Posts Tagged ‘technology’

|

Science Fantasy

Friday, November 12th, 2010

This week, Semionaut looks at soft science coding.

The third of British science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke's Laws of Prediction is the most widely quoted one: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. [1] In US communications, Clarke's third law is scrupulously observed in advertisements for beauty products of all sorts, which use science-fantasy imagery — e.g., high-tech products whose packs glow from within, black-box technologies emerging from a void — to bolster brands' "proof points."

Scientists and engineers surely find such romanticist, counter-Enlightenment, non- or even anti-positivistic signifiers for advanced technology laughable — or perhaps outrageous. And yet high-tech products and services from computer, energy, IT, and mobile telephony companies, among others, are also marketed, in the US, with the aid of exactly similar science-fantasy signifiers. Ads for the no-cords Powermat feature glowing black-box technologies perched atop a glowing black-box technology; ads for Sprint's HTC Touch Pro show an energy beam snaking around a smartphone. And now IBM, a brand known for its no-nonsense rationalism, has gone science-fantasy.

In "Data Baby," one of seven endlessly watchable TV spots recently directed for IBM by Mathew Cullen, data (the baby's heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, blood pressure, ECG, temperature) envelops and surrounds a newborn in a neonatal ward, forming a protective shell/blanket/mobile — we might even think of it as bathwater. It's magical — no, wait, it's science! It's the human touch — no, wait, it's hyper-advanced technology! What a compelling fantasy, indeed.

Motion Theory's Angela Zhu, who art-directed the spot, articulated the oxymoron at the heart of science-fantasy when she told FXGuide, "The data had to be very fragile and humane. The difficulty was to find the balance between technology and humanity… The data blanket had to feel like a mother's finger running over a baby's face — the fragile love and protection is hard to recreate with technology. Technology is informational, humanity is emotional." Meanwhile, the ad's visual effects supervisor, John Fragomeni, expressed the same oxymoron from his own discipline's perspective: "It was important to show how the data was interacting with the baby. It couldn't be threatening in any way, it had to be comforting. … The data that came off the baby was meant to be very organic, rather than like a digitized baby. In the early days we had the data much closer to the skin, but when you're working that close, we found we needed to lift it further and further off the skin because it started to feel like a digital tattoo."

Now that Big Blue's marketing has gone the science-fantasy route, humanized science coding no longer feels particularly emergent, in US culture and communications. (So what science coding is emergent? Ironically, perhaps it's what IBM used to be known for: cold, inhuman, unemotional, inorganic, even threatening science/technology coding.) However, it should be noted that there are two codes at work in "Data Baby": the baby (humanized science) and the data (patterns emerging from ultra-complex info-sets). Let's not throw the bathwater out with the baby.

 

[1] This truism may have been borrowed from "The Sorcerer of Rhiannon," a 1942 Leigh Brackett story in which a character says: "Witchcraft to the ignorant, …. Simple science to the learned" — which might, in turn, have taken inspiration from Mark Twain's 1889 time-travel novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

Tags: , ,
Posted in Americas, Brand Worlds, Consumer Culture, Contributions from, Culture, Disciplines, Header Navigation, Lateral Navigation, Making Sense, Semiotics | 6 Comments »

High-Tech Traditionalism

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

This week, Semionaut looks at soft science coding.

The Siddhi Vinayak temple in Bombay has a website (pictured below) wherein devotees can have an online, live darshan of the pujas being conducted daily. Lord Ganesha is the Hindu god who removes all obstacles in one’s path and is hence the god who is always prayed to at the commencement of any new venture. The temple is famous amongst the thousands of Ganesha temples across the country as one where the miraculous powers of the god is strongest and the wishes of devotees have the best chance of being fulfilled.

Electric diyas (lamps), shaped like the traditional lamps but fitted with small bulbs so that they switch on at the press of a button, and which can be kept safely lit throughout the day and night, are a modern invention. These are designed to replace the traditional lamps that are filled with oil and have cotton wicks that need to be lit — a process that is messy and can also be a fire hazard. 

Families who are spread between India and the USA use Skype and webcams to keep grandparents and grandchildren fully connected and integrated. Making use of the time difference, when it is bed time for the grandchildren, the grandmothers start their morning telling their grandchildren the traditional stories of Indian culture, e.g., from the Ramayana.

Matrimonial websites in India are designed to address the Indian preference for arranged marriages and to enable parents to hunt for brides and grooms for their children. This is in contrast to dating-and-mating websites in the West which are designed for individuals to find their own partners. Bhajans (devotional songs) are amongst the most popular caller tune downloads amongst a large segment of consumers, including youth. Many use these bhajans to signal their personality and identity amongst their social network.

These cultural artefacts reveal that Indian culture embraces change but with continuity. The traditions that live on through the ages, do so in an updated form that fit with the context and environment of the time. The content and spirit remain unchanged but the form and format are contemporized. Hindu culture has morphed in this manner from the time of the first Muslim conquests of India in the early 1100s to the advent of the Moghuls, the British, and now modern consumerism.

Tags: ,
Posted in Asia, Contributions from, Culture, Disciplines, Global Vectors, Header Navigation | 2 Comments »

Show Me the Molecule

Monday, November 8th, 2010

This week, Semionaut looks at soft science coding.

In US shampoo communications, signifers of vigorous activity unseen by the naked eye are mainstream and routine. The weakest parts of hair cuticles are targeted and fortified by Aveeno's wheat-complex formula, one ad claims; as evidence, we're shown microscopic-esque Before/After images of one such cuticle. A Vive Pro ad boasts that the product nourishes hair with royal jelly — the efficacy of which is illustrated by a Table of Elements-style honeycomb, the cells of which read "Proteins," "Omega 3 & 6," "Glucose," and so forth.

Other products dive even deeper, down to the cellular level — where a shampoo's ionic, nanorobotic, or I-don't-know-whatic technology causes the cells within a single strand of hair to oscillate through rejuvenating vibrational motions. Not since Wilhelm Reich's orgone accumulator and early Cold War sci-fi has vibrational magic-science been such a popular phenomenon. One L'Oreal TV spot (here's the Japanese-dubbed version) sends viewers speeding through a hydra-collagen protein/molecule, as though we're passengers aboard the miniaturized submarine in Fantastic Voyage. (Only even smaller, since the Proteus was navigating the bloodstream.) Alas, there's no Raquel Welch along for this ride.

What's next? Spooky action at a distance? Interactions between moving charges mediated by propagating deformations of an electromagnetic field? Quantum pseudo-telepathy? Maybe — but not until science fiction popularizes such concepts. However, this spring, when I saw Iron Man 2, in which Tony Stark uses a jury-rigged particle accelerator to synthesize a new element, I predicted that shampoo brands would hasten to make similar claims.

It took them a few months, but I'm pleased to report that Head & Shoulders has risen to the challenge with its latest print ad featuring Super Bowl champ Troy Polamalu. See below.

OK, the Polamolecule isn't exactly a new element. But it's a step in that direction — so stay tuned! There are sure to be more molecular breakthroughs announced via shampoo communications in 2011.

Tags: , , ,
Posted in Americas, Brand Worlds, Clients & Brands, Contributions from, Emergence, Header Navigation, Semiotics | 8 Comments »