| Alone Together

The path ahead is challenging but clear: we need to start reclaiming conversations once again. Icon Source: Entypo.

The path ahead is challenging but clear: we need to start reclaiming conversations once again.
Icon Source: Entypo.

Click on the image above to view the video.

This week’s viewing is a TED Talk by Sherry Turkle, professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the MIT. She has spent the last 30 years researching the psychology of people’s relationships with technology.

What struck me at once was the title of the video itself: it emphasizes how we seem to be brought together by technology, yet these elements keep us isolated from each other in terms of social and human interactions. We have never been so connected, yet never so alienated from each other.

In her video, Turkle explains how not too long ago, scientists were trying to figure out how they were going to keep computers busy: for example, they wondered if people would be ready to put their contacts and calendars in the hands of technology (which at the time seemed like a foolish idea, she explained, because people were too attached to the feel of paper). Ironically enough, now it is the other way around, it is the computers that are keeping us busy. Indeed, we seem to have become addicted to this mobile connectivity mainly because our phones, computers, tablets and other electronic devices are always on, and always on us. This developed a certain vulnerability in us, which Turkle explains by the constant connection technology offers. Indeed, we have become intertwined in this mix between reality and virtual life. As a result, we seem to avoid real life commitments (like talking on the phone) and we prefer texting than talk to a person face to face. Turkle clearly states that we have developed an addiction to technology, but we are nowhere near accepting of letting go of this “drug”. In other words, we are slaves to our technology, but we like it.

Another important issue that Turkle mentions in her talk is that we have become too busy communicating to think, or even to create. Distractions are all around us, all the time; we cannot think without being interrupted.Therefore, we have lost the notion of being alone, and we do not know how to restore ourselves in solitude. Even in the most intimately alone time, we do not take the time to reflect on one’s self; instead, we see this free time as an opportunity to check our cellphones one last time… Even when we go the use the bathroom, most of us take our phones with us !

Needless to say that this flood of connections affect the self in many ways, since we are becoming lonely, longing for friends yet fearing the actual long-term commitment that comes with an actual in-flesh relationship. It is obvious that the time has come for us to turn the camera towards ourselves, to look ourselves in the mirror and make corrections on our addictive behavior. Like Turkle said in her video, the path ahead is challenging but clear: it is time to reclaim and start conversations again.

| Art & Synesthesia

The synesthetic experience of a synesthete is a real and concrete sensory phenomenon. Icon Source: Entypo.

The synesthetic experience of a synesthete is a real and concrete sensory phenomenon.
Icon Source: Entypo.

The reading for this week, “Art and Synesthesia” by Dr. Hugo Heyrman, highlights the relation between art as a synesthetic experience, and the experiences synesthetes have on a daily basis. Although I was familiar with the term synesthesia, I was not aware that synesthetes could actually have more than two linked senses. I was also surprised to learn that most synesthetes have incredible memory abilities as well; I thought this was true only for autists.

First of all, art is about moving the viewer by making them connect emotionally to the piece. That phenomenon itself leaves room for some synesthetic experience from the viewer, since he will hopefully connect unrelated concepts when engaging with art. This could be related to the cross-sensory perception that natural-born synesthetes have, which is what inspired artists from different times to experiment and cross all kinds of borders in their art. For example, the text mentions Luigi Russolo, a Futurist composer who experimented with music, sound, noise and the grain of voice. He created noise-generating instruments, which allowed the inclusion of noise into his musical compositions.

Furthermore, the wonder of synesthesia is the ability to trigger senses due to the stimulation of other senses. When this condition is transposed to art, one obtains paintings that can evoke sounds, pictures that can evoke textures, sounds that can evoke images, images that can evoke smells, smells that can evoke visuals… the combinations are endless ! And needless to say that the experiences differ most of the time according to the person who experiences the art piece, just like the experience of one synesthete differs from another.

Like mentioned in the text, synesthesia enabled artists of modern art movements of 20th Century (Expressionism, Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, De Stijl, Abstract Expressionism, etc.) to reach new heights of creativity. Nowadays however, art as we used to know it has been replaced by multimedia, which kind of achieve the multi-sensorial synesthetic experience by the means of different medias. As we continue to create new technologies, we should never forget that whatever the nature of the piece, the viewer should continue to be engaged in moving and emotional experiences.

| Should One Applaud ?

Icon Source: Entypo

Icon Source: Entypo

This reading relates the influence of technology in the music industry, and how it raises debates as to the boundaries between “instruments” and “machines”. It also questions the place the latter occupies in popular culture. It is hard to imagine a world without such use of technology, since our generation has grown up in a world where most music is produced (or even consumed) with the help of technological devices. Our generation has not witnessed the emergence and evolution of electric instruments; rather, we have come to take them for granted, without questioning their role in music. Thus, this article made me realize how new technologies come to challenge that which has become the main standard in a given field, especially in the music industry.

