Box Logic Notes #3
“In fully immersive virtual reality, the whole interface is an expression of this freedom to move” (Bolter and Grusin 243-244).
This week, I began to really delve into why certain interfaces continue to evolve. Why do we really feel the need to have that immediacy in new media? Then, I was watching a comedy special with my husband and ran across this clip:
So funny and so true! I question why we continue to remediate interface if all we are doing is getting closer and closer to “the real world”? Why remediate at all if it is bringing us full circle. I decided to see if I could find anything else in Bolter and Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media on why we remediate interface. I came upon the following quote in chapter 16 “The Virtual Self”:
“Nonetheless, this same freedom [of transparent interface] can serve a more radical cultural purpose: to enable us to occupy the position, and therefore the point of view, of people or creatures different from ourselves” (Bolter and Grusin 245).
I can certainly see the desire as human beings to want to view things from a different perspective, to put ourselves in the shoes (or eyes) of another person or even, as shown in B and G’s text, other creatures like dinosaurs and gorillas. Bolter and Grusin claim that for Jaron Lanier, we do this in order to empathize with others:
“For Lanier, the immediacy of virtual reality makes possible a new kind of empathy” (Bolter and Grusin 246).
I think that our desire to empathize is part of what makes us human, but I am convinced that virtual reality can get us there. Even in a situation in which the interface is such that it appears to be completely transparent and we no longer notice it, I don’t know that simply viewing from “the point of view” of another creature can fully allow us to “be” or experience what that other person is experiencing. There is more to feeling empathy than seeing through the eyes of another.
“Virtual reality itself has been the subject of several recent films, and invariably in these films, a character casts his or her mind into the computer, usually to have it trapped there or to exchange or merge with other minds” (Bolter and Grusin 247).
While the following scene from Big does not feature virtual reality (although we do get a peak at 1980s “virtual reality” with the video game at the very beginning), this clip shows an example of the many films from the 1980s and 1990s that featured this idea of one person who quite literally embodies some one else. Freaky Friday, 18 again, Dream a Little Dream, The Shaggy Dog, and so many more. The fact that there are so many films along this same theme certainly shows a human fascination with the topic.
In this film, Tom Hanks’ character, Josh Baskin, is a 12-year-old boy who wishes himself “big.” In this scene, the grown-up Josh finds himself nostalgically viewing kids his own age (and even teenagers a bit older) after he’s experienced some of what it’s like to be a “grown up.” He’s able to feel empathy for these other characters because he’s “been there” as a child and now through other more adult-like experiences.
If what Lanier says is true that “virtual reality makes possible a new kind of empathy,” then I can certainly see our fascination with remediating interface. It seems clear to me that this desire (one might even say need) for empathy is what defines us as human. What I question, though, is why we need new media to help us find that empathy?
Is it because no matter how hard we try, we can never truly and fully empathize with another human that we feel the need to remediate interface in search of that connection? Okay, so I think I might be going off the philosophical deep end, but I’m really getting excited about this topic now.
In last week’s Voice Thread discussion in ENGL629 (Seminar in New Media Studies), I posed this question: Which came first? The cultural change or the new media? And so it is here. I question the true impetus for remediation and for our desire to develop newer and different interfaces.
Are we searching for what Lacan might suggest is some sort of a lack? (a little nod there to my ENGL671 Literary Theory class) Is remediation of interface our attempt (that continues to fail) to be able to truly and fully empathize with another. And, if this is so, is what Bolter and Grusin claim about “empathetic learning” true? That “the integrity of the self is always compromised” (247).
For further review: Citations below for Caroline Bassett and James Miller
Bassett, Caroline. “Beautiful Patterns of Bits: Cybernetics, Interfaces, New Media.” Manchester University Press, 2013.
Big. Dir. Penny Marshall. Perf. Tom Hanks. Gracie Films, 1988. YouTube. 22 Nov. 2015. 09 Mar. 2019 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFDH6GeCM1c>.
Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 2003.
Miller, James. “The Dematerializing Interface.” Westminster Papers in Communication and Culture, vol. 10, no. 1, 2015, pp. 66-80.
Showsaf. “Body Swap Movies.” IMDb. 27 June 2011. IMDb.com. 09 Mar. 2019 <https://www.imdb.com/list/ls000924797/>.
Video Games are Done. Dir. Dwayne Perkins. YouTube. 08 Sept. 2016. 09 Mar. 2019 <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwRfUJYoI20>.