Dan rants: Realism, Surrealism and Stupidity

So in a total break for me, on Friday evening I was doing some mindless stuff and turned on the tube to distract myself. Speed was on. I was able to suspend my disbelief and find portions of the movie moderately compelling until it got to the point where he's sliding under the bus and being asked to peel back the insulation on a wire to see what color the conductor was because of some pseudoscientific gobbledygook about how copper wasn't something enough to be the primary wire to the detonators, and then accidentally poking a hole in the fuel tank with a screwdriver (or whatever it was he was holding).

We got to talking about this at lunch today when someone commented about an unintentional ridiculousness in Double Jeopardy, another mentioned that he'd seen an episode of the TV series La Femme Nikita where the computer sequences were actually realistic and believable.

Realistic and believable being such a rare occurrence that it was worthy of note.

From there we deteriorated into discussions of art directors talking about making an effect "more plasma" or "more electric", basing these decisions on effects they'd seen in movies which in turn were based on effects those art directors had seen in movies...

Last night I was talking with a 14 year old about pyrotechnics. He's in that stage of life when he needs to break free of the constraints of the adults around him, and as often happens, he's interested in blowing stuff up. He's a pretty smart kid, and as we talked about making cool flames and booms from common household items, stretching his ideas of how to make things go "boom" safely, he wondered that so much of his perception of cool explosions was shaped by the little round bomb with the fuse that's so prevalent in cartoons, and how dangerous that perception was because that kind of stuff throws shrapnel and is damned dangerous.

(Aside: Next time I do dinner with that family I'm bringing the desserts. The floor show is gonna start with me putting the shells on creme brulee with a blow-torch and "accidentally" setting off the Banannas Foster or Cherries Jubilee nearby. If I can arrange for this to happen on a cement slab somewhere I figure I'm just limited by the flammability of nearby foliage...)

I get a little concerned about the fantasy world that we're all being encouraged to live in. Judging from the acceptance of the utter wrongness of many of these effects, many of us seem to be living in that virtual reality. And it disturbs me that as we become further separated from the real mechanisms of reality we're losing our ability to interface with it.

I try to keep my finger on the pulse of the front lines by reading alt.tech-support.recovery . Much like the Scary Devil Monastery it's a place for those who find themselves doing a certain type of job despite their best efforts to "recover" and get a career in something less stressful; like a bomb disposal unit or air traffic control. A recurring theme is that in using metaphor and layers of abstraction to make the computer "easier to use" we've crossed the payoff line.

Each "simplification" doesn't make nearly as many users capable of performing the operations themselves as it does make the lives of the tech support people hell by hiding the true operations under layers of meaningless abstraction which loses its cuteness fast when all you want to do is find and change, say, a name server address.

As we dive into this surrealism whole hog, starting with the Teletubbies, moving up through the push to have technology in the schools without starting from a curriculum need, and from there on to summer blockbuster movies, I wonder how long we as humans can remain empowered.

This is augmented by the need of consumerism for control. Someone on the Burning Man BBS mentioned that one of the harshest reminders he had that he wasn't in Black Rock City any longer was wandering through the mall, seeing some people struggling to hang up a banner or display of some sort, rushing over to help, and being told that they had it under control. In retail it's important not to break that line between seller and buyer, lest people start to realize that it's a trade, not an unequal transaction.

Entrenched institutions aren't going to help change this, they're beholden to their funding sources, and their funding sources don't want people enlightened enough to see through the warped reality they create. This is the problem with public education. It's up to us to try to educate our peers, and wake them up from their entertainment induced comas and start to look to their own self-interest rather than blindly functioning in the framework others have developed for them, otherwise we're doomed to a Blockbuster and Starbucks existence, buying the pre-canned surrealism because that's what the economics of the uneducated consumer will support.

Comments welcome.

Monday, September 27th, 1999 danlyke@flutterby.com