Jan 27, 2013

Threading the Eye

cycle path or psychopath?
Cycling last spring, I noticed the trees had eyes. Once I started noticing them, I found disembodied eyes everywhere: on money, hands, walls, doors, stained glass in churches, and hanging from branches on more trees. It feels like they're following me.

Evil eye charms in Turkey
Disembodied eyes are often featured in the art of people suffering from schizophrenia. The experience of schizophrenia, I read, often involves a breakdown or dissolution of the boundary between one's own self and the external world. For example, one symptom of schizophrenia is that internal thoughts present themselves as external voices.

The art of schizophrenia sufferer Louis Wain can be read as showing this blending of the individual identity (in the form of a cat) with the external world. 

Louis Wain

The way the background in these paintings seems to resonate with the subject, as if the subject is dissolving into the environment reminds me of some of the paintings of Vincent van Gogh.

Self-portrait with Straw Hat, Vincent van Gogh

(extract from) Self-Portrait, Vincent van Gogh
Van Gogh has been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia.

Perhaps artists with schizophrenia include disembodied eyes in their work because they are an apt graphic symbol for the experience of breakdown of boundaries of the self, the merging of the observing self with the surrounding universe.

In a moving Ted Talk, Jill Bolte Taylor describes the experience of having a left-hemisphere stroke. Dr Bolte Taylor recounts how the merging of self with the the universe was experienced as a euphoric epiphany. 
"I could no longer identify the boundaries of my body, I felt enormous and expansive. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful there."
Dr Bolte Taylor's language is spiritual, nearly religious. Before van Gogh was an artist, he had a career as a religious evangelist. Perhaps the religious experience of becoming one with the universe is much like the schizophrenic experience of losing one's boundaries of self. This may be why disembodied eyes appear regularly in mystical and religious art.
Buddhist eyes in Nepal
Egyptian eye of Horus
Islamic Hamsa
Tentacled eyes in Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Rome
Jeremy Thorpe
The disembodied eye also shows itself in some notable secular circumstances, maybe in an attempt to coopt the aura of enlightenment:
Masonic eye of providence
US dollar bill
Since last spring, when I first noticed it beside the cycle path, repeated sightings have confirmed my suspicion: the disembodied eye is following me. I think it's trying to tell me to be more respectful of those with mental illness, and less respectful of those claiming insight to the mind of God.

Keep your eye out.

If your interests include theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

Jan 23, 2013

Idiot Boxes

control your set top box while you iron!

There is a lot of foam published about SmartTV, kindled by the furtive glance Apple has thrown toward TV with AppleTV, but also by enthusiastic technologists (technotheists) who believe screens inevitably lead to interactivity. Most recently, the hype is around "second screen" paradigms, combinations of TV and a tablet or smartphone or laptop that create a transcendant new experience, in most evocations, somehow social. I am skeptical.

The chance that innovations in TV platforms will change the way people watch TV is about the same as the chance improvements in wine packaging will change the way people drink wine. The box of wine in my fridge did not change the way I drink wine. The box is good. Wine in my kitchen is now more available, more convenient; I must no longer stretch or leash my appetite to accommodate the 750ml standard. But boxes do not much change the way I drink wine. Why not? Because wine is not about bottles or boxes, it's about the content. Having a second screen while I watch TV makes as much difference as a second glass while I drink wine.

Nielsen Connected Devices Study Q2 2012
Research shows 40% of viewers using a second screen simultaneously with their TV viewing. You will also find a significant number of viewers using their irons.

How many people use their smartphones in the cinema? If people did use their phones in the cinema, it would not signal a need for 2nd screen movie companion apps; it would signal a crap movie. Tablet use during TV viewing is a signal of crap TV.

There is a trend in media generally to disaggregation, if you look for it. Content is being unbundled, pulled from its container and freed for other uses. News articles are torn from newspapers; magazine articles are unbound from magazines; songs are dance away from albums; radio programs have been articulated into podcasts;  monolithic software applications are refactored into single function apps. RSS feeds and playlists allow us to create our own curated streams of disarticulated content
Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube have begun to disrupt TV content from programmed schedules. We need new models of discovery and curation.
For a start, we should be able to include YouTube channels in our settop zaplist.
Second Screens will have a use in content discovery, and disaggregation of TV content may lead to new forms of video media experience that involve large and small screens, but, for the medium term at least, I believe second screens will remain a side show.

If your interests include theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.