Posts Tagged 'Ray Bradbury'

BioShock Infinite

Two years ago, I was all over the hyperreal. While still playing through BioShock Infinite we, as a family, visited Paris. Beyond the discombobulating jolt of climbing Le Tour Eifel, we also travelled to Disneyland where the multilayering of Main Street and Space Mountain (shown here in Disney collaborator Ray Bradbury’s private art collection) effortlessly overlapped with Ken Levine’s Columbia. As Disneyland should be, it was all adventure without risk, but it still struck me as interesting that such a simulation of the ‘real’ world should enthuse cultural theorists, sci-fi writers and game makers alike.

French sociologist Jean Baudrillard thought Disneyland Anaheim was actually more connected to ‘the real’ than the simulated, self-referencing mobius strip called Los Angeles that surrounded it. As part of his working through of Hyperreality, he described how the theme park functions as a hallucinatory distraction from the lack of any cultural foundations, or cognitive purchase points, the individual may have within the post-modern world. Not so weirdly, sci-fi savant Philip K Dick also engaged in defining reality through the medium of Disneyland, but did so in a way that wasn’t confined to the academic ivory tower. That said, many people miss the comparable playfulness shared between the two writers, and the cautionary messages they communicate about the nature of reality. As a salient point of divergence, Dick’s fears were more conspiratorial, considering to what end the, “pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms” might be used. Which, awkwardly, is what the majority of Drozbot is about – a sense of wonder at these sophisticated phantasmagoria designed to entertain and make money for their creators.

We should consider, however, that Disney – while currently holding more than its fair share of geek dreams – is a company built upon a legacy of imagining a better tomorrow. You can argue all you want about whether that goal has been subsumed into a drive for cash, but the legacy remains. When Bradbury was called in by Disney to design Spaceship Earth at Epcot, it was out of a mutual optimism for the future – a sentiment that the company will no doubt be promoting yet again via the film Tomorrowland.

Returning to Philip K Dick, he closes his brief essay on reality with the words, “For years [Disney] had the Lincoln Simulacrum [who], like Lincoln himself, was only a temporary form which matter and energy take and then lose. The same is true of each of us, like it or not.” In comparison, Leonard Nimoy’s final tweet before he died yesterday read, “A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.” But let’s not be glum about the entropic nature of life. Instead, in parting, let’s enjoy this perfectly apt sci-fi/Disney/Spock crossover.

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Weirdly, it seems as if one of my pet fascinations and one of my web-based bugbears are set to merge.

On the one hand, impressions around the ‘internet of things’ purport a brave new future where all kinds of domestic appliances take on fresh and useful lives in cyberspace. Fridges which transmit their contents to your mobile while you’re at the shops, watches that record biological feedback for health checks and toothbrushes offering instant discounts on oral hygiene products if teeth are sufficiently scrubbed.

On the other hand, we encounter the ongoing battle for freedom within said web – a fight currently being waged by organisations like Fight for the Future against the cash-driven lobbying of America’s cable companies and their influence on the policies of the Federal Communications Commission.

As ever, science fiction has already navigated the more cautionary scenarios across this emerging landscape. Personally, Joe Chip arguing with the door of his apartment in Philip K Dick’s Ubik – wonderfully illustrated by Matt Taylor above – has always been a touchstone. A potentially dark and (excuse the pun) unhinged future where devices demand payment simply to function. The scene was the well-spring for my own ‘death by furniture’ piece, Delivery, and yet one that simultaneously feels prophetic and no longer that outlandish today.

In other SF quarters, Bruce Sterling has just published his new essay called The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things where he explores digital commerce and governance desperately moving to monetise and control the internet. Meanwhile, Wired has extrapolated the idea of the fully integrated house being attacked by so-called ‘script kiddies’ in a domestic take on the now familiar disrupted denial of service (DDOS).

Finally, for aficionados of dystopia, similar worse case scenarios can be found in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) – consider Mildred’s obsession with household electronics – and J G Ballard’s Subliminal Man (1961) where shopping frenzies are driven by blip-verts flashed at unsuspecting consumers via road signs.

Still think the internet of things is a cool and radical new horizon for technology? Pause and think again about who will profit from and who will control this new wave of consumerism.

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