Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Culture of Technology

Das Reingold (set design by Josef Hoffman, photo: Victor Angerer)
There is at tendency to place technology and culture at two ends of the spectrum, in the way science and art have always been dichotomized. CP. Snow wrote a famous essay, “Two Cultures,” which was an attempt to bridge the gap between these two worlds. However today technology is so ubiquitous and omnipresent that it’s created it’s own culture. It’s no understatement to refer to the dominant esthetic of present times as a culture of technology. Certainly mainstream popular culture is a product of huge technological advances in the creation of computer generated sounds and images and good part of the content produced by Hollywood and distribution giants like Netflix is about technology itself. In Spike Jonze's Her, for instance, a character (Joaquin  Phoenix) falls in love with an electronically generated artificially intelligent voice. The beauty of such a concept is that many viewers will immediately identify with the situation of the character. It’s easy to invidiously compare one’s significant other, who’s perpetually annoyed by your wrong turns, to the soothing feminine voice of an electronic direction finder simply iterating “route recalculating” when you make a mistake. Beyond cinema, there’s electronic music and Kindle and sites like Second Life which bring vicarious experience perilously close to real life. The “willing suspension of disbelief” was a term originally coined by Coleridge in the l9th century, but with ever more powerful microprocessors "will" doesn’t even come into the picture. The participant in many interactive experiences is swept up by a tsunami of affect before he or she even has a choice. Gesamtkunstwerk was often used to refer to Wagnerian opera, but technology is producing it's own light shows that literally kidnap the senses.

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