John Updike's "Outage"

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Our Automated Lifestyle

Using his narrative, “Outage”, John Updike makes a statement about the way that technology has impaired the interpersonal skills of our society as a whole. While new automated systems have made everyday life more efficient, our reliance on technology makes it more difficult to connect with our community. Updike begins his short story by showing the reader rather blatantly how separation from the automated world brings communities closer together. Upon reaching the downtown area, Brad is struck by the interactions between the startled patrons who have suddenly disconnected from their day-to-day activities to talk to one another. At the local bank, “The tellers chatting on the padded bench where the applicants for mortgages and perpetrators of overdrafts customarily languished” (653) is a pleasant change from the typical fast-paced happenings in the post office where “everything had been computerized by a United States Postal Service zealous to modernize, and [where] not a single letter could be weighed or a single stamp sold” (653). As he leaves downtown, Brad is struck by the “overflow of good nature… baring neglected possibilities” (653) that had been brought about by the power outage. Like the rest of the community, Brad is reveling in the newfound freedom that has been brought about by this hiatus of technology.

A motif in Updike’s narrative, the oppressive presence of technology is emphasized using personification. While Brad’s burglar alarm is initially “peeping and blinking softly, as if to itself” (652), Lynne’s beeps in a less passive, “distinct and insistent” (654) manner. When Brad and Lynne become intimate, “the great plasma screen [stares] blankly and the morning Globe lay still in its plastic wrapper”(655), reminding the reader of the momentarily paused outside world and once again of the omnipresence of electronics. Brad, with his perceptive worldview and appreciation for technology, is keenly aware of this presence; he...
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