Thursday, 8 December 2016

There'd be an app for that

Caught the ever so slightly very minor sci-fi movie The Final Cut the other night.  A fine understated late Robin Williams performance, even if the story revolves around a plot point so half-baked it was like the script had been developed out of a chimp's fingerpainting that only coincidentally resembled contentful language.

Anyway, that's not what I'm here to talk about.  In the story recording implants are available to anyone with the cash to pay, to be downloaded and edited post mortem by 'Cutters'.  Highlights of a life are then played as an eulogy at the funerals, if the noise of protesters at the practice doesn't drown out the resulting home movie.

There are elements of this that I see being worryingly prescient.  Why should we not, in the next two or three decades, be able to take a feed off the optic and auditory nerves, to be stored and played?  We may not even have to do that - how about smart lenses recording our lives?  Or smart tattoos?  Maybe that'll be the real role of smart clothing?  There are probably a myriad of ways of constantly monitoring and recording our lives that I haven't thought of in the thirty seconds I gave it.

But there's one aspect that seems antediluvian, retrograde, pre-decimal: The Cutter.

The Cutter is a privileged specialist, a wizard class for the world of 'Zoe chips'.  Only Cutters are able to extract the images; only Cutters have the rights to put together the visual tribute to the late great dearly departed.  Only Cutters have a monopoly over the magic.

This strikes me as a major dropping of the ball, a failure to think through.  We live in a world of increasing democratisation o
f information.  The medium is being put in our hands to broadcast our message, authority is increasingly being questioned.  Maybe you could argue that the world has changed radically in twelve years, and how could they have predicted, (oddly, The Final Cut debuted at the Berlin Film Festival a week after Facebook was founded), but we got rid of the chauffeur, the typist, and the housemaid long before 2004.  Functionality has been flowing towards users for a long time.

In short, there'd be an app for editing the footage of your own life.  And if the makers of the Zoe chips didn't provide it, somebody would.  There'd be too much of a hunger to post video in real time, to manipulate and control, to lay down for posterity a record of your life in real time.


Maybe they didn't see it that way.  Or maybe they saw it and didn't like the questions it threw up.  Some movies move in a zippy enough way for you to forget to ponder the readily ponderables.  But not The Final Cut.  Like, wouldn't all of this data be useful in a court of law?  Or when writing an autobiography (although it would mean we would never have been treated to Jeffery Bernard's delicious letter to the New Statesman in July 1975 stating "I have been commissioned to write an autobiography and I would be grateful to any of your readers who could tell me what I was doing between 1960 and 1974.")

However, the real issue for me is that there simply isn't enough hours in the day to review video, if video covered... well, every hour of the day.  We seem perplexed that our technological leaps forward haven't led to any corresponding leaps in productivity.  Hardly bloody surprising when we spend our time tweeting pictures of our dinner, or consuming pictures of other people's dinners.  No time to forge more steel, or whatever it is that keep GDP pointing skyward.

If we were able to have a stream of our own experience on (digital) tap 24/7 then, for me, the real issue is one of addiction to reviewing your own life.  And this really, really does throw up a dystopia, a heroin that makes kitten videos on YouTube seem like Babycham in comparison.  I see a subclass springing up overnight, like mushrooms, winding and rewinding their lives, watching their pasts in slow motion, making the hikikomori look like speed-daters when it comes to interacting with the world.

If The Final Cut had covered that angle then it would have been a braver and, possibly, a more prescient story.

One of the many days that I hope I'm wrong...

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