Ellen Ullman’s The Bug parallels the life of Roberta Walton with Ethan Levin’s as well as paralleling these human lives with that of the machine. In doing so we as readers are able to understand the machine not in the terms of it being a machine, but rather an entity that functions within the world as a part of our life. As Ethan’s search for the bug becomes increasingly difficult and important as the stakes are raised, we start to truly see the computer and the machine as something that can go beyond human control and desire. In a novel that explores the world of a computer programmer, one could expect to gain more of a solid grasp on the power that humans have over machines in a more detailed way. With the intermittent writing and explanations of code and programming, we as readers are able to further understand the close work these programmers have with the machine. However when the bug is identified as being elusive and “flakey” we are made aware of the way in which computers are not solely functioning under the control of the human.
As the bug begins to destroy Ethan’s life, the reader can start to acknowledge some critical issues to consider in the digital age. As we have tried to position computers as different and separate from our lives as humans and our privilege to lived experiences, we have also failed to see the similarities that emerge during moments of chaos. While human life can not be as easily programmed and “debugged” as computers can be, once “bugged” all rules or codes that we live by or have written are all no longer considered stable. By recognizing that at our worst we are most like the machine, perhaps we can then begin to think about how what it is about our best that distinguishes us from the computer.