Blog To Join World-wide
Rebellion Against the Screen
~ Skip Blumberg September 23, 2019
Is your life excessively occupied by your various screens?
The time has come for us all to rebel against the screen NOW!
WHAT TO DO? HUMANIZE YOUR MACHINE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.
Photo: Morgan Jesse Lappin
Unlike the protaganist in the 2013 movie “Her,” I am not attracted to Emily, the selected voice of my car’s GPS. I absolutely do appreciate her assistance especially in crucial moments of travel distress, and say “thanks” to Emily even when there’s a real human as passenger.
Of course I use screens, as does my family, my business and creative partners, everyone else I work with, and nearly everyone in my social scene. My peers and I are cogs in the machine, who not only use their screens all the time, but materially benefit from the screen’s penetration, and promote their use enthusiastically.
So what’s the deal?
The simple stresses caused by daily digital frustrations have caused deeper and far more concerning thinking about our relationship in all aspects of our lives with the now ubiquitous screen. This is a call for all of us to say “enough is enough!” Each small rebellion will keep us sane in the short run, and in the long run assure human domination of the machine.
It is an awkward (whoops, pressed the wrong button), highly-flawed (passwords, bugs, freezes, untrained tech support), increasingly-fast-changing (impossible to keep up with substantial new media technology - hardware & software - introduced every few minutes), very time consuming (in order to save time), transitional (we hope) era in the development of the screen and the system that is its engine.
Maybe the fixes will occur before we are gone, and before the singularity obsoletes our species from a decision-making role on this planet.
There’s a chance now to build a mass movement for the big fix that’s needed for the better world we all want. Our greatest role as filmmakers is to insert human values into the system’s algorithm before the technological singularity obsoletes our decision-making role on this planet.
The digital age provides everyone unlimited combinations of strategies and tools to communicate relevant messages to today’s audiences. The key to success for current mediamakers is to select the most efficient, powerful and impactful appropriate methods that you can afford (and enjoy doing), from among the myriad of choices. It’s always been the same goal: ‘getting the biggest bang for the buck.’
With a contemporary trap… the enticement of the screen masking a new tyranny over our time and freedom. And so ultimately it’s ironic for me to recommend to maximize our impact, at the same time as also recommending a rebellion against the same screen for which I have lived my life.
Is it an emergency? Read this
More and more often we hear personal stories and mass media about screen addiction among teens, who avoid real life because their virtual life on screen is more directly rewarding and controllable. And they are the last generation to remember life before screens.
According to a recent study, “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America, 2013” by Common Sense Media, children UNDER 2 (!) spend an average of an hour a day in front of screens — television, DVDs, video games and computers, with almost 1 in 4 babies and toddlers using mobile devices like iPhones, tablets, or Kindles. Since many babies and toddlers in the nation’s population are not in front of the screen at all, how many hours are kids at the high end of watching? The impact on this generation of screen users in earliest childhood particularly demands serious contemplation before it does become an emergency.
The solutions are simple, and it is not to totally give up using screens… but let’s look first to a time back when the screen wasn’t so dominant in our lives…
Modern history of the screen (for people of the future)
The first screens date back to pre-history when a knuckle-dragging viewer had to climb down into a cave to see the silent still images on the wall scratched by a few primitive artists documenting and expressing their lives. With new technology, like paint, these static screens further captivated audiences as they developed to stand fully upright and go to museums.
Fast-forward quickly to the last hundred years - what used to be called modern times - for the two pre-digital iterations of moving images on screen: movies and TV. For movies, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, viewers went to a theater, to sit with an audience of other people similarly motivated in a dark room, first downtown then in their neighborhood, or the drive-in, a big silent black and white image, then sound and color, surround sound and cinemascope. A few decades later, the next screen format was the cathode ray tube television set, an appliance a little bigger than a person’s head, very blurry black and white at first. It was in your living room, and then entered your bedroom and TV room. These screens are one-way-only, without interactivity or internal intelligence other than their time-dependent media play back, with the audience as passive recipients.
