Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mirror vs. Window in Relation to Technology

Continuing with the reading of Bolter and Gromala's book, the authors continue showing two sides of the issue in computer technology. Whereas before, they differentiated the structuralist versus the designer argument, they now show us the difference that exists between technology as a mirror and technology as a window. Many times, both may seem the same but they really represent different "experiences". Bolter states that a mirror is something that provides a reflection of our world and who we are. Computer technology does that in one aspect: the codes and the images, not to mention the information, is that which reflects our workings and our ideas back to us. It is what we make of the technology that is rendering its results back at us for "feedback". Feedback is important because it allows for the "control" of our situation, a measure which we will use to figure out our progress. The example of the "Wooden Mirror" exhibit at the SIGGRAPH 2000 also provies us with an idea of how technology can help give us that "feedback" and reflection of us by forming an image of ourselves on a bed of wooden tiles. Now here, there were two concepts in function. This "mirror" utilized an analog feature and combined its use with digital technology, thus resulting in this image. This also caused for some experience to take place for the viewer, and the creator's intentions for this experience were experienced by both ends.

On the other hand, the "window" concept can be a bit more complex. Its origins begin as far back as in the era of paintings. Painters and even photographers later on strived for "clarity and simplicity". Many techniques, such as linear perspective, allowed for pictures to represent some message or vision, and the viewer ultimately needed to exercise that ability to "look through" the painting or picture for the intended effect. This "transparency" has been the goal of many artists for centuries. This same transparency is the goal of computer graphics designers today when using the style of "photorealism" to create their designs on the web. These methods have allowed for the creation of some reality of the world we live in, that window which people look out of or into to find some meaning, thus creating an "experience" of life. However, while computer technology strives to perfect this transparency of the world for us, it tends to create more complexity in its programs and undermines, in this way, the transparency that should exist in the experience itself. The attention is diverted more to the interface and its functionality rather than on the simplicity and clarity that should be the end result. It's almost like an addiction: the more power you have and use, the more you want it.

In conclusion, I can agree with Mike's stand on virtual reality. I also want to point out that there is a time when too much is enough. Walking around like zombies wearing spectacles that allow us to "engage" in some virtual experience is not my idea of fun! It is a far-fetched infantile idea that can only be derived from a science fiction movie. Having control of information and of files, and other entertainment, does not necessitate having to "step into" this unreal world because, let's face it, we are still human beings and the ways we access the information are clear enough! Using a mouse and relating to images on a screen are troublesome enough, but they achieve their overall purpose. We cannot just step into another dimension and engage in give-and-take with a machine. For that price, I would rather get high on some drug and "see the colors", as in the good old days of the 1960s and even the glorious 1970s! It's not bad to think about the possibilities, but there are other ways that virtual reality can be used, let's say perhaps in the field of medicine or for scientists to perfect their formulas. I believe in a time and a place for everything, and virtual reality has its place, in fiction books and movies.


  1. Why not think of virtual reality as some kind of alternative reality rather than trying to con us into believing we are escaping our own reality? Funny how you compare sophisticated technology to drugs though. Drugs trick our mind into believing we are temporarily escaping our reality around us and seeing things that aren't there. I guess virtual reality, or an alternative reality, is meant to do that too. I agree with the fact that virtual reality has its place in science fiction and going with that thinking, virtual reality seems more like a genre of fiction than something real. However, aren't genres, such as comedy and tragedy, also real life experiences?

  2. Timothy Leary, who was known for his advocacy of LSD in the 60s, became a big booster of VR in the 90s. As for Bolter, keep in mind that he's trying to argue against the prevailing tendency towards transparency in western culture.

  3. I as well like the drug comparison. Didn't even think of that while reading this book.

    I also agree with your reference to painters and photographers. In terms of traditional/realistic art--painters and photographers strived for clarity because they were trying to capture a clear vision of reality. They strived to create what they saw in reality on to their canvas. Digital art does seem more complicated.