Monday, March 31, 2014

April Fools Joke Played by Google Maps or nah?


I read one of the articles out of the Flipboard’s Real World Magazine entitled “An Imaginary Town Becomes Real,Then Not. True Story.” It was so fascinating, the reference to Pinocchio was hysterical, “Imagine Pinocchio becoming a real boy and then going back to being a puppet. That's what happened here — but this is a true story” (Krulwich, NPR). A couple of men who were in charge of creating/designing maps one day decided to combine their names…Otto G. Lindberg (OGL) and Ernest Alpers (EA).


In the 1930s these draftsmen created a completely fake town called “Agloe” in upstate New York. The “original” coordinates of this fictitious town were only there due to a building that was built as a result of the town. Once “Agloe General Store” disappeared so did the existence of the town—as far as the maps people were concerned; without any landmark there the town does not exist.

As of Mar. 18, 2014 thanks to Krulwich’s detective skills and snarky writing style Google (Maps) was sure to look into this before it hit headlines rapidly & in doing so took down the town & made it nonexistent, “Google was perpetuating an 80-year-old fantasy that for a short time turned real, then unreal.” I find it so interesting that these two men could fool so many people for so long…but did they really fool people…why can’t Agloe be a place in New York? Can it not be “real” because there isn’t any business there contributing to capitalism?



I took the liberty of looking up Agloe, NY before posting this, and it doesn’t exist anywhere on a map of the United States currently, but at one point it did, just not anymore…Google was just kidding.

Schizophrenia



Schizophrenia is a mental disorder in which a person may have delusions, hear voices, paranoia, disorganized thinking, and/or lack of emotions and motivation. Just as in the book, "The Wilderness," the person may feel as though they can't tell what is real anymore. While in the book, Jake has trouble telling the difference between a real memory and something he made up, a person with schizophrenia has trouble knowing if the things they are witnessing or hearing is an everyday norm or something they had made up.

The video (above) gives the perspective of schizophrenia from the illusion's point of view, while also showing us what it can be like with the disorder.


I for one have never known anyone with schizophrenia and I can't imagine living life this way, either. Always in fear of the things you see and the things you hear. Not knowing what is real and what isn't. Almost like a never ending nightmare that you live though daily. Often, the person might become violent due to this fear (just as Jake became violent when his distortion of reality became worse). How do you think you would be if living with this disorder? Being thankful for not having it, I also appreciate those who live through life with it even more.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Self-Portrait

With the conclusion of our novel The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey, I found a really interesting article about a man who began drawing self-portraits when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. William Utermohlen was diagnosed in 1995 and strived to attain a better understanding of the disease himself. He grew up very educated and even attended Oxford in London. I think he really was a genius in deciding to create this insight into his mind. I cannot even wrap my head around the feeling Mr. Utermohlen must have went through in realizing he was forgetting what he looked like.

In some sense, I imagine his whole experience as an individual to be sort of “real.” The way his condition progressed is shown so powerfully through his portraits. To me, it displays the intangible decomposition of his memory. It is one thing to watch someone become less capable of retaining memory, but to gain insight into an individual’s mind is so astonishing.


When I observe his portraits I think of how much more real it is. Maybe it is because, like I stated before, it enables an insight into the individual’s mind. The exchange of color and shapes just fascinates me. I also generated many questions while examining these portraits. How accurately do these self-portraits represent William Utermohlen’s mental state? Would these depictions be considered more “real” rather than a journal or other written work? 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Trans-Gender...Simulation More Acceptable Than the Real?


Right around the time that the Oscars wrapped up this year I saw a lot of articles popping up from different news sources from different kinds of communities after Jared Leto won an Oscar for his portrayal of a trans-gender person in the movie “Dallas Buyers Club.” In the movie he was a boisterous, flamboyantly portrayed trans-gender prostitute with lots of flashy make-up and in some people’s opinions an over-done performance. Jared Leto is not a trans-gender person, he is an actor that pretended to be trans for the sole purpose of the movie. A huge question circulating is why not just use a real trans-gender person? This is the controversy and I think it is very interesting to think of that. Why didn’t the producers of this movie do exactly that? Why not cast a trans-gender actor/actress? Would that have been too controversial to all the transphobic people, or the people who accept it but “don’t want to see it” or were they simply trying to capitalize on the stereotype?