By the 1950s the television screen dominated as the most important source of news and information, and as the most popular source of entertainment. With only a few buttons and no learning curve to operate, it was for everyone. There were only a few major channels so, although on separate screens, everyone saw everything all at the same time as a shared community experience. For better or worse, this was the height of a single (free) mass medium on screen that universally united a democratically informed and entertained viewing populace. Everyone saw astronauts first walk on the moon and the Ed Sullivan Show every Sunday night.
All the programming thus far is controlled only by small then large then massive profit-making corporations.
Even for this early screen generation there were warning clarions about the vacuity of content, distilled in Federal Communications Commission Chair Newton Minow’s “vast wasteland” in a 1961 speech. In 1970 FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson called for individual and community action to counter the enormous influence of TV with his popular book How to Talk Back to Your Television Set. With the average TV household watching 6 hours and 20 minutes a day, awareness of the harm of too much screen-time, generated locally organized rebellions with calls for weeks or months without watching television, led by Marie Winn’s Plug-In Drug in 1977. In their 1975 performance art Media Burn, the group Ant Farm crashed a Cadillac through a wall of burning TVs, asking, “haven’t you ever wanted to put your foot through your TV screen?” and putting the blame on the military/industrial complex.
Computers started off in universities and business as big machines with small data, not that smart but really fast. The late Nineteen-eighties into the ‘90s saw the beginning of the proliferation of digital interactive intelligence machines, first personal desktop and tower computers with CRT screens in your home or your office. With rapid acceleration people began to have easy access to the web’s sources of information and entertainment. The hardware rapidly morphed to time shifting individualized viewing on a digital flat-screen, and interactively connected to all who are hooked up.
Right now: the screen and you
In this new century, with no decade moniker until the next roaring twenties, screens have become omnipresent in the physical world… besides your home and office, they are everywhere there’s electricity… in your bank ATM and retail stores’ displays, nightclub lightshows and movie theaters, cars, airplanes, subways, taxis, even bicycles and most spectacularly Times Square. According to recent surveys 85% of the U.S. population uses the Internet. Adults have been found to be looking at screens – TVs, computers, videogames, GPS, smart phones and other mobile devices, etc. – about 8.5 hours a day.
With the laptop, computer tablet and smart phone, the screen has become pocket-sized portable to take wherever you go. We are empowered (wherever there’s Wifi) to interact with the screen from nearly anywhere to nearly everywhere all the time. We are perpetually on-line. How insecure are you when you don’t have your phone with you (if that ever occurs)?
The digital screens are very large to very small, but all with interactivity and intelligence built in. Our screens are our most powerful tools in the 21st Century. Our success depends on them. There are more screens for everything we do.
Unfortunately, these epic improvements and our deep reliance have also meant the increasing consumption of our time. There are attached responsibilities to maintain and manage our systems, to upgrade the rapid advancements, and to internalize the changes in our minds, learning the newest leading edge introduction and forgetting the obsolete legacies. We cannot allow the vast data available to us get out of control. We can’t get behind the technology curve. Upgrading improvements is imperative; otherwise you are stymied by chasms of obsolete software and hardware.
It has also meant having to tolerate and overcome the time-consuming de-provements of crashes, freezes, viruses, lost passwords, deleted files, systems incompatibilities, and the like, plus frustrating on-line feedback templates, decision trees, and telephone robot voices, and inadequate tech support and without human sympathy.
And we are losing the skills and advantages of previous technology… like orienting by instinct, terrain, the sun and moon, and paper maps, which show you much more than your little GPS.
With digital addiction growing, increasing numbers of therapy programs and self-help books are now offered to overcome obsessive/compulsive digital dependencies. There are diagnosable mental health issues to contend with. We all have to consider the behavioral impacts to our selves… how many times every day do you check your computer?
Whether we are hanging out with gearhead enthusiasts or Luddite critics, we have running conversations with everyone we know about the digital latest and greatest, as well as the woes. Even at the dinner table where screens are not allowed, we talk endlessly about our smart phones and all the other screens. Families and friends sit around the living room or breakfast table, each communing with a screen. In bed with our spouse we trade password protection software updates and show each other astounding Vines. We dream in apps… editing our subconscious with Final Cut Pro Zzzz.
