Friday, March 19, 2010

S03 - The Cave

I found the Cave to be the closest I can get to my childhood dream of being able to fly. It gave me a sense of weightlessness and detachment from reality that I imagined I would feel had I actually been able to fly. However, there is one essential difference between the Cave and my childhood dream. My dream was all about escaping everyone and entering the sphere of absolute freedom – in the Cave, I am completely controlled. The person who is wearing tracking glasses is connected to the computer so it always has the person's precise location. The rest of the people in the cave should be close to the person with the tracking glasses in order to have a better experience. In that sense, the Cave is similar to the Panopticon – one is always exposed to the surveilling gaze even though one cannot return it or locate it. The computer projects virtual reality considering the person's location in the Cave, hence it conditions the movements of the people in the Cave. Similarly, the Panopticon conditions the movements of the prisoners by making them aware of the constant surveillance they are exposed to. The environment the computer produces in the Cave makes certain movements more appropriate than others. The observer/s of the prisoners in the Panopticon by their very presence change the notions of appropriate and inappropriate.

Now we are coming back to the theory of "control societies" and whether they give us more freedom than the earlier types of societies. Would prisoners in the Panopticon have more freedom than prisoners in regular prisons? That totally depends on what we mean by “freedom”. They would certainly have more freedom of movement, but their minds would gradually become completely controlled by the awareness of the fact that they might be observed.

I don't think we are equally aware of the surveillance in the Cave though. The Cave gives me an impression that I am constantly discovering something. I also have a freedom to choose where exactly to look and what parts of the virtual environment to become engaged with. However, once I become aware of the fact I can't get out of the sphere of controlled and that it was all preprogrammed to insure that I see exactly what someone wants me to see, then the Cave becomes much less like my childhood dream and more like the Panopticon. Even though I retain the sense of basic freedom, I can never really go beyond that because the system (as we know it) could not function without control. In contemporary society, lack of control could result in an unpredictable proliferation of information that would be extremely hard to navigate which could result in less learning efficiency. Freedom then might be an unattainable concept and the Cave, similarly to Plato's cave, shows us only a shadow of what it could really mean.

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