"Men made [the machine], do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but it is not everything. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you."
"Cover the window, please. These mountains give me no ideas."
First published 100 years ago in the context of the Industrial Revolution, E.M. Forster's 'The Machine Stops' foreshadows currently relevant issues arising from increased dependence on, and trust in, technology.
Forster depicts a world in which humans live in isolation beneath Earth's crust, have lost touch with their souls and senses. The parameters of their lives are defined by the Machine Book, and most residents are oblivious to anything that exists outside of the Book. For them, "machinery" has gone beyond functioning as an enabler of human communication, to the point where it functions as an intentional barrier to physical human interaction.
I was struck by the stark meaninglessness of Vashti's life. A music professor, she cuts herself off from the outside world and surrounds herself with switches that control every movement. The music is worked by "machinery;" no musical instrument is ever mentioned; and it seems that the lack of interaction within her profession, combined with the loss of the human soul, has led to the "defect" that she identifies in the music. While Vashti knows "several thousand people," it's evident that she seldom, if ever, physically interacts with any of them. Moreover, she is shocked when her son requests to physically meet with her. A rather sad existence, no?
The Machine Stops highlights the difference that exists between technology enhancing the quality of life, and inhibiting human interaction - a difference that we must not lose sight of while at ITP. While we can geek out on new technologies to our hearts' content, we must remember that ultimately, the human experience we create is the meaningful part. Or, as Forster puts it, "man is the measure."
When I was eight or nine years old, I enjoyed reading Buster, The Dandy, The Topper and the like, but I've barely glanced at a comic since. I wasn't initially too enthused about reading Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics," but once I opened the book, I found myself unable to put it down (well, until my arm was twisted to go to the pub).
Previously, I was aware that the comic was an art form, but I had little interest in learning more about comics because they dealt with fantasy characters, superheroes, action and other subjects that I have little interest in reading about, because I thought that superheroes are best seen on TV or in movies. I somehow managed to miss that comics are an ideal fusion of text and graphics, and I really wish I'd read this book earlier - perhaps around the time that I was studying literature and graphic design as an undergrad!
McCloud's comic-style presentation was a refreshing change from lengthy texts, although it was perhaps denser in content than the reading assignments we've had so far. By dissecting the roles of text and graphics, and discussing the need for a balance between the two in effective storytelling, McCloud convinced me to reconsider how I present information and communicate ideas. I especially enjoyed McCloud's discussion of how comics are set apart from other art forms in that they can appeal to all the readers' senses, and of how readers are required to fill in the areas between comic frames.
"Understanding Comics" was an enjoyable and informative text that I expect will come in handy not only for Comm Lab, but also for any design or storytelling projects that we work on. The book proved an indispensable roadmap for the sequential images project that Peter Holzkorn and I worked on this weekend (currently being polished... stay tuned!).
The Tree Museum is an outdoor public art project created by Irish artist Katie Holten to commemorate the centennial of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. The Museum's purpose is to celebrate the diverse ecosystems and communities of the Concourse, with trees as storytellers.
The outdoor museum is comprised of one hundred designated trees scattered along the Grand Concourse. Circular placards embedded in the sidewalk dial-in number to listen to a stories about the Bronx, the trees or the Concourse. These prerecorded segments are narrated by current and former Bronx residents from all walks of life.
After a quick stop in the Bronx Museum to obtain a map of the Tree Museum, Tree #31 was the first tree I encountered. I called the number as instructed on the sidewalk marker, and heard about two seconds of the recording before a bus pulled up to the bus stop a few feet away from the tree, making it pretty much impossible to hear the audio. And there was no rewind function, so I had to redial the number! I unraveled my bluetooth headset in the hope that it would enable me to decipher the audio, but with pretty heavy traffic on Grand Concourse that evening, my efforts were pretty much in vain, so I decided to take a picture of the tree and listen to the recording at home.
I checked out about ten of the trees, and crossed Grand Concourse a number of times - which, at rush hour, felt a bit like crossing a highway.
The sound quality of the phone, coupled with the number of daytime minutes used in this type of activity made me wonder why a podcast wasn't available. (Update: Looks like the Tree Museum is now offering a handful of downloadable audio files here.)
While I felt that celebrating Grand Concourse through the perspectives of its current and past residents is the kind of idea that was right on the money, the experience of visiting the Tree Museum was a little unwieldier than I had hoped.