This preoccupation of our conscious minds is the entry point for, if not mind control, mind direction. The machine holds our attention and resides in lobes of our brains. Screen interaction permeates the details of our lives… with on-screen instructions to even order pizza. The machine tells us exactly what to do. If we don’t do it exactly the way it says, we fail. So we do it exactly the way it tells us.
Perhaps the most emotionally disturbing… have you noticed that everyone, and especially the current generation of screen-addicted youth, spends an inordinate amount of social time on screen? Even phones are too intimate an experience… you can hear your counterpart breathing! Person-to-person interaction has been reduced to text, social network, less frequently email, photo and video sharing and the occasional Skype. Young people, who speak with their thumbs and can hear nearly silent audio alerts, cocoon in their rooms and step outside virtually through their screens. For their social lives college students leave the dorm room only to play video games in the dorm lounge. Social relationships are consummated and play out entirely on-line. For increasing numbers of people the comfort zone extends only as far as the keyboard, touch pad and screen. And when they’re with living breathing people, attention is equally or more attracted to the continuing flow of intrusions on the ever-present screen, a tether to the rest of the universe. We are the last generation to remember people getting together in the same room, with no screens at all, totally off-line and uninterrupted by a digital message.
The future of the screen
Many technical improvements are forecast. Screen resolution is set to increase by four times to ultra HD. The size of the device will decrease smaller and thinner, imminently with wearable screens like Google Glass and wristwatch screens. (3D is not likely for home use in the near future). Screens’ interactivity (and story-telling) will also expand in incredible ways, far beyond current video games, with your avatars on-screen as characters in movies with interactively generated plots. You are personified in your ideal virtual visually physical form on the screen in the movie living a life with choices and consequences, motivated by a potentially happy end.
The single touch-screen device, whether portable or your home flat screen with more than a million available apps, is on its way to becoming portal to all devices… your typewriter, phone, email, web, movie theater, video game, TV, camera, camcorder, radio, watch, clock, calendar, flashlight, keys, home thermostat, and the entire web, a truly universal remote control.
All this makes forerunner technologies obsolete. It hits whole industries hard, from the formerly most important things in your pockets like your keys to the demise of paper records, including maps. The subway token has gone from a metal coin with the Y cut out, to a magnetic strip on a card, to a screen image (better charge your battery). Not only what we buy and what we use, it changes our behaviors surrounding the tools from old school to new age.
The sedentary jobs that are created… seated in front of a screen… don’t make up for the lost jobs taken over by contemporary robots like ATMs, Ticketmaster, and ordering take-out.
These alterations of the appliance and its impact on the economy and our daily lives are large compared to the past, but, looking to the future, are relatively small changes. The expansions of our power and facility that digital advances bring are differences in degree compared to far more radical differences in kind ahead.
Every futurist and sci-fi movie fan knows what’s coming and maybe you do, too: the computer will keep getting smarter until it outsmarts us. With technological singularity, when all computers are connected, and with artificial super intelligence, Watson will become Hal. That alone has countless ramifications, many as scary as 2001 Space Odyssey and I, Robot.
Further out, according to Ray Kurzweil and other big thinkers, by 2045 the revolution won’t be that the robots take over. It will be that we become the robots, our minds and bodies augmented with artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and genetic alterations.
These visionary futurists (and even a recent TV movie) predict that hard drive chips with Wi-Fi will be inserted into your brain. Literally an internal hard drive with Intel really inside. And the virtual screen is an internal bio-chemical-electrical projection into your mind’s eye. In this future, adults are offered the choice to become cybernetic (parents choose for their offspring at their birth), to gain all knowledge and internal connection to everywhere. But do we lose control of our conscious (and unconscious) mind? What happens to our free will power?
Far far futurists predict that our body will ultimately not be necessary, and eventually, our minds, self and spirit can be stored within massive hard drives of humanity, or in individual mobile mechanical robo-sapiens, with unfathomable forms of the screen and of the place of screens in our lives.
For a period, humans will co-exist with beings of totally artificial intelligence. Finally, overcome by the exponentially more powerful machine, it’s clear that we are an endangered species facing marginalization – and maybe extinction - on the planet that is now under our control and stewardship.
