“ ‘You know where it all comes from, this online paradise of yours? It started back during the Cold War, when the think tanks were full of geniuses plotting nuclear scenarios. Attaché cases and horn-rims, every appearance of scholarly sanity, going in to work every day to imagine all the ways the world was going to end. Your Internet, back then the Defense Department called it DARPAnet, the real original purpose was to assure survival of U.S. command and control after a nuclear exchange with the Soviets…
… and your Internet was their invention, this magical convenience that creeps now like a smell through the smallest details of our lives, the shopping, the housework, the homework, the taxes, absorbing our energy, eating up our precious time. And there’s no innocence. Anywhere. Never was. It was conceived in sin, the worst possible. As it kept growing, it never stopped carrying in its heart a bitter-cold death wish for the planet, and don’t think anything has changed, kid…
… it’s based on control. Everybody connected together, impossible anybody should get lost, ever again. Take the next step, connect it to these cell phones, you’ve got a total Web of surveillance, inescapable. You remember the comics in the Daily News? Dick Tracy’s wrist radio? It’ll be everywhere; the rubes’ll all be begging to wear one, handcuffs of the future. Terrific. What they dream about at the Pentagon, worldwide martial law.’ ” (Bleeding Edge, pp. 418-420)
Bleeding Edge is filled with thoughts of paranoia, conspiracy, and cynicism. The conversation between Maxine and her father Ernie, referenced above, is just one example of this. Maxine tries to argue with her father that the internet is no longer military, but has transitioned into something of the people, providing endless opportunities and intelligence to those who wish to utilize it. Ernie is more skeptical, stating that this incredible technology does not mean freedom and possibility for anyone, rather it’s just another way for the government to gather information to use as it sees fit.
In his discussion with Maxine, Ernie references DARPAnet. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of new technologies for use by the military (wikipedia). According to the Bleeding Edge Wiki, DARPA “has been responsible for funding the development of many technologies which have had a major effect on the world… began as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) created in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower for the purpose of forming and executing research and development projects to expand the frontiers of technology and science and able to reach far beyond immediate military requirements.”
The same tone of cynicism and paranoia that is littered throughout Bleeding Edge also marked America during the time of the Cold War. There was an urgency to improve education and technology… all to make America better than our potential enemies (Ganzel). According to Daniel Yankelovich, quoted in The Cold War, Technology and the American University, science and technology “were almost universally credited with a decisive role in gaining victory in war, prosperity in peace, enhancing national security, improving our health, and enriching the quality of life.”
As Ernie points out, the surge in technological advancement during the Cold War Era holds much responsibility for the proliferation of civilian technology use in the late twentieth century and early twenty first century. But, just because our technology is better and more accessible to any individual does not necessarily mean we are better off.
Ernie’s reference to the Cold War and the potential for those in power to abuse the information that can be accessed with technology, can be tied to another major aspect of the novel: the 9/11 terrorist attacks. These attacks lead to the passage of the Patriot Act, which was considered controversial by many. The Patriot Act simply took existing legal principles and adjusted them to supply law enforcement with new tools to detect and prevent terrorism (Department of Justice). This lead many people to fear that the government would be always watching, just as Maxine’s father suggested… as he put it: “it’s all about control.” What Ernie alluded to in the novel, set in 2001, is our reality now in 2015. Everyone is connected to each other with their personal laptops and cellphones, with endless information, ranging from current events to personal information about other individuals, at our fingertips.
Look at how much has ultimately changed since the Cold War… It could be argued that not much has changed at all. Sure, we can give our loved ones cellphones to contact us in case of an emergency, but having those phones cannot really eliminate the possibility of another terrorist attack just as much as we could not truly extinguish the risk of a missile attack if the Soviets really had wanted to blow us to bits.
All these ways to stay connected: smartphones, computers, tablets; they have just given us the illusion of safety. Reading this passage, and thinking about Ernie’s comments and similar statements made throughout Pynchon’s novel, it can be argued that we are no more safe or better off now with our latest technology than we were before. All that has changed is people now spend more time glued to screens, interacting less with the world around them, and every move we make (every step we take) and word we say can be monitored and recorded, if “The Man” so chooses.
Douglass, John Aubrey. “The Cold War, Technology, and the American University.” Research and Occasional Paper Series: CSHE 2.99 (1999). University of California, Berkeley. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
DARPA Wiki. Wikipedia. Web. 24 Feb. 2015
Ganzel, Bill. “Living at Ground Zero.” Farming in the 1950s & 60s. Living History Farm, 2007. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.
Department of Justice. “The USA PATRIOT Act: Perserving Life and Liberty.” Department of Justice, 2001. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.