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Will Renny (M)
London, UK
Immortal since Sep 27, 2010
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all about everyone
My name is Will, and I am a creative geek. I work as a freelance digital creative strategist. Sometimes I design things.
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    From allabouteveryone
    Fictional Futures: The New...
    Now playing SpaceCollective
    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.


    Douglas Hofstadter, in his 2007 book 'I am a strange Loop', claimed that the soul (meaning the self, or what we refer to as 'I') is nothing but an illusion; an illusion that exists because it hallucinates itself. The illusion stems from the brain's need to create an internal representation of its surroundings, and part of this representation necessarily includes the brain itself (the 'I'), a manifestation of the self, from the self.

    Now, 'I' cannot confess to having read the book, only a few excerpts, (it's on the reading list, the long, long, never ending reading list) but I found the idea very compelling (I only came across it recently) - that the idea of the self, that vision of the self which defines us back to ourselves, is an illusion created from an illusion. It's a hallucination created from a need to represent our own awareness of ourselves from an already metaphorical representation of reality.

    For me this ties back to my own thoughts on our reliance on fiction and fantasy as tools with which to comprehend ourselves. Hofstadter believes our souls (I think Hofstadter's use of the term soul is not necessarily meant in a religious capacity, but rather to reference the idea of the reverential inner-self) are, in a way, immortalised, through their existence in other people's minds. He likens this fractured existence to shards. I think that what he was getting at is that one's soul has an emotional resonance and that resonance can live on in the minds of many others, perhaps almost exponentially, depending on the resonance.

    Hofstadter also talks about recursion. In mathematics, recursion is a method of defining functions in which the function being defined is applied within its own definition. In this way it is self reflexive or self referencing. He applies this idea to people and this is really what a strange loop is: a recursion of the self; out of the act of defining itself it comes to exist.

    So, here's a bit of a tangent: I've been thinking about how technology is increasingly being applied to augment the space surrounding us. Emergent ways to make use of our mobile devices are in effect evolving those devices into extensions of ourselves, while at the same time also creating a filter to the world and other people around us.

    The notion of recursion seems very apt as a means to understand how technology is used as a sort of refracted mirror, enabling us to posit ourselves in different modes. The residual identities we leave online, existing in multiple places, are, I suppose, the lucid, vitual shards of our souls, although I'm not sure at all that Hofstadter would agree with that cumbersome squishing of his elegant concept.

    Recursion is not just a self-inflected exercise though. Our sense of self would not exist without others to also reflect ourselves back. So, back to my tangent. I was thinking of how technology is used to augment the space around us.

    I came across Fit Lab's (Future Interaction Technologies) site and there was an interesting project page describing something called Negotiated Interaction. Negotiated Interaction is, in the site's own words:

    'an alternative means of allowing users to interact with content and services in their environment such that the actions they make, movements, gestures, etc., and feedback they receive are continuous, with the user and system negotiating their interactions in a fluid, dynamic way.'


    The project, which is being run in conjunction with Glasgow University, aims to explore and evaluate a more fluid, negotiated relationship with technology, in relation to how we navigate spaces. The aim is to create something more akin to a fluid conversation.

    The idea of Negotiated Interaction is quite poetic I think. The description on the site likened it to a dance, where one partner intuitively takes over from the other, over and over again, in a constantly shifting, physical stream. The project is part of a wider evolutionary phase from the relatively dumb point and search tools to smarter, more intuitive behavioural learning systems (something Hofstadter would no doubt recoil from).

    Taking the idea of shards existing as traces of ourselves in the world and possibly resistant to time. What if those shards were able to be brought more into view? Perhaps manifesting themselves as spectral visions and ethereal noises. Impressions of a space reflected back onto it, resonating from the walls, the trees, and triggered by our own physical presence. Readable, as if in conversation, a sort of negotiated dialogue with a space, through the experiences of others.

    If we could negotiate our physical experience of the world with the experiences of others who have moved through that space, then have those experiences brought to bare in intuitive, relevant ways to ourselves, our perception of that place could become a strange loop of itself, hallucinatory glimpses of the space reflecting everyone's experience of it back to us, in ways that poetically define our understanding of that space, and in some way ourselves, through the multiple experiences of others.

    The strange loop of hallucination onto hallucination can be used to cast a veil of otherness onto the familiar, as well as similitude to the unfamiliar. This is perhaps not a bad way to help our understanding of one another, or what spaces mean to us; a loop of experience with the trails of personal lives emanating into the distance and each new space offering new shards of the souls of those who have passed through.

    Spaces themselves could resonate with their own hum of self awareness, as seen through the eyes of the people who inhabit them, with each new experience of that space being a means for it to recursively redefine it's own identity and therefore how we might navigate through it.
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    If my experience of culture has proven anything to me it is that we have an insatiable desire to escape our own realities and create new ones. It also points to a fundamental psychological reliance upon fiction as a way to understand the world and our place within it. Idealisation relies upon fantasy. We could not plan for the future without fiction. Fiction is embedded into our everyday lives, in a hidden way, amongst the folds of the mundane and banal. Our brains are hardwired to be fictional. We incorporate the unreal into the real in a seamless way.



