They walked down the hall of their soundproofed Happylife Home, which had cost them thirty thousand dollars installed, this house which clothed and fed and rocked them to sleep and played and sang and was good to them.
“The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury is the story of the Hadley family and their automatic home. Not a shoe gets tied, nor a piece of toast gets buttered without the help of their home. George and Lydia splurged to buy their children a nursery that changes into whatever they want it to be with one thought. It is used as a psychological tool for helping them deal with their anxieties. At present, the nursery is a hyper-realistic African Veldt complete with lions that smell and sound just like the real thing. The lions are just as intimidating as the real thing as well (though the emanating screams and the smell of blood don’t help with the overall vibe). After a few close calls with the nursery, George has a psychologist come and look at it. He tells them to immediately shut down the nursery and get their kids into therapy. George shuts the nursery down, but gives into his children’s whining for just a moment and lets them play in it while he gets changed to leave. The children then call their parents into the nursery and allow them to be eaten by the lions, so that their way of life wouldn’t change.
Bradbury’s story can be seen as a cautionary tale of how letting technology take on a pseudo-parenting role in a child’s life can be detrimental to an entire family. Perhaps if George had put his foot down that one last time and refused to let the children back into the nursery, they might have survived. Regardless, something deeper is going on here. This is a family who has allowed their lives to be completely taken over by technology. Their children’s lack of real parenting is just an extension of having a house that is capable of doing everything for them. If their house can take care of it, why shouldn’t they let it? They have not only lost control of their children, but they have lost control of their own lives and rendered themselves impotent, in effect. The important thing here is, they have control over technology they just choose not to employ it.
Bradbury seems to further introduce this idea in his short story “There Will Come Soft Rains”. It is the post-apocalyptic story of a (mostly) empty house in a neighborhood in ashes. The house is fully automatic, and goes through the routine of the day even without any humans inside. It lists off bills to be paid, makes pancakes, and tiny little robotic mice even come out to clean:
Out of warrens in the wall, tiny robot mice darted. The rooms were a crawl with the small cleaning animals, all rubber and metal. They thudded against chairs, whirling their mustached runner, kneading the rug nap, sucking gently at hidden dust. They like mysterious invaders, they popped into their burrows. Their pink electric eyes faded. The house was clean.
As the day wears on, a dog covered in sores comes in through the dog door and dies. The house goes on with it’s routine for a bit, but then a tree limb breaks through the window setting off a chain reaction that ends with the house engulfed in flames. The story ends there. With no water left in it’s tanks after days of watering the lawn, etc. it has nothing to put the flames out with. The house dies.
The moral of the story is that even a fully automated, technology packed house needed humans in order to live. Humanity is what keeps technology alive. Computers wouldn’t go on if the entire population of the world was wiped out. We are in charge of, and even the purpose for technology.
We are in control and it’s time to start acting like it.