I wake up, go to the kitchen to have a coffee still three hours to go to work and I would like to go jogging. This week I will work for three different customers as a freelance video editor. I switch on my mobile phone that went off due to lack of power. Grrrr, bing bing bing, srrrrrr, dedlip, vibration… It makes sounds that remind me of a 90s modem. Will it explode? It’s a Samsung…OMG! I check the load of messages, e-mails, missed calls and sort out the importance first. Most of the messages contained bulk mails and because I was involved in the projects, I had to check if I need to take action and if they answered to my questions. Two hours have passed and I will not have time to go jogging before work. I regret that. The possibility to share information without additional cost or toil has led to a thoughtless use of these opportunities and I start to reflect about how time-consuming this is. If I would sum up all the time that I spent scrawling and scanning information and extracting what I really need, reinforce my need of specific information and talking to machines or waiting in hotlines it may make more than a week in a year. Technological progress has made communication more complex and not always easier and sometimes an end in itself rather than useful. My phone can deliver all sorts of media from all over the world onto my kitchen table, find taxis, tuk tuks, songs and composers or a partner, buy products, transfer money and data, replace a walkman, a radio, the alarm clock, a navigation system, my agenda, a camera and my memory but it is useless when you want to make a phone call, because then the connection cuts off. So why is it still called a phone? It is a robot.
Flashback to the 90s
1990 Singapore airport – I decided to replace the phantasies of dreaming over maps (as I mentioned in my former post) with real experience. Singapore wasn’t my final destination but a culture shock. Instead of travelling back in time to remote areas in Indonesia I had a stopover in the future. Terminal 2 was to be opened and I saw a futuristic advertisement that exposed a person in a space suit with a monitor that replaced the head, which was sometimes female and other times male. The talking head in in the monitor started the advertisement with the words “It’s a busy time – a time, when time is only mentioned by the time you haven’t got….”. Now, almost 30 years later I know that they have already been in the future. Four years later I had another futuristic encounter with new technology unsuspectedly in Cambodia. In this civil war-torn country there was almost no phone, but they had a radio telephone booth in front of the Ministry of Telecommunications. I used this phone booth in the hope of expressing my gratitude to a friend for the great tip to go to Cambodia. My voice has been transmitted from this cell first into space, then received back on earth in Moscow and was then transmitted via a cable to Berlin. To my horror a robot was on the other end, which told me, the call number had changed and dictated to me the new number. I repeated the call and ended up speaking to the answering machine.
man – machine – radio – universe – receiver – terrestrial telephone line – robot – terrestrial telephone line – radio – universe – receiver – machine – man… WOW!
A miracle of communication, at least for me and at a time when people were still talking about the time they had and mostly to people that were in the same place like them. In the early 90’s it was still normal to be in the place where you were physically. If you were there, you were there and if you were far away, you weren’t dragged back home by friends or relatives via skype. You kept in touch via letters that got to you via poste restante, that meant you had to pick it up from a post office with a time gap in between the information and your response without the need to react immidiatly that allowed you to make new experiences and live in the now and the physical space that surrounded you. Even at work you were only available when you were present. Afterwards you were free. Today you communicate constantly with the workplace and the whole time advantage of the new technologies goes on again.
In my former profession as a foreign language correspondent I worked in a businesses centre that provided secretarial services, a video conference room and it was one of the first places where I got in touch with a Windows surface that wiped away the black screen and the need to type in commands. A great experience and I was enthusiastic about the time this technical innovation saved us. The same with e-mails that we wrote offline and then sent it in bulk, because it meant additional costs to dial into the net and also because you had to listen to this sound:
It was the sound of two machines talking to one another to agree on a code and then connect and transmit data without a sound.
The fascination of new technologies motivated me to study Communication Science. I learned a lot about the formation of voice, signals, vector calculus, transmitters, receivers and today long outdated technologies. One question from an exam, however, still occupies me today. It read: “What would you do if extraterrestrials rang your doorbell? The “correct” answer would have been “I explain the decimal system to the aliens”. This should have been attributed to the fact that we humans have ten fingers and would make them understand us better. Interesting. So there is a sensual connection between humans and the decimal system. And also to analog technology. But why do we actually count to twelve in German and English and then start applying the decimal system? Also interesting that the Khmer already start to add after the number 5. Is it because they regard the left hand as impure and therefor only use one to count? Which cultures do it that way, too? And why do the French count so complicatedly – first to 16, then according to the decimal system? And from 70 it gets really wild. 60 + 10 is 70, 80 is 4 times 20 and 90 is 4 times 20 plus 10. Questions I would like to explore further. But back to the subject: would the aliens understand me if I would explain the decimal system to them? For two reasons I would like to show Sesame Street again.