I think the line between real and not real is really interesting when it comes to people’s perception of the trans community. There is a lot of hate and a lot of love revolving around this community, I find myself understanding the trans community’s upset with Leto’s personification of a trans person. They very well could have casted an actual trans person for the role. I feel like Jared Leto pretending to be trans discredits actual trans people and could cast them in the light that they are not good enough to fill a role of who they are, instead Leto dressed up to look like a stereotype that has been formed around a community instead of putting someone who doesn’t need to pretend and could shed light on the trans community in a way that is not just a stereotype.  Why not cast some of these beautiful trans people who include a model that appeared on “America’s Next Top Model” and a prominent director in Hollywood? Does real have no credibility? Is the simulation better than the original?


 



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Does Brainpower Make You Real?

Dr. Will Caster, played by Johnny Depp, is a researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, his mission was to create a sentient machine that combined the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions.

 Film: Transcendence 

His experiments were considered very controversial due to the amount of intelligence behind the invention. Will's thirst for knowledge evolved into a frenzy. Will ends up getting attacked by anti-tech protestors, and ends up in the hospital.

He may be have been dying but his brain was still producing knowledge & a pattern of electrical signals, which his partner decided to “tap into” so that he could upload his conscious and still be alive. The idea of taking his brain and uploading it to a computer, is an interesting thought, because is it really “him” if his body is dead but his mind is on a computer? With this invention there really was no way to stop him from obtaining power more and more with this invention.
Can a person be "real" if they are dead, but they can still communicate, think, and have  a mind within a computer by someone uploading their brain to it?

Can You Ever Escape Capitalism?

“You can never escape Capitalism”…or can you?

We discussed how you couldn’t ever really escape from paying for something by doing something in some way shape or form. For instance, if you wanted to just simply go outside and lay in the sun…you could be taking time out of your job where you could essentially be making money, or the grass you lay on could stain your clothes and you’ll then have to pay to get it laundered etc. Naturally, I tried coming up with an opposing argument to this, and the only thing that came to mind was the film/book Into the Wild.

The film Into the Wild directed by Sean Penn was based on a true story about a young man named Christopher McCandless, graduated college at the top of his class, and later rejected all social norms and abandoned all of his possessions, family, and things to live in the wild.



He gave his entire savings account to charity, cut up all of his credit cards and proof of identity and drove his car into the desert and burned whatever cash he had. Then, he hitchhiked his way across the US to Alaska. Along the way he shed his “true” identity and changed his name to “Alexander Supertramp.” His body was found inside an abandoned bus in Alaska on Sept. 6, 1992 (roughly 190 days after leaving home).

In his travels the “real” McCandless kept a journal, which recorded his ways of survival by killing game, eating berries and edible roots (which later led to his demise—poisonous roots).

Into the Wild was written as a book before the film, by Jon Krakauer, who actually took two years out of his life to retrace McCandless’ steps so he could capture the essence of what he experienced.

The "Real" Chris McCandless
The idea that all McCandless had to do to not exist was to cut up his social security card is scary; you exist because of a number. On the contrary, if Chris were to be found authorities would follow the corresponding procedures to figure out his identity:
  • -      Media would leak his photo
  • -      Parents, friends, family would recognize him

-      BUT HOW DO YOU PROVE ITS REALLY HIM?...maybe his finger prints…but now we are who we are based on our finger prints…why can’t we just be unique individuals?
We can’t be unique individuals because everything we consist of has been culturally and socially constructed—someone has probably already been there, done that, worn that, and said this or that etc. Everything we do typically revolves around social norms and that is what McCandless wanted to escape from. I think the representation of the real, in this case his photo id/license and social security card is so interesting because we as people are proven to be the real “Chris McCandless” by a number and a picture on a piece of plastic. Plastic, with an image of our selves, proves we are “real.”

