Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Watching and listening

I found myself at the Science museum, London this weekend, for two very interesting exhibitions.

First - a newly opened exhibit on F1 technology in everyday life.
I was missing the race at Barcelona anyway, and this was my way of consoling myself. The technology on display, which included millimetre-thin dining tables, wheelchairs and high-tech fishing lines, is a far cry from the 'everyday' that happens everyday in your and my homes. It remains however a testament to the engineering superiority of Formula 1.

Second - the Listening Post.
I don't know enough about art to be able to adequately describe this exhibit. It is, at the same time, a work of art, technology, a mirror to society and an astute observation of the philosophies of human conversation.

Made of many (the booklet says 200) tiny electronic screens suspended like a grid and with an accompanying Sci-fi voice soundtrack, this displays fragments from Internet conversations across the world in continually changing patterns and themes.

The creators - Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin say that these are part of 'real-time', 'unedited' and 'uncensored' Internet chats and emails. I can't figure out how that works.

The pace and manner in which the bits of words come together, accompanied by a voice reading out the texts to me is lyrical. Indeed, the artists have divided their work into movements that seem to rise and ebb.

It's brilliant. I spent a good half hour staring transfixed at the blinking screens. Voyeuristically following thousands of thoughts - nonsensical, profound, funny, banal, personal.

It felt exhilarating, to be part of this world, to consider the possibility that someone somewhere might be listening to those thoughts and feelings let loose into cyberspace. Why, they may be sharing the same thoughts.

I think the Listening Post is more attractive because of the anonymity offered to all these conversations.

I've mentioned in previous posts how the idea that I may be getting an audience who can identify me and hold me accountable for all I do and say online has taken some getting used. But something like the Listening Post seems to suggest that my every little blog post or microblog is only part of a larger discourse that is taking place online. Who I am doesn't matter. What I say matters little. That I say it has a significant impact in making me part of a larger community and is my contribution to human communication.

Even if it sometimes feels like I'm shouting in the dark.

As a post script, I must add that there was a third special I went to - a Wallace and Gromit something-something. I crashed in on a kiddie party and probably was the only adult there who stayed for the show despite having no child to distract for half an hour.

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