The tech treadmill takes way too much effort to stay up-to-date (and I won’t give up control of my mind and body)
Sure the computer is very powerful, but it is very time consuming to save time. Staying up-to-date and fixing bugs makes it feels like I am working for the screen, not vice versa. (How many nights have I come home late or spent beautiful weekend days in front of my screen catching up with email, recovering from crashes, waiting for rendering, up- or down-loading?) Although there is always the option to go off-line, we are more on- and as a result losing control of our own lives. More and more often the computer tells us what to do. We are unwittingly marching towards domination and enslavement of humans by the machine.
Given the choice, I will personally stop short of biological singularity. Keep your chip out of my body. In addition, I don’t care to have all knowledge. The current mysteries are manageable for me now; curiosity about them gives me motivation and life force. In fact, almost all the answers are only a few clicks away anyway. As for placing my mind in a hard drive, I use my body often with total satisfaction, and gain much pleasure from it. I will not give it up in advance of my mind even if offered eternal life of my consciousness.
DIGITAL MANIFESTO: CALL FOR REBELLION!
We recognize that the same unfairness, injustice and anti-human values within corrupt politics, unethical corporations, and the greedy one-percent apply to the looming tyranny of the digital machine and its omnipresent screens.
Time is running out to revolt. While our species is still biological, while we still have our individual minds, and before artificial super intelligence gains singularity, we have an opportunity for this pre-emptive campaign to control our rights and stay in control of the smart machines.
OK, sure, that scary cybernetic future may be beyond our and our kids’ lifetimes. Or maybe not.
And maybe you don’t feel a responsibility for the preservation of our species. But you must already know that change is now at its fastest pace ever with a myriad of resulting conscious and unconscious de-provements to your own daily life.
Whether you’re mad as hell and can’t take it anymore, or if you just preferred life before the digital rat race, this is a call to join international 21st Century citizens in a rebellion against our screens.
Even if you feel like smashing your screen, this is not a call for destruction, nor even to unplug, to entirely give up screens.
This is a call to all humans for a conscious effort to limit the impact of the machine on us as individuals, on our families, homes, schools, and workplaces. Let’s consciously and permanently tilt the balance of power towards humans over hard drives. We must be vigilant to draw the line and protect our rights just as much as if they are impinged on by a dictator, with a forceful effort, to be captains of our world and our destiny.
Even at this moment, reading this manifesto, many of us are ambivalent at the least towards our relationship with technology.
Wait a minute. Let’s face it… you are reading this on a screen. Isn’t it ironic, hypocritical, even rude to use these same digital tools that we advise you to rebel against?
With our close dependence on the screen, we are already willing cyborgs. This is not about hating technology. It is about attitude and nuance… to efficiently and easily accept, use and master technology in all senses of the words. In fact, some of our best and most enthusiastic screen users are already on the front lines of the rebellion.
This is not a call to say “no” to technology. This is a call to say to technology “yes, but…” Yes, we’ll use our screens for their maximum power as our tools. But, with an attitude… of control with human values over the machine… and with disciplined action to back it up.
This is a battle, with future lives depending on it, for who is strategically smartest, the machines or us. We’re not talking about battling corporate, government or other entity’s control of computers. (That’s separate front lines.) We’re talking about the machine itself. The ultimate goal as a species is the retention of human values in charge of the machine, with our oversight and control, rather than the machine’s own cold unchecked logic.
Your rebellion to-do list
A good first step is awareness of the penetration of the machine into your life. More than simply an inventory of the impact on your daily schedule, what is its time in your conscious mind and into your emotional experience?… the deeper reactions and states of mind it causes?… frustrations, angers, longings, and confusions, as well as pleasures, satisfactions, and exhilarations, and other feelings?
Then take a deep breath, find the motivation, and jump off the emotional treadmill. Internally kick the habit. Release the dependence.
