“‘If you don’t retrain you’re obsolete inside a month, and then you’re not much good for anything except Heaven or dictation.'” (Pg. 254)
This sentence illustrates the dilemma with which humanity is faced in Peter Watts’ bleak picture of the future. It also speaks to a theme which has been quite prevalent in (nearly) all texts (or films) throughout the semester — the theme of what counts as human.
The character that says this line, Robert Cunningham, had his body and senses completely transformed and de-naturalized in order to perform his job. He clearly has some lingering miseries and regrets at this “roboticizing” of his mental and physical essence; however, he grudgingly realizes that it was necessary.
For Cunningham, it was either: become partially mechanical, and, in the process, lose much of his humanity, or: resign one’s existence to a virtual world. This Heaven is a digital haven or asylum away from the natural, physical world much like cyberspace, a la Neuromancer.
The cost, of course, of taking up residence in Heaven is that one’s life on earth — life in the real world, in an actual human, physical body — ceases to exist. The cares of humanity and reality vanish. One becomes a digital afterthought.
Robert Cunningham is faced with the dilemma of “prostheticizing” his body (and his humanity) but still living on earth (where he at least knows he was once human), or living in an invented, virtual reality as a digital consciousness. He is certainly not happy with his mechanized self, but he believes he chose the lesser of two evils (or at least the more human choice of the two).