I find that such debates on whether new technologies are acceptable or not are quite legitimate, because such intrusions come to affect the essence of a discipline or art. In Bijsterveld and Pinch’s article, what struck me the most is how they describe they way in which the synthesizer had found a home in popular music. The analog instrument had indeed been “acclaimed as real music” (552), even though it was almost impossible to perform live. This could not be more true in today’s music industry: countless pop singers, whose songs have reached the top 1 spot in Billboard charts, are not capable of giving a decent live performance of their music simply because they cannot sing. In fact, most singers now have their voice altered through the means of technological devices. Consequently, these artists have to compensate their lack of talent with all sorts of special effects during their shows. This results in a reversal of our population’s standards when it comes to performances: people are now more surprised when an artist actually can sing.

As for the question they ask in their title, I think that yes, we should applaud; behind every “machine” is a human who programmed it, who directed it. No “machine” will ever perform on its own, there will always be a human’s touch somewhere along the lines of the piece’s creation. Thus, I think we cannot ignore new technologies, because it allows people to do new things in new ways. We must keep in mind that, just like the authors of the article mentioned, acceptance of these new technologies must come from an alignment between old values and new practices (559). We must honor the path that led us to where we have come to be right now, in order to be able to move forward and accept new novelties.

| The Futurist Manifesto

This roaring manifesto is written in a way that is very bold, fearless, and daring. It could be seen as an invitation to take on life in a very radical way.

Indeed, the Futurist manifesto m a new artistic and social movement being born at the beginning of the 20th century. The Futurists insist throughout their manifesto that their movement is a “young” movement, meaning that the revolution they search can only come from society’s strong youth. Therefore, the founders themselves are not afraid of aging, eventually being pushed aside by younger leaders when the time has come. They actually want it to happen.

Also, the Futurists are quite fond of technology, especially everything that has to do with speed, noise, machines, pollution and cities.

“We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.”

They encourage the Industrial Revolution; words like “electric”, “railway”, “factories”, “smoke”, “bridges”, “steamers”, “locomotives”, “planes”, “propellers” and “steel” are all found in the text and inspire a very streamlined take on society. Furthermore, according to their manifesto, the Futurists have a deep hatred of the past, especially political and artistic traditions. They have a desire to free Italy (and eventually the rest of the world) from the heaviness of the past. They revolt themselves against the “laborious contortions of an artist”, who does not have to liberty to express himself freely. Instead, the Futurists see art as “violent spasms of action and creation”.

However, what bothered me te most with their manifesto is how they speak of masculinity, but seem to harshly exclude women. I know that this manifesto was written at the beginning of the 20th century, yet they seem a bit radical even for their time. They want to glorify war, and by doing so they “scorn women”. Also, through their fight against the heaviness of the past, they want to fight (or “destroy”) feminism. I’m afraid that by unleashing this utterly masculine roar, they might not just create futurist art, but instead end up creating a state of complete chaos.

| Because We Are Digital

Source: Micah Lindenberger

Source: Micah Lindenberger

The reading Because We Are Digital; Crossing the Boundaries, written in 1999 by Charles Traub and Jonathan Lipkin depicts a rather optimistic and positive view of the computer and its new role in human expression and creativity. They mention several times a technological revolution, which would ultimately result in democratization of knowledge and art, as well as enhancing creativity.

The computer can be considered as a valuable asset when it comes to creating a new democratic, universal and diverse way to communicate. The computer makes it so easy to share information throughout the Web; it has become a constantly expanding territory of thought, commerce and entertainment in which everybody can collaborate (6). This is what the authors mean by “creative interlocutor”; with the arrival of the computer, there is no longer a single creator who facilitates the exchange of ideas from one human to another (13), but rather a collective exchange of information. There is no longer boundaries between audiences around the globe; they can all unite in one virtual space and live this new media experience together. Therefore, communication and the sharing of knowledge has increased infinitely because of the computer and its accessibility.

Moreover, the authors mention how the computer era has helped build better communication and new relationships between humans. I find this affirmation as being less and less true nowadays. Of course, the computer is quite useful when it comes to communicating from one individual to another that is far away. This technological era helps to maintain links and relationships that would have been difficult to maintain otherwise. However, I find that this accessibility to everyone around the globe in just a click has some counter effects; with the recent arrival of Facebook, Twitter and all the other social networks, people rely only on these means of communication. People do not meet and talk like they used to; they chatt through virtual spaces and express feelings through emoticons. In this case, it does not enhance human relationships like the authors of the text would have wanted, but rather destroys them. Thus, the computer has come to dehumanize relationships, making them real as long as they are on the Web.

Also, the authors mention the value of stocking information on the computer, and how it enhances the memory embedded in human intelligence. Of course, this massive stocking of information has its merits: it makes a large body of information available to others in a fraction of the time that it used to take us, thus creating a large network like the World Wide Web. However, on a smaller scale, this habit of stocking everything on a computer has resulted in a lesser use of our own intellectual memory. The use of real address books to memorize addresses and phone numbers for example has almost become obsolete. Humans now depend on technology for remembering basic information that used to come naturally.

In short, the computer has not become exactly as glorious as the authors would have wanted it to be fourteen years ago. In fact, it is true that technology has always helped human expression and creativity, creating links between people that would not have existed without the arrival of the computer. It is now possible to contribute to a much larger network of information and take part in this global sharing of knowledge. On the downside though, the computer has made humans completely dependant to technology, meaning that we cannot seem to get enough of this powerful and new means of accessing massive amounts of information at once.