Even though McCandless escaped his version of “reality” (Virginia, living at his parents home, getting a job) by running away to Alaska, he still faced challenges of how the “real” world works. For instance, when he was in Arizona he wanted to river raft, but needed a permit to float those waters. Instead of waiting 3 years for a permit he went out bought a kayak and went rafting, but the river police was trailing him to arrest him the entire time. The real world doesn’t work like that, you can’t legally go against the system get a kayak and float a river without a permit—it’s just not the way society works; he did on the contrary get away with it, but let us remind ourselves that he didn’t live longer than 200 days by choosing this route.



I don’t want this to deter from his life and what he accomplished, because just because he shed his identity and refused to follow the social norm. I think he did well with living within his means, and did escape capitalism, maybe not for very long but he at least did it and found a way to live without money, television, and a smart phone.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Life in Color

Experimentation with color photography really began in the 1840s. Many photographers did not print their photos in color, however, until much later. Thinking about this, I realized that all of the historic photographs I have researched or learned about are in black and white. Of course the people who witnessed and lived previous times saw everything in color, but us as historians and researchers have never gotten the full meaning of certain pictures due to their lack of color. Does this mean that these photos are less real for us? Do we obtain a different meaning through these photos because they are black and white?

When browsing through the "Real" World Magazine, the article which intrigued me was the one which brought color to some famous photographs throughout history. When looking through these pictures I realized how much more realistic they were in color. Each detail was so prominent it made me really examine each situation more in depth. In each photographs black and white state, I guess I just accepted the emotions being portrayed. With color, on the other hand, it gave the picture more meaning.

So, how does color affect how you look at each picture? Does color make a photograph more “real," or is it the opposite way around? Does the aspect of color depend on what is being displayed?

Below are photographs which I think portray these ideas more simply, but just as effective. 



Friday, March 21, 2014

Wandering Minds


As I read Samantha Harvey's novel The Wilderness, a novel about a man named Jake who has Alzheimer's, I find myself wondering if this degenerative "disease" is really so bad after all. Obviously it's upsetting for families to go through having a loved one sort of lose their mind. Two of my grandparents had the disease and it's hard to watch, especially when you see the confused look on their face and hear them call you someone else's name. But, it's harder for the person diagnosed as they lose their bearings and have to construct a new reality.

Jake has a very hard time coping with his diagnosis, getting frustrated at his doctor for making him do memory exercises and not completely understanding why he's making so many mistakes. They are his memories. Being an architect, he is rather logical so the fact that he is unable to logically piece things together is really messing with him: "But if he can no longer calculate or piece together through numbers then the invisible sense, the sense behind the apparently chaotic stray of branches and leaves, is gone. Order will be a dream he once had that has melted like glass, slowly and quite imperceptibly" (Harvey 122). Jake is aware that chaos is ensuing because he cannot logically piece together his memories or his reality because Alzheimer's is distorting everything. This is something I am sure everyone diagnosed with Alzheimer's experiences and I bet it's really scary. Not knowing how you got somewhere, who someone is, or if your memories can be trusted must be terrifying.

However, I think maybe there's another side to Alzheimer's that our society is vehemently rejecting. Rather than trying to fight the "disease", why don't we embrace it? What if we took the pressure off of those who are diagnosed with Alzheimer's to remember things and just allowed them to walk around in their delusion? Who are we to say that their altered reality isn't as good or better than this one? For the elderly who are doomed to living in nursing homes, living in their memories is probably a lot more pleasant to experience. Jake and Eleanor (his second wife) capture this well in a brief, respective, dialogue: "'I think what I like.' 'But it isn't true'" (Harvey 246). What does it matter if Jake's memories or reality aren't what society considers "true"? He's happy reliving his past, even the bad parts, because they distract him from the fact that "reality" is so confusing and disorienting for him now. Using Bruner's ideas of reality from his article The Narrative Construction of Reality, if Jake can no longer trust his senses to logically tell him what's going on around him, then he must rely on the narrative of his memories to construct his reality. And what's so wrong with
that?

