Inter Active – Zombies in the machine

inter |inˈtər| verb ( -terred , -terring ) [ trans. ] (usu. be interred)
place (a corpse) in a grave or tomb, typically with funeral rites
+
active |ˈaktiv| adjective
(of a person) engaging or ready to engage in physically energetic pursuits

(The above definitions are from the Oxford English Dictionary)

Image of a person taking a photo of the Mona Lisa on an iPad, from Broadsheet.ie. Click for link.
Image courtesy of broadsheet.ie, click for link.

A touch of housekeeping again. Just wanted to say a very quick congratulations to Built Dublin, winners of the Best Arts/Culture blog at the 2012 Blog Awards Ireland. Moon Under Water picked up a beautiful certificate for the blog’s listing as a finalist, and I enjoyed a terrific night at the awards ceremony. A new page of recommended blogs is under development – watch this space.

The term ‘interactive’ has become synonymous with technology that allows for user engagement. This includes video games, websites, mobile phone applications and other digitally-based media. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that “interactivity” is perhaps more than it seems (see the definition above), that it is the undead media-manipulated masses of dancing a morose merengue.

Consider for a moment the interactivity of the daily commute. Most people who will be reading this will have used trains, trams, subways and buses as modes of transport in recent times. However, what the average reader may not have noticed is the growing tendency for the undead to meander among them on a daily basis. Every morning coffee-deprived, bleary-eyed commuters board their local public transport contraptions, staring down into their hands at hidden devices that keep them pacified.

Non-reanimated onlookers are immediately reminded of scenes from George A. Romero‘s Day of the Dead (above), where zombie test subjects were handed devices to control and calm their moods. In the echoing words of Dr. Logan, “They can be tricked into being good little girls and boys, the same way we were tricked into it. They have to be rewarded.” On the daily morning commute, the walking dead are zombified by iPhones and Android applications, zoning out to the monotonous repetition of another round of Angry Birds. The reward in Angry Birds? Upgrades and achievements. The simple pleasure of improving at a repeated task. Calmed and casual, the active interred avoid eye contact, and wait for their stop before shambling off toward their office to check the latest Facebook updates.

Marshall McLuhan suggested in the 1960s that technology was fast becoming the opiate of the masses, in reference to Karl Marx’s previous theories concerning religion. Little did McLuhan know at the time of the impending influence of the internet. In his magnum opus, The Medium is the Massage, McLuhan saw interactivity through television as the height of the individual in interactivity. The zombified idea of viewers sucked into the television set, (that was emphasised in films like Videodrome) was an image that encapsulated the early concept of interactive zombification. As the internet became the new social addiction years after McLuhan’s writings, many of his observations became doubly true when looking at the new individual of the 21st Century – the disassociated member of society who can have their own version of the world at their fingertips.

Photo from an interactive installation that I collaborated on in Tallaght 2007
Interactive? Inter-active?

It is a common sight now to find oneself in a public house (even one as ficticiously delightful as the Moon Under Water) surrounded by a table of the different breeds – textmaniacs, Facebookworms, Twits, and (the most accursed) Square-eyed YouTube phone potatoes. Each breed has its own addiction, and each addiction has its own drawback. But this idea of interacting with the inanimate digital interface in order to engage with real human things is one that brings to question what (if not zombification) interactivity really is.

In his book The Language of New Media artist, designer and theorist Lev Manovich put forward his view that interactivity is a myth, a contrived idea invented to define a late-20th Century characteristic that is no different than those interactive ideas that we, one and all, have always engaged in. For example, human conversation can be an interactive activity. Even the age-old method of communication is now being relegated with the reanimated interred, .

However, there is more than just the insular nature of new media interactivity. In 2009 video artist Perry Bard put forward an interactive project of both separatism and togetherness when he developed his idea for the movie Man With A Movie Camera: A Global Remake. Essentially Bard was attempting to rework the entire original script for the Russian classic Man With A Movie Camera using footage shot by a global community and uploaded online. The result has garnered over 1,000 responses from across the world.

The more one thinks on this issue the more one is confronted with the idea that interactivity never existed in the first place. Among a disparate array of definitions interactivity at its core is a new term designed to define the interaction between human and digital counterpart. But essentially all that is digital is man-made, and often the interactivity involves human-to-human interaction as well. In the case of Bard’s project, the responses are to an idea, not to a digital nor an analogue format.

So is that even interactive? What form of zombie-ism is that? The more that digital media becomes central to what we do the more involving it seems it will become. This, obviously, has good and bad sides. We can betray our human interactivity for a digital one, but we can also perhaps enhance it. Romero’s zombie model was one that was criticising the apathetic, drone nature of late capitalist society. But there was always the humanity in Romero’s work that maintained the idea that zombies would always face resistance.

So I suppose we shouldn’t complain. To each other. Just read a book.

All images in this post are my own and subject to copyright unless stated. I don’t mind reproductions, but please credit them to this blog or contact (contactmoonunderwater@gmail.com) for more information.

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