    We constantly create a simulacrum - a simulation of the real - through a kind of constant, inner storytelling. But this simulacrum, something the French social theorist Jean Baudrillard argues is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right: the hyperreal, is inflected with fiction, in order to idealise the future and place ourselves within a navigable position in the rich socio-political cultural context of human life.

    Music and psychotropic drugs may have been the first real immersive forms of media, but the printed press provided the means to the first mass immersion medium. Books arguably illicit more imaginative work on our part, compared to more visual mediums, in order to realise ourselves within their fantasies, but it has been cinema that has proven the most compelling mass immersion medium.



    When cinema was first shown to audiences, at the turn of the twentieth century, the film was silent and shot in black and white. Even so, the initial sight of moving celluloid were so compelling that the audiences in some cases believed them utterly real. The first publicly screened film was of a stream locomotive pulling into a station. The sight of the train coming down the tracks directly toward the audience caused mass hysteria and the audience fled their seats in terror.

    The tangible immediacy of film - it’s seemingly real mimicry of the real, together with it’s effective sublimation of the audience (darkened theatres, surround sound and nothing to do but watch), means cinema manages to immerse us more completely than other fictional media consumption. I have talked before about how the way film editing techniques sample the way we subconsciously montage the world around us into sequences of images in order to create meaning – dreams being the most vivid example. This echo of our visual mentation further subsumes us into the story-worlds cinema places us in.



    Technology has been fast laying the tracks upon which we can build the next seemingly-real locomotive with which to throw us out of our seats again. VR is a concept that has been around for over two decades, but the technologies required to create realities that seem as real as film are yet to be developed to such an extent that they are compelling enough for us to engage with as a mass immersive medium. I have no doubt though that this is not far off. It is the natural progression from cinema and gaming. A fully immersive story-verse. Part pre-made fiction, part reactive-fiction – where the alternate realities you are immersed in are partly reliant and determined by yours and others actions.

    In lots of ways, the signs of our desire for the next stage of fictional immersion are planted all around us. AR (Augmented Reality), which has struggled to find relevancy and value in both desktop and mobile applications has still managed to ignite our imaginations and has fueled many uses of the technology. But like Virtual Reality, AR is yet to find it’s true value.



    Although VR is still the holy grail for full-body immersion, AR could well become the semi-immersion of the every day. AR provides a skin of technology across our view of the world. A digital filter. It’s something that can potentially be dialed up or down to control how augmented our experience of reality is. This will surely be a largely service-oriented domain, with hyperlocal information and commercial services being plugged into the space around us. It’s the mobile capabilities of AR (and I don’t mean on mobiles, because that current use is incredibly limited) that will push forward our use of tech as a lens through which we make sense of our experiences.

    Augmented reality could be seen as one step removed from full immersion, but it perhaps best describes the lowest level of immersion we can expect to inhabit in the near future. We increasingly choose to augment our lives with a film of technology.



    3D cinema is also another sign of our desire to be pulled further into the realms of fiction. When Avatar was released, some newspapers reported fans getting withdrawal symptoms from the film, so real was the sense of immersion to a place deliberately created to feel like Elysium. The film was very purposefully created to make us want to escape to it. And now we have 3D TV, an altogether less immersive experience but one that demonstrates again the desire people have to augment and immerse themselves within fictional realities.

    What would the future look like with increased immersion? How would the ability to immerse ourselves manifest itself culturally? Entertainment will undoubtedly continue to be the major growth area for immersive media but as I mentioned before, fantasy is integral to the understanding of things, so I expect to see immersion media being used for education as well as remote access and connectivity.



    One of the oldest forms of immersive media has to be psychotropic drugs. In terms of entertainment, technology is not the only thing that continues to be developed for immersive escapism. Acid, E and more recently developed psychotropic drugs, are used in their millions. It is a mass, albeit illegal, market and it’s thriving more so today than ever before. I think that technology and drugs are going to go hand in hand in the future and can see whole new clubs being created to house very immersive, psychotropic experiences. As I write this, I feel like I sound like a cheap Ray Kurzweil clone, but I really do think this is something that will happen. Whether this is chemically or technologically induced, or both together, is up for grabs. There's a lot of development around

    Gaming is already becoming the new cinema, the new immersion medium of choice for audiences more used to playing an active role in fictional story-verses, and this is the area that will lead development into fictional immersion. Storytelling is already developing into a participative format through gaming. Aside from console gaming, ARGs, participation dramas and particularly MMO gaming is increasingly popular and from increasingly younger audiences. These relatively new forms of multi-participation entertainment are on an evolutionary collision course with mainstream cinema immersion, and I expect to see a lot of development in more immersive forms of participative, fictional storytelling.



