Thursday, March 25, 2010

Modifications, Machines, and Music

What Anna said in lecture about how new media makes change and update somewhat compulsory really resonated with me. Whenever I open Firefox it asks me if I want to update to the newest version (which provides negligible advantages), and the same happens with iTunes and my iPod. I usually click “ask me later,” out of fear that if I say “don’t ask me again” I’ll find out that they were necessary updates, or the program won’t function properly now, or some other problem will arise. The worst by far, though, is the HP and Windows updates. My computer tells me it needs an update almost every other day, and I usually just say no. But then sometimes I’ll wake up a few days later and discover it installed them anyway! And of course since the computer had to restart in order to complete the installation, all the Internet tabs, documents, etc. that I had open were closed. It’s times like these that I think my computer has a mind of its own, or just likes to frustrate me.

So what is the deal with this frantic update schedule? Are there really so many problems and shortcomings with every current version of software that they need to be constantly modified? I think that it is partially playing on the boredom of this generation of American consumers. It’s the old story of really wanting something, and then once you have it you don’t want it anymore. You want the newer, better version that will inevitably be released soon. If people go too long without updating, they feel that they are “falling behind the times” or that they must be missing out on the “next big new thing.” Apple is a huge proliferator of this mindset. New iPods and computers are always being developed, so that even though you just got what seems to be the latest and greatest technologically advanced item, it feels old. If this whole culture of needing new-ness weren’t so prevalent, perhaps companies would work on making products better the first time around. But then people would probably just wonder why it was taking them so long to come out with a new version. Admittedly, this does relate to a large part of the market that most of these companies are targeting: youths and adolescents. Since they are always changing, growing, never feeling like they belong, and trying to better themselves, maybe the idea driving these modifications is something like “the technology grows and changes with you.” Maybe they are trying to make the technology seem human, or at least connect human experiences with the machines. Maybe these electronics companies aren’t as dumb as I thought (this is a joke).

Speaking of humans connecting with machines, Kelly Dobson’s work on communicating more intimately with machines intrigued me. All objects make vibrations that cause sounds at specific frequencies, even if humans can’t hear them. Music and sound is all around us, and I think trying to tap into that and understand it is really great, especially since machines have become such an integral part of human life. A really incredible application of her ideas would be to create some sort of piano or other instrument that could listen to a person playing music and respond with its own music that would fit in and complement the original. They would be improvisational duets and pieces. If you could teach the instrument (robot, machine, etc.) to recognize different musical cues, motifs, and theories and create its own companion piece to what it hears, we could move from the level of just trying to “talk” with machines to actually interacting with them at a level that has often been though of as deeply human- the desire and ability to make and enjoy music. It’s not ridiculous to feel a personal link to inanimate objects- what Dobson is doing with machines that comfort and have therapeutic uses is no different from how people hug stuffed animals to relax and distress (they are just more cuddly).

(Friday Section 11 AM)

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