Friday 28 February 2014

An Episode

I recently had an 'episode'.

I was watching football (proper football: spherical balls, feet not hands) early in the morning before anybody else was up when I noticed the score had changed.  I rewound and watched an Arteta penalty that I had sat in front of, looked at, but had no memory of.  At all.  A blank.  I remember the goalkeeper's movement prior, and a Gerrard tackle that followed soon after in the highlights, but there was about a minute that was lost to me.

And later on it happened again.  But because this was Peter Crouch scoring for Stoke it didn't merit a rewind.  But I had still lost seconds, perhaps a minute or two.  And I hadn't dozed off, despite the early hour.  I know what waking up feels like and this wasn't it.

And, without the artificiality of the situation I may not have noticed because it's often hard to notice what isn't there.  Only the fact that my brain felt like it was being slowly crushed over the course of the morning to such an extent that I spent the afternoon in bed leads me to think this was unusual.  Otherwise I would be wondering how often 'me' leaves the building.

The next day the thought struck me that I'd had a stroke.  I went to the doctor who, in more words, told me that is symptoms don't last more than 24 hours is is not, by definition, a stroke and that I should view black-outs as a nice break in the day.  Thank you NHS, Britain's jewel in the crown...

But I've been thinking.  If I wasn't in to see the robot-dancing one slot in against West Brom or whoever it was, then who was?  Was there another me?  If I had been asked something during that time would I have been a blank drooling mess, or would I have 'powered-up'?  Or would somebody else?  Was there a consciousness that had gone on to standby?  What was the difference between my brain state during the episode and either side?  The difference being... what exactly?  Self?  Soul?  Consciousness?  What of bleeding edge IT?  When it achieves the same processing capacity as my brain will it be conscious, or will it need something layered on top to acquire a soul?  In which case can we just plug and unplug 'self's from computers.  And, if computers, why not bodies too...

I'm not the first to have these thoughts by a long way, but such musings feel oddly different having had my 'self' detached, albeit for short time...

Wednesday 19 February 2014

His Holiness the Pope - My Part in his Downfall*

So, as we've recently learnt, Vincent Nichols learned he was to become a cardinal via the Pope App on his iPad.

But that's nothing - I learnt of the previous Pope's abdication from a bus-stop.

No, seriously.  Outside Euston Station, a video screen on a bus-stop showing the headlines.  And that's how I learnt of Pope Benedict's retirement.

Which leads me to speculate on where else I may get somebody else's message rammed down my throat.   I've thought for years that blacktop would make an excellent advertising medium - particularly a road as dull as, say, the M4.  Just not those bits where you have to jockey for position for the M40 or Heathrow.  But out west you could plaster the road surface with admonitions to drink beer and smoke tabs to your heart's content without causing a problem.

In fact, next time you're out and about check the number of surfaces that an image or text can be played out on.  And I didn't say flat surface.  And that's all before we speculate on media being played straight into your eyeballs.  And, hey, whilst we're on this trip, why not just sit yourself in a bucket of protein fluids and let the ones and zeros stimulate your nerve endings directly.  One day we'll be able to... 

Of course, there's nothing new about advertising - check out any picture of, say, horse drawn traffic fighting their way around Piccadilly Circus c.1900 and you'll see a plethora of tin signs and posters.  The difference now is that we get more than just headlines and soundbites, we get the whole story boiled down.  And our attention span seems to have been adjusted to suit, with any subtlety and subtext driven out until headline and soundbite become the whole story, and the whole story can be fitted on a bus shelter-sized billboard.

I think it proves that advancement isn't necessarily progress.

I've probably taken up too much space already...  

* obviously utterly untrue and unjustified, just a wannabe sub-editor's desire to headline grab...  Count yourself lucky: I did consider 'The Pope Must Buy' as an alternative... 

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Still on the subject of social media...

I was watching Brief Encounter whilst ironing the other day - can you imagine a more prosaic opening? - and it occurred to me how much the world has changed.  In fact, how the story simply wouldn't work today.

