Soulless Technology in William Gibson’s Burning Chrome
An old adage states that the eyes are the windows to the soul. What if, however, those eyes have a trademark name stamped onto them? William Gibson’s short story "Burning Chrome" depicts an advanced but soulless society where most of the technological advances are portrayed as being perverted by commercialization and human mechanization, rather than dedicated to improving the quality of life. This paper will touch upon the frivolous consumerism of as well as the dehumanizing uses of technology in the world of Automatic Jack, the reader’s companion throughout the story.
Perhaps the most visible example of this perversion is the high degree of commercialized technology in their society. The character of Rikki, a female friend of Jack’s, has her heart set on a pair of Zeiss Ikon eyes, and, as Jack describes them as a "Brand of the stars" and "Very expensive" (Gibson 1015). Though she desires 20/20 vision, Rikki does not want the eyes because they will help her see better; rather, she has an entire catalogue full of the most fashionable and stylish eyes of the season. Rikki’s friend Tiger gets his eyes redone simply so he can go to Hollywood, risking his eyesight with the not-as-reliable Sendai brand. The fact that anyone would put fashion and fame before something as precious and irreplaceable as optic nerves goes beyond foolish consumerism. It becomes reckless consumerism, putting goods above all other concerns for self and others. As for Tiger himself, Jack describes him in the following manner:
He had the kind of uniform good looks you get after your seventh trip to the surgical boutique; he’d probably spend the rest of his life looking vaguely like each new season’s media front-runner; not too obviously a copy, but nothing too original, either. (1015)
Not only can one trade in one’s body parts for better-looking ones, one can also trade in one’s life for a better one. One of the more popular forms of entertainment is the "simstim," a portable "simulated stimuli" device that allows one to experience the lives of famous people. These people are only famous because they have their lives on display; they are stars that are manufactured by and for the makers of the simstims. Through this device, the user is allowed to experience the world as the star does, complete with parties with the rich and famous and with thrilling hobbies. The eyes, the plastic surgery, the simstims — this technology is not improving the quality of life for humanity; rather it is just another trend, another way to be amused, another way to keep up with fashion’s fickleness. Even medical technology has been misused to keep up appearances. Chrome, a steel-hearted entrepreneur, uses hormones and serums that keep her looking fourteen forever. In fact, she had run a drug trade in hormones for years before owning a bar and brothel that also sells hormones that allow the user to relive past memories. Hormones in our...