Course Post #13: Sprint’s “Does Your Phone Dream?” in Theater Admonition

It was while writing on audience reaction to Her that I ran across an idea in The Voice and Nothing More that I would like to apply to Kelly’s What Technology Wants.  It is the following quote by Dolar:

Even with pure nonsense poetry, it is very difficult not to see sense in it - the best proof is no doubt the immense host of interpretations and commentaries surrounding probably the most famous nonsense poem of all, ‘Jabberwocky’ in Alice… proving that nonsense makes more sense than normal sense; it is far from absent; rather, there is too much of it. (149)

I would like to apply this idea - this idea that idle ears hear logic in anything - to Kelly’s idea that the technium is an evolving, ideal, conscious force.  One such point that he makes in the first chapter of What Technology Wants.  Kelly says,

Woven deep into the vast communication networks wrapping the globe, we also find evidence of embryonic technological autonomy….  When computer scientists dissect the massive rivers of traffic flowing through it, they cannot account for the source of all the bits.  Every now and then a bit is transmitted incorrectly, and while most of those mutations can be attributed to identifiable causes such as hacking, machine error, or line damage, the researchers are left with a few percent that somehow changed themselves.  In other words, a small fraction of what the technium communicates originates not from any of its known human-made nodes but from the system at large.  The technium is whispering to itself.  (14).

In chapter fourteen, his claims about the technium become even more elaborate.  He says at one point, “This is what the technium is.  The technium is the accumulation of stuff, of lore, of practices, of traditions, and of choices that allow an individual human to generate and participate in a greater number of ideas” (351).  And, later on, he says, “What I was really searching for was a way to reconcile the technium’s selfish nature, which wants more of itself, with its generous nature, which wants to help us to find more of ourselves (352).

This idea that the technium desires - selfishly and otherwise - seems to me to be hearing logic in the nothingness like Dolar describes in A Voice and Nothing More - a meaning to the Jabberwocky of technology.  I don’t think that everyone hears a logic in the technium, but once the idea has been stated, one does, I believe, begin to at least listen for a logic.  So, while I don’t necessarily agree with Kelly, what I can say is - if there is something to be picked up on, anything like what he states - then he prepares his readers to listen.  It is interesting in that Kelly turns the technium’s silence into a potentially active one - a silence that bespeaks an agency, or potential agency.  He doesn’t convince me, but he gets me to listen more than I might usually, which I suppose is useful.

This idea, though, that Kelly is seeing in the technium what logic he perceives in it means that the logic will always be a human logic.  It will always be Kelly’s logic.  Because there is this kind of fantasy built around the gaps in the technium’s meaning.  He fills them up with his own expectations.

The reaction to the technium is almost an either/or thing - a yes or no question must be answered.  Is the technium conscious, or isn’t it?  Does it desire, or doesn’t it?  While we may not be able to define exactly what the technium is per se, what we can say is that there either will be a mass of machinery, software, traditions, practices, and choices in which we can see patterns (just like we see patterns in everything), or there will be a conscious mass of machinery, software, traditions, practices, and choices.

This kind of question is the same one that I realized was used by Sprint to motivate people to turn off their phones during a movie.  If you don’t remember ever seeing one of these ads, the following is a good description of them:  http://www.mediapost.com/publications/article/175435/sprint-turns-dream-maker-in-movie-theaters.html

Basically, Sprint asks at the beginning of a movie, “When you shut your phone off, does it dream?” as though the device itself sleeps.  And Sprint asks this question to provide motivation for your turning your phone off in a theater.  To find out if your phone dreams, apparently, all you have to do is just text “dream” to 60602, turn your phone off, turn it back on, and discover what your phone dreamt.  That’s the idea, anyway.  The result, however, is far creepier than I had originally guessed (as I have never participated).

In the article in Online Media Daily, it says that “When a movie ends, those that texted to 60602 receive a message asking them to opt-in via Facebook. After opting-in, users get 15-second video clip capturing what the device has been ‘dreaming’ while it was ‘sleeping.’

The customized clip is developed over a two-hour period and taps into a user’s publicly available information on Facebook, including photos and specified interests to create their own mini dream video. People can then share the dream clip with others via Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.”

So, of course, what the phone is dreaming is of us.  It is of our pictures, of our lives.  The phone is not separate from us.  When we stare into the void, and the void begins to stare back, we realize we are just looking at ourselves.  We are placing logic where there is none, and it is a self-gratifying logic.  It is fantasy.  Ultimately, I think there is no difference between Kelly’s assertion that the technium desires to help us find more of ourselves and Sprint’s assertion that phones dream of us.

