One particularly unfortunate trait of modern society is our futile attempt to use technology to immunize ourselves against the fear of death. The failure of technology in this regard is the general subject of Don Delillo''s book White Noise. Throughout this novel, technology is depicted as the ominous messenger of our common fate, an increasing sense of dread over loss of control of our lives and the approach of inevitable death in spite of the empty promises of technology. In this essay I will examine Delillo''s portrayal of technology and its role in our society.
The title of Delillo''s book, White Noise, reminds one of an electronic static of the sort encountered on television when a station goes off the air. But I think white noise can also refer to the indiscriminate flow of information we are exposed to on a daily basis in our modern society, that which ultimately destroys the immediacy of real life. If you see enough people gunned down on television, enough mangled bodies in twisted cars, enough violence, destruction and despair in the newspapers, you grow numb to it. In one sense, I think this is what White Noise is. Have you seen those devices they sell for insomniacs? They are white noise generators intended to put us to sleep. White noise is sound at all frequencies broadcast indiscriminately, and that is what Delillo hints that television and the modern media are doing to us now. The indiscriminate flood of information is not making our society more aware; rather, it is putting us all to sleep.
White Noise is a book obsessed with death at the hands of our own technology. The protagonist is a middle aged man who is the chairman of a department of Hitle...
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...e novel where the products on the supermarket shelves are quietly rearranged, throwing a sense of shock and panic into the shoppers (i.e. the masses) until they can adjust to the new system. After surviving the initial traumatic change, we see the shoppers quickly resume their mindless lives on the road to death, comfortably numb and smugly secure. This is a sad indictment of what life in this twentieth century is for our media and technology-manipulated American society. Delillo''s analysis implies, then, that safety can only be found in conformity and a dead life dictated by others. Furthermore, life is only really experienced at its fullest in the random moments when the "white noise" breaks down and becomes silent momentarily, only to quickly arise and embrace us once again in its death grip.
DeLillo, Don. White Noise. London: Picador, 1986.
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