As I got on my short Jet Blue flight home Wednesday night, nearly every monitor was re-(re-re-) playing the landing of the stuck-gear jet at LAX. I had been in class, and not following the event. I mentioned to the flight-crew that having a “crash landing” Jet Blue jet on the displays was probably not the best idea if they had any nervous fliers, but they (the crew) were all too glued to the set, and those who weren’t were busily calling people to let them know that they were not doing the cross-country run.
(I guess flight crews opt for a variety of runs, but the cross-country one is better for them because they only get paid for time in the air. The short Buffalo-NYC run — which they might make several times a day — basically pays half as much per hour because of the time spent on the ground in each city. However it works out, crews on our short flight might be going to Miami or LA on another day, and they wanted to let everyone know that they hadn’t this time.)
What I hadn’t thought about as much, until noted by Earth Wide Moth, was what one passenger called the surreal experience of watching the landing unfold via the seat-back monitors from inside the plane itself. There is something slightly uncanny about that experience I suppose, but also something fairly emblematic. It’s not unique: there is a standard cliche that shows up as a comedic moment when people are watching the news at home and seeing a house surrounded, only to slowly discover that it is their own. But it seems that situation is creeping outward.
The other extreme might be what appears in “Strange Days.” In the film, “users” (and the relationship to drug users is played out) of a device called a SQUID (Super-conducting QUantum Interface Device – basically a bunch of electrodes placed on the head that allow direct access to the sensory portions of the brain) trade experiences that have been recorded by others. The character played by Ralph Fiennes discovers a trade in snuff recordings. At one point, a character is forced to watch her own death, from the eyes of her killer, and this is recorded for later viewing.
Camera phones are already near ubiquitous, and those capable of streaming video are fairly widespread. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. The “surreality” of the Jet Blue experience was due to the simple fact that a video screen with network access was in front of passengers. But we are already approaching a time when that is norm rather than the exception. What will it mean when mirrors are everywhere? When everything we do will be judged by how it is captured and viewed by ourselves-as-others?
I am reminded of someone who, when it rained on her outdoor wedding, had the guests come back a second day to capture the wedding as she had envisioned it. They went through an empty ceremony, as a simulation of the way the “real” wedding should have happened, while the videographer recorded their perfect wedding.
Of course, maybe we always see ourselves through the eyes of, to use Mead’s phrase, the “generalized other.” But by making that view transparent, does it mean we can more easily step into the shoes of the other? Or does it mean a new era of narcissism, when we no longer need to empathize to understand what others see, we need only turn on our TV?