Media and technology have always been a big part of my life and how I perceive the world around me.
Technology has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. As the son of two mechanical engineers, computers have been omnipresent part of my reality since my childhood. I remember my dad’s huge UNIX terminal located in our basement, and my constant curiosity as to what it did.
In the third grade I was given the task of creating a science project. Other kids made the standards- baking soda volcanoes, seeds growing in water, and potato powered lights galore.
When people came to my project, they didn’t quite know what to make of it. I had a laptop on my desk with a Netscape browser opened on it. I had written a very basic interactive website. It was a Toy Story quiz, which when you clicked the right answer would play a WAV file that was locally stored. This was before 56k modems, so it probably wouldn’t have worked as an online site. Still, I was quite proud of my accomplishment,
From my technophile origins, I eventually became somewhat disillusioned with the promise of technology. Once I entered college, I abandoned my tech focused major, and was accepted into the English program. My main focus, however, was not English.
During my first semester I became involved in the college radio station, WUML. Everyone who wanted to become a station staff member had to go through an internship process, which included weekly meetings, 10 hours of intern service hours, and a final exam. By the end of my semester, I had attended all weekly intern meetings, aced my exam, racked up over 100 intern hours, and been voted in as assistant General Manager. I was hooked.
At the end of the next semester, I was elected to become the station’s General Manager (GM) by the general membership. I spent the summer immersed in FCC regulations, technical manuals, and engaged in online discussions with our members. I came to appreciate the value that the station provided to the local community. The best example of this value was the Khmer language (Cambodian) programming we offered. In Lowell, Massachusetts there is a large population of Cambodian immigrants. They tuned in to WUML because it offered them a connection to the world around them, either locally based news or the latest happenings in Cambodia.
What I learned during my time as GM at WUML was the importance of using media and technology for the good of humanity. During this time I was inspired by Buckminster Fuller, whose long lectures I watched during my midnight-5am radio shifts. Fuller embarked on “an experiment, to find what a single individual [could] contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity.” I believe that technology in general, and social media in particular, have the potential to bring us closer to Marshall McLuhan’s concept of “The Global Village”.
This brings me to the title of this post. It’s tough to single out my favorite movie, but I can say that Videodrome is the movie I find most intriguing because of its message, themes, and its “a philosophy”. The film helped solidify my views on the positive role media and technology can have in society.
Beyond the gore and guts of the film’s sensational appeal lies a serious examination of the role media and technology has in our lives. The films protagonist, Max Renn, runs an independent TV station, Civic TV, which features controversial programming that Max is constantly seeking out from the depths of underground cinema and pirated broadcasts.
In one of the opening scenes, Max appears on a talk show to defend the programs he broadcasts. He gives a weak, superficial response about providing an outlet for maladjusted individuals. This scene introduces the character of Brian O’Blivion, who represents media visionary Marshall Mcluhan, who explains appears on a television set beside the host. He explains:
“The television screen has become the retina of the mind’s eye. That’s why I refused to appear on television. Except on television. Of course, “O’Blivion” was not the name I was born with. That’s my television name. Soon, all of us will have special names — names designed to cause the cathode ray tube to resonate.”
Replace “television” with “internet”, which wasn’t developed at that point in time, and this becomes a profoundly prophetic idea. He envisions a world where people use technology to create meaningful connections with each other. One where our identification with technological personae becomes an integral part of our personality. We’ve seen this evolve from USENET groups, ICQ, and AIM into the Twitterverse, Blogosphere, and Facebook phenomena of today.
In the film, Brian O’Blivion runs an establishment called the “Cathode Ray Mission”. The Mission is filled with men and women who look run down, tired, and disconnected. They are given access to television, which seems to energize them. The philosophy of this facility is that “watching TV will help patch them back into the world’s mixing board.” I found this to be an extremely intriguing concept. As an introvert, I see social media as a the most direct medium available to engage with like-minded people in a meaningful way. I feel that how I interact through social media offers me a comfortable, focused channel through which I can perceive the world and affect change.
More broadly, we see the effect of O’Blivions mixing board changing the techno-political landscape. Whether it’s the effect of Twitter in Egypt, Facebook in elections, or Wikileaks on diplomacy and foreign policy, social media is changing our world in ways we could never have predicted.
However, the film also shows how media can be used for destructive, anti-social purposes. Max Renn discovers a program called Videodrome being broadcast on a pirate signal. The show is simply torture- no plot, no scene changes, just raw brutality with no discernible purpose. Max becomes obsessed with the show, and it begins to cause horrific hallucinations. I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the film, but it turns out that Videodrome was being used to control Max, and also caused the death of Brian O’Blivion as a result of a tumor created through watching it.
The imagery of the tumor being created by those who sought to use media and technology for selfish, manipulative aims applies to social media as well. This sort of anti-social behavior can spread like cancer, metastasizing into the far reaches of cyber culture. We need to call out this behavior when it appears if we want to create a true global village. In the film, Brian O’Blivion’s daughter Bianca is able to “re-program” Max, and use the new power he has gained by plugging into the world’s mixing board to eradicate the corruption of Videodrome.
His final words are “Death to Videodrome- Long Live The New Flesh!” The New Flesh refers to the power media and technology have as they become part of how we perceive reality. New Flesh can also refer to scars, which can be a constant reminder of past mistakes. Again, I believe that this film was profoundly insightful in its analysis of the role media has in our lives, and underneath all the horror and surrealism lies an inspiring message about the ability of media and technology to empower us and create a true global village.
“Long Live the New Flesh” parallels my own experience with media, and my desire to use innovative technology to connect with the world. Whether it’s keeping up with the latest Health IT news on Twitter, contributing to Open Source Software, connecting with friends on Facebook, or connecting with my community through local radio, I believe in the power of social media to make our lives better. I hope you do too.