Recently I heard about an NPR podcast how computers are now using big data to make predictions about our behavior. This may mean tracking the number of cars in a shopping center parking lot to see how it correlates with activities or sales in the mall. It seems that computers can watch what we do, make a prediction as to our behavior and market to us to satisfy our need before we know what we need or want. As soon as companies can begin to predict our behavior they will be there to market to us for profit. It seems that our only way for people to hold on to our humanity will be to be unpredictable. Our constancy seems to be something that will turn us into machines that the machines we create will understand.
In an earlier life, I was an opera singer and one of my first roles was a small supporting role in Verdi’s “La Traviata”. I would sit in the wings and watch rehearsals and performances following another role I hoped to grow into in the future. This character enters in the third act and begins to tell the heroine a story that will change the course of her life and consequently, the opera. The moment is etched in my mind; the character enters and tries to persuade the soprano to leave her lover for the good of the lover’s family and ultimately all concerned. Actually not that moment but the moment where I thought to myself, “is he lying?” It seems that in movies, plays and many other media that we assume that when someone is speaking that they are telling the truth. We never think that like Otello (or Othello if you prefer) we are being fed a lie, and are being manipulated. Indeed the greatest examples of this is from Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr Calagari” where in the entire story we are being told turns out to be the point of view from a man in an insane asylum and may be entirely untrue. And yet for the entirety of the story we believe what he says having no reason to doubt our tale. This Calagari effect means that we take everything as true until we are forced by circumstance to prove it true or otherwise.
This “Calagari effect” takes on new importance in this internet age. Every moment we are on the internet we are being inundated with information and yet we have no ability to validate much of it. I work with an associate in Chennai India and on a lark I googled pictures of his city. Having never been there I have to ask, is this really Chennai? If so or not, how do I know? As we rely more and more on the internet to give us experiences and help us understand the world outside of ourselves, how can we divine that we are seeing what is truly there? Perhaps the greatest gift of the internet is instilling in us the doubt of what is really there and force us to look for truth beyond the keyboard.
Growing up I remember seeing the Memorex commercials with Ella Fitzgerald where she would sing some impossibly high note have it recorded and the show a wine glass shattering while the viewer heard the high note with the tag line “Is it live or is it Memorex” leaving us to wonder was she singing live or did the recorded sound break the glass. It makes me think of going to see a taping of the Late Show with David Letterman some years ago. We arrived early and felt lucky to get seats close to the stage in hopes of getting good views of the guests and Dave himself. Once seated we waited for the show to begin and noticed the large amount of video monitors in our view. It seems that once the show started the cameras and staff were almost constantly blocking our view making us rely on the monitors to see what was happening.
Recently I heard an interview with the IT director of the Barclay center, the new arena in Brooklyn. He was going about how they have a new app that can be accessed only in the center allowing people access views from all the many cameras on the court around the arena. He went on to say that you can use this app to access views from around the arena, from different angles even play backs of recent plays to see if the referee made the right call. This app works through out the arena so that you could be waiting in line to buy beer and still watch the game on your tablet or phone.
It made me think about what now will pass as a live experience. If are in the same room as an event and watching it on a monitor what is the difference if we are there or hundreds of miles away? How much do we lose when live is replaced by virtual and will virtual replace a live experience? Will seeing a movie about China be the same as being there and are we really seeing it if we only see it on the screen of our laptop as we post images of what we are “seeing”
I was sitting in on a webinar on Social Media the other day when the presenter said “You are not who you say you are – you are who Google says you are”. It reminded me of the poem – “I am not I” by Jimenez- who says he is something larger than himself. Is that true for us? If we are not who we say we are then who are we? Are we only the people who we see ourselves as or the person that other people see ? In this electronic age is there no us except as we are seen by Google?