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Strange Days, Indeed

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Have you ever jacked in? Have you ever wire tripped? No? [smirk] A virgin brain. Well, we’re gonna start you off right. This isn’t like “TV only better”, this is life. Yeah, this is a piece of somebody’s life. Pure and uncut, straight from the cerebral cortex. You’re there! You’re doing it, seeing it, hearing-hearing it. You’re feeling it. It’s about the stuff you can’t have, right? Like running into a liquor store with a .357 magnum in your hand, feeling the adrenaline pumping through your veins.

In 1995, long before Tom Cruise was waving his hands around in now eerily true-to-life vision of the future that was “Minority Report,” another science fiction drama was also painting a picture of the darker side of technology. In director Kathryn Bigelow’s “Strange Days,” (written by James Cameron and Jay Cocks), people and the technology they used to record their lives had practically merged.

Using devices called “SQUIDs” which were plopped on top of their heads (that’s short for “Superconducting Quantum Interference Device,” if you must know), you could record every moment of your waking life without the inauthenticity and awkwardness that comes with holding up a camera. Wear a wig, and no one would even know they were being filmed. And you could play back your recordings whenever you chose, as often as you wanted.

The movie used the technology as a tool to tell a whodunnit-type mystery involving a girl’s murder (she knew too much, of course) while also offering up social commentary on the racial tensions following the still fresh wounds of the LAPD’s beating of Rodney King and the resulting riots that followed the officers’ acquittals.

But the technology found in the film – the SQUIDs – were a big part of the story. The leading character (Ralph Fiennes), still obsessed with his ex-girlfriend (Juliette Lewis), couldn’t stop playing the recordings of their time together over and over again. He was living in the past and unable to move on, because everything felt so real.

You see, the benefit of the SQUID is that the action is recorded from your own viewpoint. Everywhere you turned your head, the camera turned. Your hands were free, meanwhile, to do…well, whatever hands do. And you could see them. You saw your world the way your really see it. And when you played a recording back, the SQUID let you experience the memories of whichever recording you viewed as if they were your own – even if you were not the original wearer.

Well, maybe we’re not quite there yet, but it’s fun to imagine, right? After all, technology has been chasing this vision of the future for a long, long time. The idea that we should – and must – save a moment in time is a part of the human condition dating back to the paintings of men slaying buffalo adorning the walls of caves. Cameras, then film, Hollywood movies, then portable cameras installed in smartphones, and virtual reality devices have all further enabled our ability to not just record, but remember, and not just remember, but experience.

And we, as a society, can’t let it go. It’s become apparent that the ubiquity of our mobile devices, their portability and their ease of use have made it so simple to capture every snippet of our lives, that we sometimes lose track of ourselves in our digital detritus. Pics or it didn’t happen, as they say. If you think it, tweet it. Share it on Facebook. Like, save, record, watch, favorite, play, rewind, replay. We’ve lost our ability the live in the moment. Do we stop and listen to the concert and feel the music, or are we more obsessed with making sure we get a good snap of the band or a great recording of their best song which we can post on YouTube? Because, you know, if we can’t share a moment with our friends, what was the point of experiencing it at all?

Our digital attachments don’t just feed our fame-seeking tweeted and be retweeted egos. They make us miss the actual moments we meant to record. The precious memories we want to hold onto and live in for days at time. Baby’s first steps? Quick, grab the camera! Oops. Missed the actual steps. C’mon baby, try again. No one will know it’s really your second attempt.

How sad.

And how nice to think that technology is finally progressing to the point where we can ditch the cameraphone and just live our lives. Hands free. Making eye contact. Sure, sure, through dorky looking glasses. But they won’t be dorky looking forever. And you have to start somewhere. And besides people are already working on how to put transistors in contact lenses.

But, as pop culture has warned us before: for every major leap in our capabilities, there is a flipside. The Internet is rewiring our brains. Our identities are so digital that we can be erased as if entries in a database. And, the ability the record too much of our lives too accurately, will lead some people to live in moments they were meant to abandon.

As Angela Bassett’s character says to Fiennes in “Strange Days:”

“Memories are supposed to fade, Lenny. They’re built like that for a reason.”

So, Google Glass. Amazing technology. But it’s never too soon to ponder the ramifications of a future filled with infinite point-of-view recordings. Of the moment when the glasses become contacts, the contacts become implants. At which point, when do we ever get to shut them down?

 I can make it happen. I can get you anything you want. Ya just have to talk to me. Talk to me, talk to me, talk to me, talk to me. I am your priest. I am your shrink. I am your main connection to the switchboard of souls. I’m the magic man. The Santa Claus of the subconscious. You say it. You even think it. You can have it! Are we beginning to see the possibilities here? You know you want it.