Celia Johnson goes into town to change her book at Boots, do a bit of shopping, take in a movie.  Nowadays she'd have downloaded to her Kindle, bought online, thrown on a blu-ray.

Assuming she'd have left the house, chances are she'd drive, cocooned in her metal box on wheels.  But let's assume she takes the train; little chance of grit in the eye from a diesel or electric.  In today's story it would probably be a mugging for her phone which brings the lovers together.

Oh, hold on, with today's property prices she'd probably be holding down a job to help pay the mortgage, which does explain why she's out of the house a bit more.

Trevor Howard skip his afternoon of work - here's where a mobile would make his life easier, in fact - although today's focus on regulation and governance may land him in front of the General Medical Council (yes, I know, it's slightly off the topic of social media unless you take into consideration how easy it is to complain online and how the social strata has been eroded so complaints against Dr Harvey by the 'little people' left waiting would nowadays be taken more seriously).

Nowadays they'd be a devious love affair by text and email.  (Can you imagine Trevor Howard texting photos of his... no, don't go there).  Then there was just pining and waiting for the next rendezvous.

At the end Trevor Howard goes off to Africa at the drop of a trilby, their last moments ruined by chattering acquaintance Dolly Messiter, a hard and fast line drawn under their love affair with lots of stiff upper lips and getting-on-with-its.  Nowadays they'd have carried on texting from their separate train carriages.  And why stop there - the affair could have dribbled on ad infinitum, across continents...

What's my point?  Well, the job of the storyteller is to get your characters over hurdles towards - although, not always successfully - their goal.  One of those hurdles, so far beyond a cliche it's a truism, is communication and access to information.  What up to, oh, about ten years ago was a default, a fact of life - when you're out of the house you're out of communication range - is now no longer true.  And it has a huge impact on story.  Think of Frodo's journey if he had constant and continual wifi, or if Winston Smith had an iPhone.  So ubiquitous is the interweb that authors now need to create reasons for being out of contact - with a variety of marks out of ten for contrivance.

But possibly because we are now in contact 24/7 we value contact even less.  People don't value that which is free.  Whilst the tweeds and motor cars in Brief Encounter look old fashioned, so does the decency of human contact.  When people meet it looks like it matters.

But perhaps I'm just reading too much into how the world was, that the grass was always greener in black and white; after all, Sartre never played Angry Birds and as he so rightly pointed out, hell is other people.    This may not be a case of 'Damn you, Zuckerberg, what have you done to the human race?'; perhaps Facebook et al have simply allowed the human race to display its true colours.  Perhaps it's the (supposed) decency of the past that's more of an artificial construct than, say, the world wide web.  Now, there's a thought... 

PS - Trevor Howard seduces Celia Johnson with a little speech about lung conditions, so does Brief Encounter count as hard sci-fi?  Probably not...

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Happy birthday Facebook?

So Facebook is ten.  Which means that it can now be stopped by the police for riding on the pavement or scaring old ladies.

Which is not the point of this posting.  No, instead I'd like to muse on what the role of social media in science fiction is.  Not so much in the marketing and selling - that's taken as read - but in the content itself.  You see, I don't remember Princess Leia changing her Facebook status or Deckard tweeting every time he wasted a replicant or James Tiberius ever contemplating changing his log for a blog.

Perhaps it's because I'm not very well read on sci-fi of the last decade or so, but I've just waded through Peter F Hamilton's opus Great North Road (having been able to see the Great North Road from our bedroom window in our last place) - you can read my review at - and nowhere in it do any of the characters worry about their Google circles.

I see a lot of technology in sci-fi, but what I've seen is being used by homo sapien 1.0 - websites as interactive encyclopediae, and so on.  There must be some stories out there of the evils and advantages of social media, how its changing behaviour itself not just providing swankier tools.

Any suggestions?

Monday 3 February 2014

The story so far...

Just to gather together various strands dangling in the cosmic winds of the interweb...