    A greater degree of fictional immersion in our consumption of entertainment will surely also bring with it a greater blurring to our understanding of what ‘real’ is. I’m not sure that the problems will be necessarily any different to those we currently face with reality and the level to which we allow fantasy into our understanding. It will surely have a magnifying effect on those issues though.

    What will constitute the real in a world of multiple, very real feeling, realities? Maybe multi-dimensional immersive realism will become our new reality, enabling us to fracture our lives in ways that free us from constraints and will usher in a new renaissance and then again, maybe it will just be a total head fuck. It will most likely be both.
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    I’ve written before about our progressive move towards greater degrees of participation in the way we consume and curate media and the fact that brands will inexorably (albeit with a bit of heel-dragging) gravitate towards audience participation, as a means to engage with them; in the process relinquishing some degree of control of their own messages.

    I’ve also alluded to a necessary, symbiotic relationship between fact and fiction or at least, a perceived understanding of reality and fantasy, as a means with which to make sense of our indentities within the linear trajectory of time.

    This coexistence of fantasy and perceived reality enables us to idealise ourselves in quasi-fictional ways. We rely upon fantasy to augment our perceptions of reality so as to successfully project ourselves into the future and so plan for the inevitable present.

    Advertising is a reality-blender; a projection device overlaying the unreal onto the real. Advertising is in fact a multiverse of semi-plausible fictions; alternate realities. The act of advertising elicits a positioning of the self within a super-reality – a half-real dimension that is at once a mirror of our own lives while at the same time an addition of things that don’t yet exist for us; an augmentation of reality. The residual superimposition creates a friction between our own sense of the present and an alternate, idealised version of that same present.



    These visions are not always extraordinary, although the extraordinary and the surreal are often present. We perpetualy brush past portholes into the semi-normal, semi-mundane fictions of product-centric worlds in our regular traversing of the public spaces we inhabit. Our cityscapes are crammed with windows onto the believable, so much so perhaps that we no longer recognise the idealised vision of the hyper-normal from the normality that encases it.

    These amalgams of the normal and the fantastic are, in essence, parasitic. They embed themselves into the skin of our physical environment, becoming enmeshed into the fabric of the fantasy of our lives, however mundanely, however trivial seeming, then hatch little mutations, altering the DNA of our daily fictions.

    But what if we could inflect these images with their signs and symbols? What if we were able to connect and participate more with the projected fictions? Pick them up, manipulate and participate with them, bring them more to life, so to speak. Imagine a multiverse of colliding and contiguously inflating ‘unreal’ ideas.

    Phantom ideas yet to be realised in the reality of our own physical world. Through a blending of our own present, experienced, real-time lives, with a fictional, narrative framework, we can create alternate realities, believable realities, that become participative semi-fictional stories, with varying degrees of immersion or opaqueness.



    An old college friend of mine had an idea about doing something along these lines - blending entertainment media with consumer brands to create visions of the near-future within which to posit audience driven brand development. It was called Purefold and it was a brilliant idea.

    Purefold sought to utilize several emergent forms of engagement and media production to create entertainment as well as brand engagement. Sadly, the project wasn’t completed. I don’t know all of the details but seemingly Purefold’s business model presented challenges that were deemed insurmountable for the commercial interests involved. In my opinion it may have just been a little too ahead of it’s time. Regardless of the project’s demise, I believed, and still do, in the central premise: that there is a rich, as yet untapped, space, between storytelling and brands, and audience participation is the key to linking the two.



    For audiences, the value in such a proposition lies in the ability to better realise (and position themselves within) a believable fiction; a blend of the hyper-normal and the super-idealised; a kind of magic-realism. A mimesis of the physical world that is at once a dream and a window onto the prosaic and the mundane; a quasi-normality and an infinite set of augmented-realities. It is entertainment. Science fiction. Fantasy. But it is also more than just entertainment. It has practical, developmental properties and these are driven by the audience, through their participation.

    It is actually only through a participative audience that brands are able to have a viable space at all within entertainment media, with which to develop their brands. I think this remains a massive opportunity both for brands and for consumers, as both can potentially walk away a lot happier.

    Objects, not just egos, can be revised and reborn. Brands can be reengineered. Time can be reordered.



    Science fiction has long provided the space to idealise and interpret new ways for us to live, both utopian and dystopian. Fiction itself provides the only space within which to idealise the future, however near or far that may be imagined. The present simply provides us with a testing ground for the past visions of the future. I suspect the Philip. K. Dick’s and Isaac Asimov’s of this world did not intend themselves to be latent product designers but nevertheless, science fiction has resulted in a form of product conceptualisation.

    If the consumption of science fiction accidentally helps us idealise and visualise new kinds of ways to live and engage with the world we physically live in, and these visions then actually lead to real-world products, then can't we deliberately aim to do this?

    Just as Second Life saw real-world brands setting up shop and trading across the border between the physical world and a fabricated, hyper-fictional environment, participative entertainment formats could evolve that would similarly support the fictional lives of real-world brands, and the creation of new brands, where anyone can participate and help create totally new products, services, tools or applications.
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