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Monthly Archives: December 2012

We Live in a Science Fiction World

At the most recent Google I/O™, an annual conference in San Francisco at which Google unveils its latest technologies to the development community, Sergey Brin made his grand entrance via Google Hangout. From ten thousand feet in the air. While sky diving. How did he pull off such a feat? He was wearing Google’s latest and most highly anticipated creation, Project Glass.

The mythology surrounding the announcement of the Project Glass devices began a few months prior, when Google X, a secretive and highly experimental division of Google, released a promotional video depicting a world of “augmented reality” where surfaces, spaces, things, and people would be digitally overlaid by maps, encyclopedia entries, and social media information. Project Glass, as Google has portrayed it, will further tie together our already interconnected world, putting at our fingertips a potentially limitless amount of information in a manner not unlike Molly’s implants in Neuromancer by William Gibson.

Although most of the functionality portrayed in the promotional video remains to be implemented by the developers who eagerly shelled out $1500 for the first version of the devices to be released next spring, the Sixth Sense project in MIT Media lab has shown that Google’s “augmented” reality is not actually far from it.

However, Project Glass-like augmentation comes at a cost. As it is, students like myself have trouble resisting the distractions of the internet, going onto news and social networking sites during class instead of paying attention to the professor at the front of the room. What is to prevent the same behavior from bleeding into the rest of our lives? How can we prevent our human interactions from turning into an aggregated exchange of tweets, check-ins, and likes? When we start relying on technology to mediate our interactions by providing us with the content of those interactions, we begin to cede not just our thoughts, but the very interactions themselves.

Update: Really relevant article from CNET on “How Google is becoming an extension of your mind

(This post is taken from a reading response for my English class “Science Fiction and the Technologies of Identity,” taught by Professor Alfred Guy)

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2012 in General

 

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American Beauty

Since I decided to take an English class this semester in lieu of an extra Computer Science elective or Psychology class, I have been reading a whole lot more and watching more films.  It’s been a fun process of rediscovering a hobby I enjoy immensely, and I am finding that the worlds with which the movies and books deal (real or otherwise) have unlocked a whole new set of thoughts, questions, and experiences.  If you want to follow what I’m reading, you can check out my Shelfari bookshelf — I’ll update that pretty regularly with some impressions of books that I read.

Anyway, this is a post about a film I watched last night, American Beauty.  Without going too much into the plot, the basic premise is that Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) faces a mid-life crisis in which he attempts to break out of what he calls ‘a 20-year coma,’ of depression, dissatisfaction, and general lack of life.  He has a failing marriage, a failing family, and a daughter who simultaneously struggles to find her own identity in the typical world of high-school and pubescent insecurities.  I’ll leave you to watch the movie to get the rest of the details, which I would suggest you do before reading on (spoiler alert).

The characters themselves are sufficiently unique and differentiated that each serves as a symbol of some collection of mental, physical, and emotional afflictions — ranging from depression to drug addiction to curiosity — yet not enough that I was able to identify with any of them as an individual.  Instead, I think the generic-ness allowed me and my friends as the audience to project our own thoughts and identities on each character in turn, creating sets of characters that are as unique as we are ourselves.  The most unbelievable thing about the movie for me, then, was that the movie is poignant to all of us despite the differences in how we perceived the characters.

As an example, when my friends and I were trying to figure out why Colonel Fitts shoots Lester at the end of the movie, we each had different responses.  The consensus was that Fitts was a severely repressed homosexual, and therefore he shot Lester out of anger and embarrassment at Lester’s rebuke of his advances. I actually took the minority view — that Fitts’s advances were fake and intended to test Lester’s reaction to homosexuality, and that Fitts was not upset out of rejection.  Instead, Fitts left horrified because Lester’s rebuke undermined his reasons for being mad at his son and he would never get the opportunity to repair the damage.  Given that the film leaves Fitts’s reasons intentionally ambiguous, I think our responses were interesting because they very much reflect that fact that we go to school in such a liberal social environment as Yale, where homosexuality is embraced as a norm.

American Beauty also left me chewing on another question – who do we think of as being the voice of the film, and more importantly, how can we trust any of the characters’ conclusions given the moral transgressions that each commit?  For example, Ricky Fitts (Colonel Fitts’s son) speaks movingly about beauty in the world and makes Jane (Lester’s daughter) feel loved and wanted, but he is a drug dealer as well as a creep who films others without their knowledge.  Similarly, Lester espouses the need to live in the moment and stops himself before taking Angela’s (Jane’s attractive friend) virginity, all the while abdicating any obligations he has to his job and family.  It is a film of paradoxes, but those paradoxes provide us choices in how we wish to view the world, with equally interesting implications in either case.  Whether we view the world of the film as a dystopic reality or realistic dystopia, it is a beautiful and insightful look into our everyday world.

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Movies, Reviews

 

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