PIPApples Awake

Course Post #12: PIP Stress Management Biofeedback Device

Video of PIP: http://galvanic.ie/

Image of PIP: http://galvanic.ie/?portfolio=the-pip-3

Image of Apples Awake: http://www.iftf.org/future-now/article-detail/artifact-from-the-future-apples-awake/

Last week in class, we discussed the inability for us to conceive of a positive future, not even necessarily a utopia, but a simply positive one.  In fact, Jamais Cascio pointed out our inability to conceive of a positive future, and when I looked him up, I discovered that he devotes much of his time to trying to create one.  He is a Research Fellow at the Institute for the Future, which is a think-tank created to come up with long-term, positive influences for the future, whether that be in the form of technology, health, or organizations (or a combination of these).  In addition, the Institute for the Future has a blog on emerging technologies, public health options, organizations, etc.: http://www.iftf.org/future-now/

One of the things I find interesting about the IFTF is that its original plan was to be funded by (and work with) the government, but ultimately it was funded by Fortune 500 Companies.  These companies can invest in any of the three main focuses of IFTF:  Ten Year Forecast, Technology Horizons, and Health Horizons.  I kind of wonder if the government’s disinterest in these things has to do with the fact the government feels assured of its own future existence and thus doesn’t think it needs to invest in its own future, or rather in everyone’s future.

An example of one of the artifacts of the future that is on the IFTF blog site is the Apples Awake:  http://www.iftf.org/future-now/article-detail/artifact-from-the-future-apples-awake/
The Apples Awake doesn’t actually exist, but is something that could possibly exist in the future, and combines normal food with pharmaceuticals.  It takes part in the “normalization” of drugs, where an apple a day literally does keep the doctor away.  There could, possibly be, aspirin apples, “ciga-uh-apples,” caffeine apples, or non OTC Valium apples.  The fact that the apple is often presented as a means for the fall of mankind is, I’m sure, just happenstance in IFTF’s brainstorming.

One of the items that I discovered recently that fits in well with IFTF’s goals is PIP: “the revolutionary stress management solution for iOS and Android.”  PIP, I have to say, is pretty amazing and something that made me realize just how cynical I can be about the future and future products.

PIP is, essentially, a biofeedback device.  A person holds between his or her two fingers a monitor that examines the amount of blood flow to his or her extremities to monitor stress.  Meanwhile, the person plays a video game with only said monitor: the task is to relax.  So, for instance, in a racing game for a biofeedback device, you get to the end the faster you relax - the faster the monitor detects that you are relaxing.  What this does is it connects the achievement of goals with relaxation and better equips the player with strategies to deal with (or end) stress in real-life situations.  It is, supposedly, one of the most effective ways to deal with and stop anxiety and panic attacks.

Biofeedback is pretty difficult to find and pay for right now.  Not all psychologists or psychiatrists provide biofeedback therapy, and not all of them think that it should be the main focus (that talking therapy and pharmaceutical therapy combined is the best option).  Many insurance providers do not view biofeedback therapy as actual therapy and will not pay for it.  In addition, most biofeedback sessions range from $35-85, with the necessary number of sessions being 50 a lot of the time.  So, the ultimate cost of the therapy ranges between $1750 and $4250.  More information can be found here:  http://health.costhelper.com/biofeedback-therapist.html

I don’t necessarily believe that PIP will be the most sophisticated of biofeedback devices, but it will, I think, do several important things in our very near future: 1.) make biofeedback more prevalent and perhaps more accepted in our society as a useful therapy, 2.) bring our focus back to mental health, 3.) make biofeedback more affordable and part of everyday existence, rather than part of psychiatric sessions, 4.) bring therapy to people early, before they desperately need it (before they are pushed beyond that invisible line between not going to a therapist and going).

PIP is a product that I think will help make a better future, a visibly better future.  (It makes me realize the amount of cynicism I have had for the future).  PIP, though, is not on the IFTF’s site, and my theory for why is that IFTF mainly focuses on coming up with their own ideas, rather than pulling ideas in from the outside. 

