While the events in Charlottesville have had major ramifications both politically and socially, and while the violence is terrible and abhorrent, I was surprised and strangely pleased to see the reason for the rage was something physical. Monuments built long after the Civil War to reinforce the idea that the idea that white rule is still a force in the south and elsewhere deserve to be removed and put in a proper historical context. We still can’t view Disney s “Song of the South” because we can’t seem to find a way to put it in a historical context, as a moment in time that we may not be proud of or wish to replete. This is a topic whose time has more than come and it deserves to be examined. Yet, in an age where the only discourse seems to be over memes, tweets, and posts, it was almost refreshing to see action and rage over something in the physical world. While I am too in no way condoning violence, it is good to see people taking action in the physical world- that we understand live action is still an option and perhaps the only way to make real change in the world. We can overcome, but perhaps not by tweeting.
While listening to public radio, my ears perked up when I heard a story about how the first MP3 was created. It seems that in 1987, Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega was the first song that was compressed into what we now know as the current MP3. It seems that to create an MP3 the file is compressed and that some of the audio data is lost in the process. While the current technology seems to give us acceptable losses, there are losses none the less. Ryan Maguire’s Ghost in the MP3 project examines this lost information and presents this lost data as an oddly beautiful piece of music, a sort of phoenix from the ashes. In addition, our cell service is regularly flattened which has the effect of removing the emotion out of the voice we are listening to while supposedly reducing background noise, it also removes some of the emotional content of the voice- possibly one of the few remaining things that we have that computers can not yet replicate.
While these losses may seem insignificant, it reminds me of the poem by Martin Niemoller, “First They Came” how one by one the Nazis purged groups until there was no one left to protest when at last they came for the author, no one was left to hear his protests. What exactly are we compressing, do we know what we loose over the thundering goosestepping of technology. While I like to think we have learned from our mistakes if we wait too long our calls of protest will be devoid of emotion content in the interest of reducing the background noise.
It is with a strange fascination that I read the article, The Transhuman Olympics: Where Entertainment Meets Innovation online. The article proposes a new Olympic style event that would instead of shunning the use of advanced materials, performance-enhancing drugs and biotechnology would embrace this technology. The thought is that if the goal is the ultimate human performance and potential why not use the best strategies and tactics to achieve the goal. It seems like the entire thrust of the competition is winning at all costs. This reminded me of an earlier Olympics a number of years ago where the new improved person was supposed to set the new standard of performance. You may remember that the controversy when the new ideal did not win the race as presenters thought that, indeed Jesse Owens showed the world that he was faster than what the Nazis promoted as the “Aryan racial superiority”. Are we not finding ourselves in Berlin in 1936 all over again? What about computer or electronically enhanced athletes if chemically or medically altered athletes can compete why not those with robotics included. Would we be having this conversation if our technology had not become so pervasive or do we think that every aspect of our life must be touched by technology? Have we outlived our usefulness as mere humans? Do we need to be enhanced to be interesting in competition or in life?
The article on Transhuman Olympics can be found here