Back to Reality

Red Dwarf seems to be good at presenting futuristic technology as ubiquitous rather than something to examine, question or fight. (In this episode, the technology is accepted; it’s a natural substance that tricks their minds.) Better than Life is perhaps a more straightforward example–VR is just a game; it only falls apart because of Rimmer’s psychological issues.

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Murder She Wrote: from typewriter to VR

And once in a while, VR has been assumed to be a bit more ubiquitous than it is…

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Amy mentioned Wall-E on her blog, and I had been thinking about this scene as well. It suggests that ‘virtual reality’ might not be limited to the extremes of The Matrix or The Lawnmower Man, but simply constant distraction and preoccupation, like Orwell’s 1984 proles who are fed pop songs by the government to keep them happy.

Hand certainly alludes to this sort of consumerist virtual world, ‘ the digitalĀ panopticon produces docile minds’ (p. 30), bombarded by infinite information and (meaningless) choice: ‘blue is the new red!’ Needless to say, this isn’t a million miles from my earlier post totalling up brand names (and various other attention-competitors) on a single webpage.

This also interests me in reference to my theory that we’re happy with virtual experiences if 1) we are aware that the experience we’re having is virtual, and to what degree it is and 2) we have chosen to experience it and can choose to leave (while the opposite would be the dystopian perspective). On the one hand, it doesn’t look like the human of the future have much of a choice about their situation, but they do have a choice about whether to engage with the ‘virtual’ elements (the advertisements, communications tools, etc.); this is clear when Wall-E distracts a woman who stops her conversation and looks around her [this is also interesting as it gives the viewer the impression that she really doesn't know where she is], gets out of her chair and responds to Wall-E. Moreover the illusion of choice is heaped upon them within a set of boundaries (i.e. the buttons on the chair). Likewise, it isn’t a secret that they are being presented with more information than they could take in all the time, mostly marketing, but the problem is in their (willful or otherwise) ignorance of its effect on themselves.
The description of this clip given on YouTube is also quite interesting: ‘This is a clip from Wall-E. It illustrates the future dystopia we’re headed to.’ In proper web 2.0 fashion, a commenter comes along with some bait, which is duly taken. Another commenter is just happy they didn’t have to watch the whole movie themselves. A philosophical debate then ensues, interspersed with farms and pools…

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Strange Days

Strange Days is another one I wouldn’t really recommend, but has a couple interesting features. One would be its determination to date itself by being set merely four years in the future (as the trailer, for some reason, is really keen to highlight).

The other is the idea that you can experience someone else’s life. There are lots of sci fi movies where you can put yourself into a new situation, or play a character, or control an Avatar, but I can’t think of very many where you experience someone else’s life, including physical sensations and emotions. (Maybe Being John Malkovich…but this isn’t really tech-assisted…)

Strange Days also bypasses the ‘this new technology is great’ stage of similar movies and goes straight to the evil underbelly–i.e. it can’t be used to encourage empathy or compassion, but rather to breathe new life into the porn industry and give serial killers a unique way to taunt the police. Still, the idea of technology allowing people to understand better what it’s like to be someone else–along with the misgivings associated with letting people know too much–is certainly present in much discussion surrounding Web 2.0.

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