Makeovers

A few classes ago the shows Extreme Makeover and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition popped up in our discussion. There is now a show called American Dream Builders (premiering March 23 at 8pm) that looks very similar to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition:
In class we talked about the idea of self-surveillance, a term found in the article we read by Cathie LeBlanc titled Fear and Loathing in Second Life: Body Surveillance in the Online Comminuty. This term means exactly what it sounds like: self-surveillance is this medical gaze we adopt that allows us to objectify ourselves and see our "flaws" and how to "fix" them (LeBlanc 1). The Extreme Makeover shows are examples of such self-surveillance, with makeovers to the participant's body and house because they see some flaw in them and wish them to be fixed. American Dream Builders is similar but with a focus on the builders and designers rather than the families who own the houses on the show.

In an article I found on Veriety.com that reviews the show, reporter Brian Lowry points out this very interesting aspect of the show: "But the actual decision on who 'wins' — in a move intended to elicit gasps, apparently — falls to the extended neighborhood, in a sort of 'It takes a village to decide if that vanity goes with the tile' flourish" (Lowry). I think this is NBS's effort to smooth one of the major bumps in Extreme Makeover: Home Edition: the remodeled homes stood out a lot on their streets and undoubtedly caused tension between neighbors. By having the neighborhood weigh in on the results of the remodeling, the show tries to smooth over that jealousy and visual display of class (even if the family may not actually be that wealthy).

One of my questions upon finding this show and reading a little about it, is how are these homes selected? Is it similar to Extreme Makeover: Home Edition in which the owners send in some sort of letter/application/video to convince the producer that they deserve the remodeling? While I have not been successful in finding any answers to this question, I have stumbled across a contest NBC is having to promote the show in which anyone can enter for a chance to win $100,000 in Lowe's products and services as well as a consultation with the winner of the show. This alone promotes self-surveillance among viewers of the show so that they enter the contest because they have seen the remodeling on the show and then think about what their own homes "need fixed".

Why Virtual Reality Games?

I've never really understood why people enjoy playing games such as Farmville and other reality games. I have tons of friends who play them and I'm constantly getting requests to join and see posts about their achievements. What is the fascination with these games? Some of my friends become so involved with these games that they talk about them in conversation as if they matter somehow to real life. They will even take time out of doing other activities to log in and tend to their virtual realities. Why do so many people play them and become obsessed about them?

(Sims)











According to "Planting Crops in the Hyperreal: Farmville and Simulated Work", an article by Emily Hall about the fascination and addiction of Farmville, it's all about how the game mimics reality:
Creators of the virtual game have constructed a hyperreality. As the game offers a myriad of awards, prizes, and sometimes even notable recognition, players can come to believe that they are more appreciated at their simulated job than at their real job. Thus, the hyperreality of work created in Farmville supersedes work in the real world. (Hall 1) 
In creating a world where the user can achieve ribbons and points by succeeding in their work, have neighbors and online relationships with them, create an avatar that mimics the player's self (whether their real physical appearance or their inner idea of who they are), and even spend real money to purchase Farmville money to buy items in the game the creators of the game have made something that mimics reality to the point of hyperreality. Users will actually begin to prefer the world of Farmville over the real world around them because it's easier work and they have the illusion of social relations and achievements.

As someone who doesn't play these kinds of games, though I have tried to before and was not terribly impressed, I'm still not sure I quite understand the addiction. Therefore, while reading this article I tried to think of something in my life that might be similar to this kind of escapism: reading books. For me, when I read a book I picture myself as the main character, whether I am my physical self doing what's written or if I am the character described (similar to how players in virtual reality games can create an avatar).

When I read I picture my virtual book self doing the tasks and going on adventures as described in the book. My book avatar may go through trials, win achievements of various sorts, and do all kinds of other "real" tasks. I imagine this is similar to how players in Farmville get trophies and other games make players do various tasks to win points.

Reading is also my own form of escapism, trying to (momentarily) immerse myself in a world that is maybe less stressful or more entertaining than my current reality. Sometimes, this escapism is to the point where I become so involved in a book or in reading in general and getting away from reality that I spend hours at a time immersed in a novel's "reality" and less in my own. This is where the novel's reality becomes hyperreal and I long to be in the fictional world (the genre I generally prefer) rather than my own. Sometimes I can become so lost in a book that when I either finish it or take a break for food I find myself, for a moment, slightly confused by my surroundings and who I am.

