Friday, March 19, 2010

S03 - Cave Visit

Having just finished my time in the Cave, I definitely have a new appreciation for the artists and designers who create such kinds of technology. The interactive, immersive nature was not something that I would have ever considered conducive to poetry, for example, but upon having various words and sentences fly past me, I can see how this technology could appeal to poets.

However, the program that I experienced in the Cave that I found the most interesting was the “Pim” torture program. I experienced this program as the person wearing the special glasses and holding the remote. When I was given the options of either “more” or “no,” I found myself inevitably going towards “more.” Because I had the special glasses, I could not see the images of a person on fire, which were on the side screens, and how they intensified every time I clicked “more.” I tried to hit “no” once, but when it didn’t work right away, I just gave up and went back to “more,” which had been working for me. Needless to say, the program ended with the death of “Pim” – at my hands.

This experience really called into question for me the relationship between power and action. As the one with the power to prolong or stop the torture of Pim, I was the only one who was not capable of seeing the actual effects of my exertion of power. Power blinded me to its consequences. In a historical and sociological context, this idea seems to have a lot of support. Dictators often choose to isolate themselves rather than engage with the everyday citizens who are being harmed by their displays of power. When was the last time anyone read a news story about Robert Mugabe helping out with humanitarian causes in Zimbabwe? The power I held also made me think of Stanley Milgram’s sociological experiments in the 1950s, where those with the power to give electric shocks to a fellow “participant,” really an actor, continued to do so because the lead “scientist” told them to. Importantly, these people could not see the other participant – while they could hear prerecorded screams, they could not truly see the effects of their power and so continued with the experiment when prompted to.

But then I tried to think about this in the context of the panopticon. The key to the panopticon is that the person in power does have the ability to see those who are being controlled. It is the prisoner, not the warden, who is “blind” in this model. Does this mean that the warden has less power, because absolute power may be reliant on a level of “blindness,” than they would if the prisoners were kept isolated and out of sight? Or does it simply mean that the warden would be less likely to abuse power – abuse being, at least to me, the natural result of the addition of power and blindness. Is there a way to have complete power without being blind, without abusing it? If I had been able to see the images of Pim being tortured, would I have continued to press the “more” button?

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