by Jasia Carroll-Woolery
I want to talk about a lesser-known young adult book known as The Adoration of Jenna Fox, written by Mary E. Nelson in 2009.
This is one of the first books I read in a book club, and while reading it back in Grade 9, I found it to be fairly simple and at times a bit peculiar, looking back I can see how it brings up a lot of questions about the concept of “saving” a human by storing their memories and thoughts onto a computer drive, and whether it is ethically responsible to keep someone alive past their prime.
Out titular character, Jenna Fox, is an amnesiac eighteen-year-old girl who learns that she had been in a coma for a year due to a tragic accident that is left rather vague. Jenna always feels a little out of place. She constantly meshes her fingers together to try and find a sense of comfort, but finds that something always feels… off. It turns out, her body was destroyed in a terrible car crash, killing everyone inside. Her parents managed to store the contents of her brain onto a computer and reconstruct her body out of Blue Goo, or Bio Gel (far beyond the legal limits permitted in this future), before replacing her mind into this new body. Jenna struggles to acknowledge her old identity, of which she feels no connection to, as well as determine an identity of her own, all while unravelling a daunting mystery. It’s definitely a thought-proving book that I could recommend to young adults when you have a lazy summer day to kill.
The novel ends with Jenna realizing that her friends who were also killed in the accident were currently being saved on a computer, their consciences floating around in limbo, hanging between life and death. Jenna takes it upon herself to destroy these souls and allow for them to die in peace, while she continues to live for another 200 years in her enhanced body.
While this is definitely a more fantastical take on the idea of a human consciousness being saved on a computer hard drive for future use and implementation into a new body (I mean, Blue Goo? Really?), it does cover some of the topics found in the reading “How We Became Posthuman”. Now, the article in question isn’t strictly talking about the possibility of a human computer – instead, it covers topics regarding the concept of the consciousness having no connection with its host body and remaining unchanged. It also discusses the idea of creating an essentially immortal human by getting rid of the nuisance that is our frail body.
Without her body, Jenna Fox, like her friends trapped in the computer network, are nothing but a series of zeros and ones, lacking meaning without a medium to be presented through. Locked away behind a screen, there is no character to be expressed, until it is freed, like an idea locked away in the conscious of our mind. To put it bluntly, the mind is nothing without a body to express itself.
Jenna Fox’s main struggle throughout the novel is her inability to relate to the girl she sees in her parents’ home videos. One of her most poignant lines in the book read as follows:
“I used to be someone.
Someone named Jenna Fox.
That’s what they tell me. But I am more than a name. More than they tell me. More than the facts and statistics they fill my head with. More than the video clips they make me watch.
More. But I’m not sure what.”
She finds herself unable to connect with the perfect girl she sees on the screen. She realizes that, while she feels trapped in her own body, she feels trapped in the one she (supposedly) once inhabited. In this case, being in a body of Bio Gel allowed for a different consciousness to be expressed in the real world, and it is here that she decides on her own identity, and it is partially why she chooses to destroy the body of their friends – so that, wherever they end up, they are no longer trapped without a means to speak.
I find it fascinating how being reduced to digits and code, ironically, brought out the true Jenna Fox and allowed her to discover who she wants to be. It may be decades before we discover the consequences of creating partial immortality by storing a human mind, with a body past its prime, on a dusty old machine, but until then, perhaps we should consider our own bodies being the constraints holding us back from defining our own identity.