In this way, I can understand now why some of my friends and other people get so involved in their virtual reality games and my ignorance and judgement have been significantly modified. The question I now have is: Is it potentially dangerous to spend so much time in these alternative realities and make them hyperreal? I'm sure people have at least lost jobs and friendships because they're too focused on their hyperreality games. Will people eventually stop living their physical life and begin exclusively living a virtual life, being fed through a feeding tube and having no physical contact with the world around them and other people? This is some pretty scary Matrix-y stuff...

Robots in School

I found an article about a robot named "Projo" that is being used in classrooms to help students with math:

video
(I recorded this on my phone but you can find the original video here)

Projo is a more advanced form of robot than the one in the Scientific American article. Projo interacts with students by greeting them with: "I am your friend, Projo" and greets students by name. This helps to form a bond between the students and the robot, something that seems to be one of it's features as researcher Sandra Okita states: "[It is] an artifact that you build a relationship with" and it is part of the "evolution of robots from tools to companions". Indeed it appears that students in the classroom are bonding with Projo and forming some kind of "friendship" with it: "Even though he is a robot he can be a good friend" (one of the students said). This simulated relationship might sound harmless right now, but what happens if one of the students thinks they've formed a real bond with it? Or with a more advanced android in the future? With the changing technology and advancement from robot to android, will children have a harder time figuring out who's real and who's artificial? Does that matter?


This is kind of a weird idea for me, because it makes me wonder what will happen to children's (and eventually humanity's) interactions with each other if they grow up socializing with a mechanical android. We already have problems with kids and young adults lacking social skills because of being attached to their cell phones all the time - what about being able to completely communicate with something artificial?

Also, how will this effect education? This particular robot is supposed to help students learn math, a simulation of a teacher. Since it simulates the teacher, most students probably assume it's correct about everything (after all, at that age teachers are generally pretty solid in the knowledge their passing on to their class, especially when it comes to math) and they probably trust it. However, Projo is "programmed with mistakes" which means students can't trust the answers or hints it gives to them. This must be awfully confusing since right now our society has been taught to trust technology and its superiority over our simple human minds and our plethora of mistakes; technology doesn't make mistakes. Having this robot programmed to make mistakes sometimes makes it that much more human and relatable.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Post Modernists Work Backwards

In class today after looking at the Amaris article, “Seriously Fun: Marketing and the gaming Experience of Nolan’s The Dark Knight”, we were asked to create our own way to market a product. Working with Jess and Lauren we had decided as a group to try a type of transmedia approach. We also wanted to target a specific audience with this product and marketing experiment.

We decided to pick an Energy Drink as our product, this would be a drink that we would also create not a drink that already exists. From here we decided to take the work backwards approach and instead of creating the product we wanted to market it first.
Targeting gamers we felt that it would be interesting to create a game, or incorporate into a game the drinking of this energy drink. Throughout the game perhaps the player needs health, or points in some way. By drinking the beverage the player would be able to regain some of their health.

From there we decided to broaden the audience and we wanted to show a preview at the movies. This preview would have some vague hint as to what the product is and then a link to a website. This website would be a place to purchase the Energy Drink. However, the drink would be “sold out” as the product does not actually exist yet. This would create a buzz about the product, and as Jess said it would be the demand before the supply existed.

After this hype we decided that making the Energy Drink would be the next step. After the drink was available for purchase for real we would create a promotion. There would be adds on the can or other places that would require you to complete some sort of task. When this task was complete it would give players of the video game cheats in order to get further in the game or uncover hidden parts of the game that would otherwise be impossible to find.


The work backwards technique is really interesting to use. For me it seems to make sense because it allows the creators of the product to figure out what outcome they want to achieve before they attempt to achieve it. Perhaps I just have a post modern brain when it comes to this, but I don’t see how else you would plan something other than figuring out what the ultimate goal is at the end first.