American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Technophobia: Exploring Fearful Virtuality

Kathryne Young Metcalf, Bowling Green State University


With 171 million active users and a market value expected to climb to almost $17 billion in the next three years, Virtual Reality (VR) would appear to be a technology on the rise. Yet despite the public fervor for VR, our media landscape has long been marked by phobic depictions of the same—from William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984), to The Matrix (1999), to Black Mirror (2011-present), VR fictions always seem to dread its presence even as their audiences anticipate these feared technologies. How, then, can we explain the durability of fiction fearing VR, and what use might we find for that phobic response? While ample previous scholarship has explored how horror and other forms of genre fiction reflect specific cultural anxieties, to this point little work has been devoted to technophobic fiction as it represents and serves to manage cultural responses to new and emerging technologies. As VR grows increasingly common, such fiction might offer a powerful tool toward anticipating its uses—good and bad—as well as to influence the ends for which these technologies are taken up. Through textual analysis of Ready Player One (2018) and “San Junipero” (2017), I explore how fears of capitalist subjugation, disembodiment, and the limitations of the humanist self come to be displaced in VR’s technological systems. This work clarifies the technosocial politics of VR as they penetrate what it means to be human, and how technophobia itself might be mobilized toward the creation of a better technological future.