Few weeks ago, at the Alexander Von Humboldt’s Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) in Berlin I took part in a YouTube-cinema night loosely revolving around the crucial relationship between Big Data and Small Data and what it means for us.
The Address is Approximate has had about 4 million views. It is a stop-motion film and it was made by Tom Jenkins from the British based company The Theory. It was a personal project and once uploaded on Vimeo, Youtube and other video-sharing platforms, the video became a success and gained Jenkins and Simon Sharp, his partner at The Theory a contract with a large talent agency in Los Angeles. The first thing that struck me about this video is the concept of the journey that is at its foundation: in all its romantic and poetic meaning, Jenkins short film captures the importance of the idea of travelling, of reaching new places to answer an almost vital yearning of discovering or reaching beyond the limits of our daily life. But the toys that are at the centre of the story are supposed to stay inside, they are trapped within. Yet, thanks to a bit of imagination and a the myriad of stored data on Google servers they manage to travel, without moving all the way to the west coast. It is not the same thing as the real thing perhaps, but nonetheless the power of discovery is not to be underestimated.
We live in a world in which – notwithstanding the fact that more people than ever before in our history can travel for pleasure – yet the gap between the rich and the poor has widen quite considerably.
There are billions who don’t earn enough money every month for a couple of tickets to go to the cinema, let alone take a flight and travel across the world. The Internet in this case has helped to shrink the world to fit in a 15 inches monitor. It is not just about reading or watching material online, but it is also about experiencing, almost peeping into another country’s life. Television has done much about this, so have movies, but the journey of the little robot in the Jenkins’s short-film is a new type of journeying without moving, one that is done often in solitude, and gives the illusion to be in the driving seat.
The emancipatory potential of that personal journey is not easy to calculate. Especially when we put it together with the rest of the experiences one can live through the web (and all its applications).
This movie is certainly an interesting and I’d dare to say positive example of the importance of making sense of the wealth of data that are out there in the web.
The title of the short-film is also very important: The address is approximate is not just about Google Street View, it is not simply about the lack of a precise address in the robot’s virtual journey to the west coast, but those words encapsulate exactly my feelings about the field of studies we are all in (and naturally on a much larger scale about life): in our specific field of research, we have more or less a sense of direction but the final destination is quite unknown. This is a very complex field that evolves quickly and continuously (a bit like the loading images of Google street view), and within this context it is far too easy to be stuck in the past, to be lost or to follow the wrong path.
The movie however brings to us, through the eyes of the protagonist a certain sense of wonder and magic, and perhaps with it a certain idea of humility and at the same time boldness, two virtues that should always be attached to any journey towards the unknown.
The last point regarding Address is Approximate is about its production merit. This is quite an artistic feat. With a very little budget, and basic equipment, a rented i-Mac, shot using a DSLR Canon 5d MkII, a normal stop Motion software, data available from the web and 1 week work during after-work hours Jenkins managed to produce an award winning short and reach out to a wide audience, score a contract with an important talent agency in LA and create great publicity for his firm. The perfect example of how the web can serve creativity and business needs.
From an artistic point of view, I Forgot My Phone, is – over all – a much more conventional and simple short-film. It was written and starred by a young tv/film American star (Charlene de Guzman), and her presence was certain instrumental in its audience success. So far it has had about 22 million views on YouTube. Philosophically is perhaps a bit more monothematic than Jenkins’s movie, but it certainly makes an important point.
I see I Forgot My Phone as the opposite than Address is Approximate. In that first video, data and machines, linked together by a network enrich us, bring us beyond our limits, let us travel beyond the cages of our lives and experience what we cannot always experience.
Charlene de Guzman’s short film instead depicts a world we are very familiar with, a world in which we no longer feel the need to live the moment and experience it and store it within our consciousness and with it become different, travel through life as a series of interconnected experiences whose memories and feel makes us who we are.
Instead, Miles Crawford (the director) shows us a world in which we live it through the other and others, we outsource, so to speak, our experiences and the journey itself to a cool gadget, an hard disk, or a cloud system and a 4G network – the machine, the gadget acts almost as a proxy or a buffer between us and the experience we are having, somehow disconnecting us from that experience.
The lost gaze of De Guzman shows us a world in which we reduce emotions and feelings in bits of 1s and 0s forgetting that the emotion one feels in the moment is entirely different than the one we re-live through the electronic spectacle that has become our digital life.
Memory stored in our brains is selective and fallible, rather imperfect, and in fact it is because of that, far more important than crystal clear digital images. We are not meant to overload ourselves with the everyday clatter of the life we live; we are not meant to record all our life, most of it is in fact boring and pointless. We will never have the time to watch it, and, if we did, we would never want. But most importantly we seem to forfeit living that life for the sake of recording it, sharing it, storing and so on and so forth.
Seen from the perspective of this little movie, the cornucopia of digital machinery that shape our lives make us poorer, in fact it robs us of that very life and what it means to us. We are and we will always be the life we live not the life we watch.
(During that night, other fellows showed a selection of youtube movies, here is Julian Ausserhofer’s selection and blog entry)