Course Post #11:  Ex-sisting and the Technium

Link for First Picture:  http://www.newser.com/story/143590/at-easter-vigil-pope-warns-of-technology-without-god.html

Link for Second Picture:  http://designcharitylife.com/tag/pope/

Link for Third Picture:  https://twitter.com/Pontifex

I am very unsure about this blog post.  I don’t know if the connections I make are viable, but here goes:

What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly is very interesting, but while I read it, I want to resist a lot of what he says, primarily because the focus of the text seems to try to get us to feel something for the technium.  There is this “let’s unite! hurrah!” emotion that is threaded throughout chapter fourteen, and I’m not sure exactly that it is necessary.  Then again, maybe it is.  (Dr. Richardson’s showing us the video of BigDog being kicked would be an example of moments in which perhaps emotion is necessary).  Perhaps we should react to poor treatment of technology as similar to poor treatment of animals and humans.  Maybe that’s the sort of thing that Kelly is trying to employ.

In any case, one of the things that bothered me in Kelly’s text is in the fourth paragraph of chapter fourteen.  He states, “A system of laws keeps men and women responsible, urges them toward fairness, restrains undesirable impulses, breeds trust, and so on.  The elaborate system of law that undergirds Western societies is not every different from software” (347).

My reaction to this statement was just “no.”  There are so many assumptions about law he makes in this one statement that - again - he must just say this to create a “hurrah” sensation.  I think it can be argued that laws are inhibitive, that they cause the very crimes they prohibit, and that they provoke people.  There is also the problem of permission in prohibition.  The idea of “It’s okay to discuss these things as long as we are discussing outlawing them.”

The issue with law and lawlessness continues several pages on.  Later, Kelly quotes James Carse on finite games versus infinite games and says, “‘Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries’” (353).  Kelly then says that “Evolution, life, mind, and the technium are infinite games” (353).  Is there a problem here in saying that technology is the law and the technium is lawless (without boundaries?)  Kelly seems to laud both the law and lawlessness.  It is… odd to me.

One other problem I had with Kelly’s text is on page 349.  He states, “However, if we fail to enlarge the possibilities for other people, we diminish them, and that is unforgivable.  Enlarging the scope of creativity for others, then, is an obligation.”

This idea that possibilities are obligations is problematic.  After spending an entire semester reading about donor babies (the creation of children for the purpose of donating tissue), as well as gene modification that is becoming more and more an option for parents of a child - it seems that more choices is problematic, that possibilities becoming obligations is problematic.  Perhaps the gene for psychopathy will be discovered - or for better argument’s sake, the gene for social adeptness is discovered - at the same time that genetically modifying babies becomes more complex and reliable.  Is it then the obligation of parents to choose genes for their child that will supposedly help them in the long run?  Would this not then reduce genetic possibilities?

I know that in chapter thirteen Kelly acknowledges the problem of too many choices - how it paralyzes consumers - and he ultimately decides that too many choices are better than no choices at all.  Nevertheless, I would still like to point out that (using Kelly’s example of Mozart) if Mozart had far more musical choices for expressing himself, he might have chosen a different musical (or literary or film) option, and the result might be the same problem as if he had had no piano to begin with - there would be a loss, no matter what.  On the other hand, I might side with Kelly, but for a different reason.  I think the better argument might be that the potential for more options will always exist (in the same vein as the potential for a purer, better jouissance will always ex-sist in Lacanian theory).  To eliminate options is not to eliminate the drive towards them.

I could also mention the problem of Kelly’s sentence on page 350 of “Without these manufactured possibilities, she is diminished, and by extension all of us are diminished” - which is a strange argument in that we can never hear all music, see all art, read all literature.  We don’t have the time.  (Of course, on the other hand, just because we don’t encounter the literature itself doesn’t mean we don’t encounter things influenced by that literature).

Before I get to what I really want to talk about, I do have to mention one more problem I have with chapter fourteen.  After watching True Detective, and revisiting the idea that evolution-created consciousness is a mistake - it was never supposed to have happened - Kelly seems strangely optimistic when he states on page 355, “As evolution evolves, it keeps piling on different ways to adapt and learn until eventually the minds of animals are caught in self-awareness…  The destiny of this collective mind is to expand imagination in all directions until it is no longer solitary but reflects the infinite.”  The text seems too positive about evolution, about all the possibilities that humans can create (the same positivity that is normally associated with futuristic efforts and design).  Do we really want ALL possibilities, as Dr. Richardson asked in class?  Do we really want everything and anything that humans are capable of creating?  Will this collective mind and transcendence not have some hint of evil or malice that permeates other portions of human creation?

