Our screen-bound lives don’t train us for the real world..
Though not a new book, Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss (www.harpercollins.co.in) should make an interesting reading especially to those suffering from ‘the utter bloody rudeness of everyday life’ arising from new technology.
When people look for a piece of technology to blame for modern manners, it is often television that cops the lot, but we forget what an impact the telephone had when it was first introduced, the author reminds. With the advent of the phone, people could choose to conduct real-time private conversations with people who weren’t there, she adds.
Among the many ‘phone’ fears that were voiced in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, this alarmist warning came from the editor of a Philadelphia newspaper: he cautioned his readers ‘not to converse by phone with ill persons for fear of contracting contagious diseases.’
But why is it that a phone wields so much power? Because a phone conversation, being both blind and one-to-one, is a more intense and concentrated form of communication than talking face-to-face, reasons Truss.
“Inevitably, then, when a phone call competes for attention with a real-word conversation, it wins. Everyone knows the distinctive high-and-dry feeling of being abandoned for a phone call, and of having to compensate — with quite elaborate behaviours — for the sudden half-disappearance of the person we were just speaking to.”
Conceding that mobile phone behaviour can often be rude to others, does the answer lie in switching on a tape recorder and placing it in front of the person speaking, or in picking up their phone and throwing it out of the window?
Wait, rudeness is not in answering a mobile phone, because answering a ringing phone is a kind of conditioned reflex that few of us can resist, the author explains.
She agrees, however, that inconsiderateness is a proper cause of concern, and in particular highlights a new development of relations in public: that group pressure no longer operates in the way that it once did. “‘Whatever happened to consideration?’ we cry.” For, the prerequisite of consideration, as Truss lays down, is the ability to imagine being someone other than oneself.
To those who despise new technology, it can be shocking to know that interactivity with machines and virtual worlds is believed to be making people smart in important ways. It seems the neurotransmitter called dopamine (associated with craving) responds with high excitement when there is seeking and searching to be done, as the book informs.
The craving instinct triggers a desire to explore, as if the dopamine system says, ‘Can’t find the reward you were promised? Perhaps if you just look a little harder you’ll be in luck — it’s got to be around here somewhere.’ Citing Steven Johnson’s ‘Everything Bad is Good for You,’ the author says that intelligence nowadays is all about application, instead of IQ. It is the ability ‘to take in a complex system and learn its rules on the fly.’
Truss doesn’t accept, though, that the Internet and social networking applications are ‘augmenting our people skills,’ as Johnson asserts.
True, each of us has a virtual social group in our email address book, but the group has no existence beyond us; it is not a ‘group’ at all, she protests.
“True, hot information whizzes around the world with the speed of supersonic gossip, but, crucially, we can choose to ignore it.”
Many aspects of our screen-bound lives, avers the author, are bad for our social skills because we get accustomed to controlling the information that comes in, managing our relationships electronically, deleting stuff that doesn’t interest us. “We edit the world; we select from menus; we pick and choose; our social ‘group’ focuses on us and disintegrates without us.”
But why should this be a matter of concern? Because of the confusion that arises when we step outdoors and discover that other people’s behaviour can’t be deleted with a simple one-stroke command or dragged to the trash icon, the author observes. She laments that sitting at screens and clicking buttons is a very bad training for life in the real world.
In the author’s ‘grand theory of social alienation in the early twenty-first century,’ we are kings of click-and-buy, capable of customising any service, publishing on the Net, communicating through multiple platforms, and accessing tonnes of favourite entertainment content. Disturbingly, the effect of all this limitless self-absorption is to make us ‘isolated, solipsistic, grandiose, exhausted, inconsiderate, and anti-social,’ Truss warns. “In these days of relative affluence, people are persuaded to believe that more choice equals more happiness, and that life should be approached as a kind of happiness expedition to the shops. This attitude is not only paltry and degenerate, but it breeds misery and monsters…”
Creating a living, breathing character
As an animator, you are basically doing the job of an actor, write John and Kristin Kundert-Gibbs in Action! Acting lessons for CG animators (www.wileyindia.com). You are creating a living, breathing character that tells a story, shares an experience, and moves an audience; and your character becomes ‘animated’ with the body, voice, and emotions that you breathe into it,” the authors add.
They are of the firm belief that it is virtually impossible to understand and internalise the work and process of an actor without participating in it.
“Even if an individual never intends to set foot on the stage but wants to design, write, or direct, he must fully participate in an acting class to understand the art of acting that is central to the creation of character. As you, the animator, are also creating characters, you too must participate in training as an actor.”
Injection of humanness
Tracing the word animation to Latin ‘animare,’ meaning ‘to give breath to,’ the authors find the need for anthropomorphism, with characters being given an injection of humanness to allow us to relate to them on a gut level.
“If we as audience are not engaged with the animated character on screen, then we don’t imbue that character with personality and intention, and thus we are unlikely to remain emotionally involved and therefore become uninterested in the animation as a whole.”
Exaggeration, simplification, abstraction, and stylisation can all be good reasons to create an animation as opposed to filming something live, but what can be insightful is the scope for refinement and freedom in animation that allows one to find the more truly, starkly real.
“Just as a hand-drawn medical illustration of a heart is often more succinct and clear in presenting information about a heart than is a photograph of one sitting in a patient’s chest, the ability to highlight some details while diminishing or eliminating others allows good animators to communicate more directly and possibly viscerally than filming actual actors on a set.”
Recommended addition to the aspiring animators’ shelf.
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By D Murali