The first reason is the question: Should I nowadays rather explain the binary system to aliens to understand us? And secondly, I stated in my former post, that it was rumoured that Techno can be rooted back to the monotone sound of the transit route to West Berlin. Maybe one could also attribute it to the fact that the Sesame Street aliens interpreted a phase interference as music in 1975. However digitalization and Techno was on the rise. Yes or no, one or two has replaced the decimal system and one two one two based digital sounds let more and more people march the streets of Berlin at the love parade that raised from 150 participants in 1989 to 1.5 million in 1999. The first Love parade took place under the motto Peace Joy Pancakes. It is a German idiom that describes a superficially intact, seemingly peaceful-carefree facade within a society. It is often used to express that problems are suppressed rather than solved. The parade was registered as a political demonstration. “Peace” was argued to stand for disarmament, “joy” for music as a means of international understanding and “pancakes” for a fair distribution of food. Mottos have replaced claims. Parades have replaced demonstrations and mottos a claim for justice. People imitated and competed with machines by optimizing and modifying their bodies moving to digital beats. Schwarzenegger, the Terminator cyborg from 1984, started his political career in the US as Chairmen of the National Council for Fitness and Sport under Bush. Loveparade’s next motto was “The future is ours” and marched through Berlin and Norman Schwarzkopf stormed the desert. In the Gulf War, the military operation “Desert Storm” was promoted rather than reported on. One reason for this was the introduction of embedded journalism, which became really prominent in the next Gulf War. General Schwarzkopf, the head of the operation, was at the same time the expert in his own business and became a prominent media star.
Mobile phones started to become popular and with those a disconnection from wires and a fixed place. “How are you?” was replaced by the question “where are you?”. Berlin was slow in this development but when I travelled through Europe I found the Mediterranean Sea full of people that talked to invisible people on their phones. The same in London, where people were ghosting around, holding a device to their ear and you had to get out of their ways because their senses were not in the place of their physical presence. Sms – the one way text message – came with the mobile phones and before the flat rates you had to discuss with whom to use it. Conversations on how to communicate were essential before you agree on what to communicate. The World Wide Web and e-mails were established that enabled access to information without leaving the house and the possibility of an immediate response to a written content. Slowly not only humans imitated the machines but machines also humans. Speech computers and text recognition systems became increasingly important. IT was an increasingly important businesses and surely the businesses of the future. A future after the end of the world, which, after Nostradamus, took place in 1999. It was at any rate the end of the purely analogue world.
After the turn of the millennium, everything happened at breakneck speed. A life without computer and internet was quickly no longer imaginable, jobs were digitized, the world at home gamified (remember 2nd life or the tamagotchi?), skype made video conferences privately possible, forums for every problem, platforms for self-expression, social media, online shopping, iconisation, viruses, data security, coding, youtube, video surveillance, ever faster connections, processor power and more and more data were produced. In addition to all the beautiful benefits that this digital world has created, there was of course also a downside. A furious competition broke out in the shark tank of the big global players. They fought over the dominance of designs, codecs, formats and the lion’s share of market power, often at the expense of users. Here is one of my favourite videos on the subject, which unfortunately only exists in German. However, it is worth taking a look at the mood even without knowledge of the German language and if you want to learn German as I did learn English from song lyrics – this text is worth translating.
The digitalisation, it’s tools and connections is a wide field with pros and cons, opportunities and frustration.
The digital world is full of contrasts, as is the analog world. It offers many possibilities to network and exchange, but it is also decoupled from the conventional human senses. In my opinion, the equation of man and machine has its limits no matter how perfect a machine may be or do you think that such a fascinating concert can ever really replace Lemmy’s performances?
Fascinating as Spok from Star Trek would say, but not really sexy. Obviously other people have a different affection to robots, as you can see in this video:
On the other hand, there are warnings of the devastating consequences of digital devices and platforms:
In today’s discussions between the demand for digital detoxification and 5G digitization, I think one should spent more time to think about what makes sense. Making sense is linguistically coupled with sensuality and can therefore be traced back to our senses. My senses atrophy without nature, movement and real encounters with people. And that’s why I let the computer be my computer for a while and go get something to eat.