Alright, I’m done complaining.  Before I add my commentary on ex-sistence, I would like to point out that I do agree with Kelly in chapter thirteen when he says, “Imagine what a different world it would be if 1,000 years ago people had accepted the inevitability of political self-governance, or massive urbanization, or educated women, or automation.  It is possible an early embrace of these trajectories could have accelerated the arrival of the Enlightenment and science, lifting millions of people out of poverty and increasing longevity centuries earlier” (272-273).  I think Kelly accurately addresses the problem of resisting the technium, of resisting large movements of change.  He may forgo admitting that resisting large changes may also have benefited society in other areas, but I think overall the point needs to be made that technology and the technium should be embraced and valued, and he makes that point.

Also, Kelly’s following creative thinking exercise was pretty great:  "In other words, complexity may simply be the lens we see the world through at this moment, the metaphor of the era, when in reality it is a reflection of us rather than an actual property of evolution" (280).

What I want to add to the discussion has to do with the interesting suture of God and the technium.  What I would like to argue about the technium is that it doesn’t exist, but ex-sists.  It is hard for me to see the technium as this force, this thing that desires, this Other that wants something from us without stating that it doesn’t actually “exist.” 

I would argue that ex-sistence is kind of a state of being halfway between existing and not.  But, in Lacan to the Letter, Fink says of ex-sistence (and, strangely enough, he uses the example of God to understand ex-sisting), “What is the status of this unfailing jouissance that could never miss the mark?  It does not exactly exist, according to Lacan, but it insists as an ideal, an idea, a possibility thought permits us to envision.  In his vocabulary, it ‘ex-sists’:  It persists and makes its claims felt with a certain insistence from the outside, as it were - outside in the sense that it is not the wish ‘Let’s do that again!’ but, rather, ‘Isn’t there something else you could do, something different you could try?’”  Fink goes on to say, “The ontological argument has been criticized for attempting to deduce existence from essence; perhaps it could be understood, from a Lacanian vantage point, as proving God’s ex-sistence” (157).

This need for more options, more ways of doing things, better ways of doing things, is part of jouissance’s ex-sistence, and it reminds me greatly of the state of the technium and the need for more options, greater options, greater uniting, a kind of unity with God, an awakening, something with “more goodness than anything else we know” (Kelly 359).

I can accept the technium better with this idea of its ex-sistence, rather than its existing (since I still see it as separate somehow, disconnected, external).  Despite Kelly’s discussion of the technium as life, which he repeats again and again, there is something different about the technium to me.  Perhaps ex-sistence is the wrong term to use, or should only describe our associations with the technium, but there must be a word to account for the technium’s difference and distance and evolutionary beauty.  Also, there needs to be a word to account for our seeking the largest, most complex, beautiful, godlike technium possible.  The technium takes on more ideal, more potential, it seems to me, rather than simply what it already is.  There must be a word to account for this excessive idealization - this hope for the future of the technium.  I think that the word might be ex-sistence.

[Side Note:  I also wonder if there is any connection of the disappearance of a ubiquitous technology to ex-sistence; is it the exact opposite of ex-sistence?  The difference between the have-laters and the “all have” is the difference between an outside insistence on owning a technology you don’t yet own, or improving it in some way it hasn’t been improved (making it better in some way), versus everyone having the same basic thing.]

Interestingly enough, religion has come to accept the technium as part of itself, in a way.  Perhaps not as a living entity, but as something to be welcomed.  The shift is precise and noticeable.  For instance, on April 7, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI warned of the risks of technology, and his warning can be found in the article I have provided above.  In contrast, the current Pope Francis has a Twitter account and - more importantly - this Twitter account was one of the first places to announce his being chosen as Pope in 2013.  This is not to say that such an act is representative of all religions’ ties to the technium, but it is an example of the suturing of technology with God from the other side (a religious side, rather than on the technical side, where Kelly’s focus is).  Of course… Pope Francis’s tweet was a deliberate attempt to make him seem current [as has been his campaign (can I say “campaign?”)] from the very beginning.  Nevertheless, there does seem to be an interesting intertwining of technology and religion here. A strange new welcoming.  Perhaps the Catholic religion has realized technology cannot be beaten.

