Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 6    October 1998

The Lines Continue to Fade

by Chris Federico

Electronic technology has progressed over the past few decades at a speed greater than that of the advancement of any other industry or collective genre. This rapid rise in our culture's technological reliance is paralleled, not coincidentally, by the fastest thinning of the boundaries between parts of life ever witnessed. We're lucky to be alive during an era in which major changes are being seen concerning mankind's interaction with his inventions, and how our machinery affects our collective outlook.

The lines have been gradually fading for centuries, of course, but only with the quickly improved electronic technology is this change tangibly detectable. The world is shrinking faster than it ever has before. Once upon a time it was huge, and things that happened in far-off lands were impossible to witness firsthand, based rather on hearsay. There was romance in the concept of distance, not to mention the passage of time.

Then mail could be carried by horse or boat; the distances became shorter, since people could communicate easier. But man wasn't as interested in collecting facts as in watching his world's history gradually accumulate as an aesthetic tale of gain and loss.

Then, with the advent of the airplane, the world became even smaller. Never before could someone step aboard a vehicle in expectation of arriving across the country in just a few hours. Mail would arrive within a week of its exodus. Film and TV helped along this thinning of boundaries between states, countries and continents, allowing people to partake in moving images of places that were previously committed to their imaginations.

Computers were utilized to perform more and more tasks previously associated with human labor. The history of corporate, and then personal, computing unfolded so quickly that I almost missed its evolution as I threw my heart into games on the Atari 2600 and then programming on the Commodore 64. People invented new kinds of microchips and then cut their sizes in half while exponentially increasing their speeds and capacities.

Today, facts are instantly obtainable, as is communication between two distant persons. The world is no longer a huge place, and history is no longer a poetic principle; it's a spreadsheet-bound group of fields, a database to be sifted through. Japan is a keystroke or two away, and a plane ticket to Sidney can be obtained online. Rock groups promote themselves via digital recordings of their music that are stuck in video games, blurring the line between music and what once was a genre comprised of Pong clones. The latest coin-operated video games are outfitted with snowboard-shaped "controllers" on which players stand, scooter-shaped seats complete with handlebars, and other replicas of real-life outdoor vehicles; the visceral boundary separating the electronic reproduction of an activity and the invigorating sensation of the activity itself is becoming increasingly difficult to discern, particularly for very young participants, who possibly make up the first of several generations for which life will be reduced to a cheesy, hollow and bombastically "virtual" mirror of what once was regarded as the Real Thing.

There are series of numbers identifying us so that our own inventions can cope with our existences; consider the IRS, the local library, and even our membership numbers for bulletin boards or news groups. People die, but their DNA can still be determined by something as removed from living tissue as their cremation-rendered ashes. Scientists work hard at dissolving the line between real tomatoes or sheep and man-made ones.

If we follow this digression of the thrill of life's varying and separate moods to its logical extreme, we find a world completely tapped and re-tapped into itself to the point of meaningless existences lived by people who don't have to leave their homes or even rise from their chairs. This comes as quite a surprise to a generation who was raised on the belief that the future held Jetsons-type air cars and pollution-blocking masks.

It sounds like I'm attacking the notion of thinning lines outright. That's not my intention here, since I believe that some of this boundary dissolution is good for people interested in pursuing their interests. I mean, I like how I can e-mail someone in Berlin if I want to, and I enjoy composing music out of samples of real instrument sounds and then plugging my four-track stereo into the computer to make a recording. I'm not stating that it's time to stop progressing, i.e. being naturally human. What I'm suggesting is that it's time for some aloofness, for a big-picture perspective. Because we may never need those pollution masks. You don't worry so much about the air when you never have to go outside. -- CF