Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cars and the Cave

I think it’s interesting how people seem to feel the most “free” when they are actually the most physically confined. You would think people would feel the most freedom when outside in nature, with no boundaries or physical enclosures to box you in. Professor Chun said that people in general feel very free in their cars. A car is basically a metal prison of sorts: you need to stay in one small seat (cell), the doors lock, and while the windows can open, you can only see and feel the outside without actually being outside and experiencing it. Why would people feel so free in this shut-in machine? I understand the sense of freedom that comes from being able to go wherever you want, whenever you want, but even that is restricted. A car needs to stay on pre-ordained roads, in specific lanes- it can’t roam all over the place and truly explore. Add the new technology of the GPS, and you literally have something telling you where to turn and when. While you can disobey the GPS and/or shut it off, the fact is that now the driver is even less in control of the car. Is the driver driving the car, or is the car driving the driver?

A car actually reminds me of Foucault’s Panopticon. The people in the other cars and on the sidewalk can always be looking in at you through the many windows on your car, but it’s hard to tell if they actually are. This is especially true with the other drivers, because they can look at you through a rear or side mirror and you’d never know. This isn’t quite at the same level as the prison-panopticon though, because drivers often don’t realize that they are or can be watched, so the sense internal discipline isn’t really a factor. Even knowing that traffic-cams might be at stoplights, people disobey the laws. Tinted and blackout windows in cars add an interesting dynamic, because they turn the “jailee” of the panopticon into an even greater version of the “jailer.” Once again, the other people always might be looking at you, but now you really can’t tell if they are or not.

A lot of students have posted so far how they felt so free and uninhibited in the cave, but I sort of felt the opposite. Although the visuals were 3-D and enveloped me inside of them, the whole time I was in there I was conscious of the walls and couldn’t stop myself from worrying that I would bump into one of the walls. I also kept looking around to make sure I wouldn’t hit another student when I was exploring the world of the cave (similar to how when in a car, you alays have to be paying attention to where the other cars are). The fact that I was in a small restricted space never left me, as I always envision virtual reality to do. And when you aren’t wearing the track-glasses, you aren’t even in control of what you see. The cave is obviously a step towards freeing the mind and immersing us in the world of new media, but changes certainly have to be made to more fully integrate the visual and the physical aspects of the technology.

On a side note, when Professor Chun mentioned Santa Claus with panopticism, I thought of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. In it, a young, oft-misbehaved boy named Calvin frequently contemplates Santa Claus. He believes in Santa, and knows that he is always watching, but he uses this to his own advantage to get presents. He isn’t being good for “goodness sake,” he is being good for selfish reasons. This is a comment on the failure of the idea of internal discipline in some, and how it can be exploited and/or used for personal gain. Here is an example of the strip, where Calvin clearly shows that he doesn’t want to be good, and he will stop as soon as Christmas is over (after he gets his reward).

(Friday 11 AM section)

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