantly, the true reason for his confinement is because of the fear of an intense bioethical debate of which Noah is at the heart, questioning whether or not clones could ever be considered as equal to humans. Kim continues asking questions about the consequences of technological advancement by examining the true essence of a human.
The culmination of both themes can be seen as Kim explores the unique relationship of her two protagonists. Their friendship is one where until the last few days of their relationship, Jiyu did not know Noah’s “identity” nor “where to find [him]” as they only communicated through a camera and speaker, much like today (Page 12). However, there is no doubt they form a unique bond, which is stronger than either possessed before. When they stop communicating, it is clear they miss each other, and their relationship only deepened when Jiyu learns of Noah’s origins, and it is then that she “finally understood” why Noah never looked down on her, for he “was just like her” living in his own box. Their friendship is so strong that Jiyu willingly risks her life and infiltrates a compound facility to free her friend, and she felt such a deep “sense of emptiness” and “loneliness” after his escape (page 13). Thus, Kim’s warnings of the advancements of tech and bioengineering come to a head in the relationship between her two protagonists, two lonely people who never see each other but form an uncanny bond through technology.
Ultimately, Kim’s story is one which showcases the amazing benefits of technology and how that often leads to the overlooking of the few who cannot reap them, leading to ostracization. Moving forward, Kim seems to suggest that we need to be much more careful regarding technology with bio-ethical implications and also whether we should sacrifice the minority in such a scenario, never overwriting one's agency or humanity. As we continue to use tech in our lives for our most pressing problems, we must take steps to ensure there is no tradeoff with our humanity.