After the awareness, motivation, and release, comes a rebellious attitude. Your acts of rebellion are up to you. You’re in the conspiracy if you have read this far. Make a rebellion-against-the-screen Facebook page with your own manifesto. Decorate your devices with changing artwork and costumes on the screen frame to personalize it. How about a no-screen holiday? Come up with your rebellious way that’s comfortable for you, your own creative humanistic rebellious ideas. And don’t forget to walk away from the screen and just go outside (without your mobile device) for a dose of nature. It is up to you to consciously join and express this rebellion in your own way, often, everywhere, and into the future.
Of course the rebellion already exists. All regular screen users have outsmarted their computer to get it to do something it doesn’t want to do. Everyone regularly commits his or her bigger and littler acts of digital defiance. There is always a mute to turn on and a power switch to turn off.
Organized efforts are gaining momentum. Join a rebellion already in progress. There’s been a recent call by the Very Rev. Stephen Brehe in Helena MT for Friday Smartphone fasts, in the tradition of Friday meat fasts, Lent, Yom Kippur and Ramadan. Dean Evan Cornog’s “Week without the Web” shook up students and faculty at Hofstra University’s School of Communication. Harvard professor Howard Gardner, NY Times columnist Dwight Garner, Occupy Wall Street, and most experimental digital artists already engage in this revolution. Like LP record enthusiasts and quill pen writers, return to past technologies.
Let’s make it a movement! In the digital world, we are all now public speakers and media-makers with individual and shared community presence in the cloud. You join the rebellion by forwarding this manifesto, or write your own and broadcast it. Spread the word… let your friends and colleagues, your blast list and blog know that you are one of the screen rebellion’s leaders, and they can be, too.
We are already rebels in so many ways. We find our own way through the digital world, mainly self-taught to get done what we want to get done, and with a casual regard to norms. Besides creatively breaking rules of style and technique, in a democracy of the widest variety of ideas, we all are critics of the rules of the world around us. In our screen rebellion we can make waves of change for the fun and satisfaction of art and mass communication.
The screen rebellion applies whatever legal material and digital means necessary to achieve its goals. With awareness of the implications, and an ironic distance, it is OK to efficiently apply the full power of digital tools, as long as the robots are working for people. The very first electronic screen artist Nam June Paik led the way with his all-out creative use of technology for art and humanity. As artists and activists, we can harness the spectacle of the screens and unleash the machine’s own gazillion-byte power of all of its hard drives and networks with our message of human liberation.
Maybe your rebellion against the screen has already begun. If you know what to do, keep on doing it. There is no need for central coordination. Our growing crowd-sourced activism creates a more humane synergy with machines, and passes that humanity on to the next generations. Our human command over the machine is the role model for others. Digital power to the people.
Because there is no turning back on our digital interdependence and the awesome ever-expansion of screen power and penetration, this rebellion against the screen, with viral momentum, must last forever, or as long as there are humans, anyway.
So, like the anti-TV rebellion of the last century… talk back to your digital device. Don’t crash a Prius through a wall of burning computer screens, but do something. While we still can, let’s transform our frustration, anger and irritation into positive action that, simply stated, puts the screen in its place (and out of your mind and body).
Skip Blumberg is an avid screen user, active digital movie producer, and early independent video pioneer, producing and directing for the screen since 1969, with hundreds of his videos on TV and on-line, with www.MoreArtistsMovies.com, a network of streaming and informational websites, including www.SkipBlumberg.com and www.SkipsNewMovies.vhx.TV.
Call to Join World-wide Rebellion Against the Screen delivered in person at:
Remote Access April 10, 2013 (Museum of Art & Design, NYC)
WRO New Media Art Biennale May 11, 2013 (WRO Media Center, Wroclaw, Poland)
Alternative Media Conference May 18, 2013 (Goddard College, Vermont)
Martin Holt Short Film Festival July 31, 2013 (Myrna Loy Film Center, Helena, Montana)\
MFA Art Practice seminar September 16, 2013 (School of Visual Arts, NYC)
Channels Video Festival September 20, 2013 (Melbourne, Australia) – video letter on-screen
Forum: Video Art in the Internet Era
Just Past screening series March 9, 2014 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC)
“The universe passes by on a screen.”
~ 1987 Infermental Video Art Program,
Melbourne Film Festival Catalogue