Metalife: The Movie
For a century we went to the movies. Now we’re going into them.
Condition One is an embeddable immersive video player that allows you to experience previously recorded video as though you are there as the video is happening. No longer content with some producer’s notion of plot and character; the notions now are all ours. With an iPad app we become a gadgeted auteur: My Life, the Rockumentary.
It’s no longer just movies streaming on Vudu; now it’s us. Hitchcock is history. YouTube is an enabler. Everyman squirms in the director’s chair. Gone are the days when we were solely actors in the world; now we are actors in the movie that we both shoot and direct, and this becomes the world we create and then claim as ours alone. All stories are shot on location: drama is wherever we are at the moment. Our walk-through any scene is our lottery shot at the walk of fame.
THE LOOKING GLASS LIFE
Reality TV is already done. What reality television paraded before us is now being delivered to our personal handheld devices. In this looking glass life we live as we record ourselves living. In a digitally enhanced meatspace, what Adario Strange called “sublimated reality,” the living and recording are mixing up time and space, one preceding the other in random fashion, as though you could wake up one morning and decide to eat the supper you haven’t had—right before the breakfast you’ve just eaten. The recording is part of the living and the living is always recording and history just gets re-recorded.
As you act in your life, you act in your own movie. Record, fast-forward and rewind are no longer buttons on a device: they are speeds of a Metalife. Moreover, you now have the means to reverse your field with a stronger tool than our notoriously self-serving memory. Reality is now, as it has been for artists for millennia, a canvas on which to augment reality. This augmented real is the world with notes. But these notes are not scribbled annotation: everywhere we turn and look, data rises up to meet us. No longer is a street we have not traveled virgin territory; we can now know more about any place, person, or thing before we have encountered them than we have ever before known or even dreamed. The street is a set in our movie, The Truman Show—in re-run and pre-run.
We’re making this up as we go.
THE REAL DIVING INTO THE UNREAL
The notion of manipulating what is real, what happened yesterday, what we recorded or walked through or whom we met—being able to change experience at will is an old fantasy, but a very new reality. This is the real diving into the unreal, a meat and muscle person slipping into the stream of recorded data and massaging, manipulating, bending it. This is no longer reality; it is, as Canon coined it, “mixed reality.”
The immensity of this shift cannot be overstated. We have never had this ability to re-walk our lives, re-trace our actions and footsteps to call them by a different name. Or show up today in an event that happened yesterday. We are playing with time and space in ways that would make Nils Bohr blush. Physicists have only dreamed this in equations. They’ve never actually lived it.
We are, in effect, revising our experience of experience itself. For millennia our notion of experience was what happens to us; we have not considered how we happen to experience. Even saying that may seem maladroit, but that locution is useful to shake up our notions of how things work. We now have tools that twist and reverse-engineer these notions; we can see and revisit what we saw and have done. Imagine having a argument with your almost-married other, recording it, and later editing your argument with the sang froid of requesting a waiter to bring the sandwich without tomato.
It’s your movie. This is your love affair mediated by Final Cut; the critical conversation edited on Pro Tools. Finality is over: every moment is a study in revisionist history. Like Justin Kan with a camera strapped to his ball cap, we will all soon adopt the lifecasting ethos, but with the smiling numbness of the Facebook like button. Our gadgets and eyeglasses will not be our only recording devices: screens will vanish into the Internet of Things and we become MeNN, the broadcast network of blood and bone.
WHY THE MOVIE, WHY NOW?
At this point a reasonable question to ask (as we set sail on a sea of unanswered questions) is: why are we doing this? The first and obvious answer is, because the technology exists to enable it. We should pay that response greater attention than we often do. As technology presents options to us, we often have no discussion beyond market adoption dynamics and occasional news reporting to frame the continuing alteration of our lives as we adapt to using that technology. We don’t talk about our Metalives—we just start living them and look back later.
Augmenting and revising experience and reality by playing them back to ourselves and inserting our own elements (via our devices) into the experience gives us a place to stand outside ourselves; to view ourselves from a perspective previously unavailable. The tool, as it always does, creates thinking pathways. We then walk those pathways to discover what we see. But, of course, that is not what we say we’re doing. We tell ourselves that we are looking at the world differently, through Google Goggles or through the 3.1 million pixel Retina display of an iPad. We tell ourselves that it is “cool” to take a video of an experience or capture a day’s debris so that we can later step back into the experience.
We are inveterate sharers, from sex tapes to cats LOL; from the ridiculous to the profound and sublime, we are captured by our captures. Reality becomes SimCity. The representation becomes experience, becomes the present and our re-vision of the past. Being the actor while also being the commentary seems somehow our birthright. The result: we are all in a reality show now, even though only the notorious are monetized or feature a Kardashian.
In this re-size of our lives, as Goffman told us, this is self-presentation as performance. But there is a new wrinkle. We’ve gone into the movie and we’re not coming out. When the movie was over, we used to leave. Now our Metalives continue on into the night: we cast and broadcast, live and lifelog. When information displays and commentary and recognition technologies are built into our eyeglasses, we all become squadron leaders in a reality firefight. The game, the simulation and recreation-on-the-fly is changing the gamer. We started playing because the game was there. We may well continue playing because there is no exit. Sartre’s take on this was, “You are your life and nothing else.”
Not anymore. You are your life and your life is a video canvas on which you may draw or doodle, paint in or paint over. You are your life and your Metalife.
Now there’s a new ending to the movie: the movie never ends.
Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality Neal Gabler’s book is a must-read, written presciently over a decade ago. What was true in 2000, is more evident now.
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