500 Words, Day 17 / by dan turner

Sometimes the future isn't what it used to look like. Remember when the TV talking back to you seemed creepy? 

I'm sure there are people who, if they were made aware of this clip, would place it a close second to Apple's 1987 Knowledge Navigator film in terms of lust for technofuturism. I'm sure that there are people who, if they were made aware of this clip, would rush to cobble together a slick slide deck to present their "revolutionary" business model to Y Combinator. I'm sure there would be people who would join a chorus, singing refrains of "crowdsourcing", "gamification of media", "disrupting traditional narrative media", and so on, with Evgeny Morozov providing a mocking counterpoint.

But honestly, what is your reaction, seeing this? Why does it seem like a horror movie?

(We'll skip the groupthink connotations of the script's use of "cousins" and "family", which are meant to reinforce how the video culture is eating away individuality, as well as the intentional banality of the play's dialog, which is to serve as a contrast to the novels recited later in the film.)

Granted, Truffaut has a cheat here: the TV signals Linda's turn with a harsh buzz and a Cyclopean red light (not to mention the dramatic-squirrel faces the actors make). Of course any new startup raising another round of funding for this visionary product would insist on an elegant UI.

But Linda seems terrified, or at least stressed. Some of it seems due to the performative aspect at first, but we see at the end of the segment that this has all been an example of the Entrepreneur's Word of 2012: gamification. Note the actors' repetition of "She's right!" and "Linda, you're absolutely fantastic!" in response to her responses; there was something, for Linda, at stake ("I have all the right answers!"). Today, of course, she'd earn a badge. And that would be her achievement of the day.

Tech triumphalists might see this as empowering Linda, making her master of her own domain of entertainment. But her agency is illusionary. She's acting within tight constraints (that no adventure game would accept), constraints that serve only to increase Linda's identification with the video, siphon off her sense of agency, and reinforce her place within the video culture. Note how the play goes on unchanged when she hesitates too long and her "turn" is up.

Notice also how the nature of the interaction with the play, on a video screen, overwhelm how Linda situates her identity. The entire "play" interaction overwrites her sense of social interaction. This reminds me of the horrible "Facebook Home" ad where a techster can't see her museum tour because her Facebook feed is replacing it (spoilers: the ad thinks this is a good thing).

Perhaps there's more to write about this, including the failed promise of hypertext fiction which might be tied to this scene, but is not not the cause of Linda's existential hollowing. But that's for later.

Because that's 500 words.