(Reblogged from emergentfutures)

Course Post #10: In Time and Critical Design

There were several things that interested me in Speculative Everything by Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby.  One of them was the following quote on consumerism:

"In a consumer society like ours, it is through buying goods that reality takes shape.  The moment money is exchanged, a possible future becomes real.  If it did not sell it would be sent back, becoming a rejected reality.  In a consumer society, the moment we part with our money is the moment a little bit of reality is created.  Not just physical reality or cultural but psychological, ethical, and behavioral.  This is one of the purposes of critical design - to help us become more discerning consumers, to encourage people to demand more from industry and society as critical consumers.” (37)

When I read this, I remarked on the dystopian movie In Time, where there is a literal real that is exchanged for money (money is, in this case, time) - and that real is a person’s life.  Just to sum up the movie, in the future, all currency is in the form of minutes (or hours, or days, or weeks) to live.  Everyone starts with one year (glowing on their arms), and that year begins a countdown at the age of twenty-five for everyone.  If the countdown ever ends, the person dies.  If the countdown never ends, the person lives forever - that is, as long as they’re careful.

To steal a person’s money is to steal a person’s life, and to hoard money is to hoard a person’s ability to live.  The amount of time/money a person has is literally glowing on his or her arm as a reminder of poverty, as a tool to motivate people to work harder.  The world is divided into time zones (from poor time zones to wealthy time zones), and one can only cross into a certain time zone if he or she has enough time on his/her arm.

I have to say that when I watched this movie several years ago, I did not enjoy it.  I thought the plot was poor and that the film relied too heavily on the ideas of time as currency to get by.  But I will say that what the film did get correct were several things: 1. the boredom of wealth and immortality (when everything will be okay as long as a person never does anything foolish - and, thus, a person can never do anything foolish), 2. a strange oedipal problem, where fathers of women are the same age and almost indistinguishable from husbands or boyfriends and mothers are indistinguishable visually from girlfriends, 3. the anxiety behind poverty (where not making enough in a day is a life and death problem), 4. a commentary on work as an exchange of life for barely any time to live that life, 5. the problem of living for and growing and taking care of money, rather than focusing on life.

More importantly, I think that the movie accurately does what Speculative Everything says critical design is supposed to do - make an audience more discerning consumers.  How it does so is by bringing attention to money itself by removing it entirely.  Without a dollar symbol to get in the way, viewers are allowed to see the exchange of goods as an exchange of life (time spent working).  Poverty is not simply the absence of money, but the absence of living.  The unequal distribution of wealth is an unequal allowance of peoples’ existence.  And I think this movie, this particular critical design, only really works in a capitalist society.  Critical design is ideological - just like Dunne and Raby say on pg. 167:

"Soviet technology, developed outside Western ideals and contexts, shows that technology is as much an embodiment of ideology, politics, and culture as science.  One can’t help but wonder if ideology is at the source of true innovation in the sense that new ideas and thinking come from new and different ways of viewing the world.”

I think, though, that the movie cannot be directed toward the very very poor - for they don’t need art to show them the anxieties of not having money, of the life lost trying to provide for themselves and others.  This kind of critical design - if it is a criticism - can only be directed to those that are less aware (whether purposely or accidentally).  In other words, if the movie was made to make a point, then the point it makes is to those who are middle and upper class.  The point is to those who have capitalist leanings.

I am wary, though, of saying that the movie is critical design.  For one, I’m not sure how much of the movie is meant to be enjoyed and how much is to make a point.  Perhaps when the idea for the movie originally came to be, the problem of money was the point, but it kind of gets lost amidst the Bonnie and Clyde imitation of the protagonist and his lover.  It gets lost in the romance and visual effects, in the beauty of characters who are all twenty-five and like old vampire immortals.  In a sense, it is less a less dystopian film and more fantasy - a fantasy of being able to stay young forever and having to work very little (ultimately) to achieve it.  For another, there is a merging or blend of art and critical design in the movie that Speculative Everything warns about.  One reason I say this is because In Time offers a solution to the problem (the redistribution of wealth), and this kind of solution seeking is something that Dunne and Raby say is not the point of speculative design.  It is more to make the audience think and react than it is to offer a solution.  It is there for an idea only.

I think, however, that it could be argued redistribution of wealth is not the point of the movie, but rather the rejection of money as life.  In a sense, all that the main characters of the movie have is time to live, not a point to life.  When Henry Hamilton hands over all of his time, except for five minutes, to Will Salas, and then kills himself, it is a rejection of the system altogether.  When Will Salas loses his mother, all he has left is time.  Sylvia Weis has so much time she has to be careful never to lose it.  She is working for the time and only the time; the time is not working for her.  Perhaps the movie’s point is that money gets in the way of life and should be forgotten altogether.  The system is broken and needs to be understood that way.