Popping in…

Hi everyone! I know it’s been such a long tine since I’ve posted in this blog – quite a few things have happened.

I’ve received my PhD qualification – a labour of love, fear and doubt! I’m so relieved that I was able to complete it. It’s definitely a marathon rather than a sprint, and if anything it tested my resolve and commitment to a long project.

Where I am now, though, is interesting. After 30 years, I know myself well enough to know my shortcomings and frustrations. My biggest gripe with myself is the inability to sit in one place for a long time – figuratively and literally. It’s another reason why I’m so proud that I managed to finish the PhD in the first place.

I write plays – and then poetry – and then games. I feel like I’m spreading myself thin in many precarious avenues – and of course, self doubt gets to me. I did my PhD in playwriting, right? Surely I should stay and write more plays, produce more, keep going on building up my theatre company. I think about it everyday. I haven’t done a single production this year – and it’s what people ask me about, which is of course understandable. It’s a financial issue and a creative one – but I really do want to get back into it.

Even with poetry, I’ve been on and off for this. I did one open mic this year as opposed to a lot more last year, including a one person show. There is a reason for this. I’ve mentioned on some of my social media about my mental health and how, since 14, has been a roller coaster of sorts. I was hit particularly hard the end of last year and into 2017 – it was hard for me to think clearly, to get out of bed, to get out of this numbness and guilt. What was strange about this year particularly was a feeling of disassociation – one time I left the house, I felt as though I couldn’t feel embodied or grounded in a physical space. It scared me so much, but doing daily yoga and meditation has really helped with that.

So I went back to coding, something I did when I was younger. This feeling of sense of self and embodiment fascinated me throughout my PhD research, which drew me to VR and then AR. Since then, I’ve been learning to code – creating my own novels with an interactive AR layer. It’s a marriage of physical and digital – which I’ve found so interesting and it’s really helped me to find some sort of direction.

I feel a little unbalanced, however. I want to find some way of marrying all of these elements together. I feel bad for neglecting Stars or Mars and increasingly, my poetry. I also remember wanting to create a new initiative called Bards to the Future: a collaboration between Futurists and Artists, which I feel I’ve failed to do anything with as well. I feel ideologically and financially (very much this) stretched – this with my mental health dips have left me with very little self efficacy, and with that, self esteem. To be honest, that’s why I haven’t performed or delivered a paper for a while. I just don’t want to revert to my past self, who was terrified of doing such things, and I don’t want to erase all the effort I put into being able to do this. I love doing it.

I feel as though I haven’t caught up with so many people that I’ve wanted to, which adds to the guilt.

So what do I do now? I’m still working on my games at http://www.criticallitgames.co.uk. Now, I want to try something that incorporates all of these things together. Theatre, Poetry, Novels, AR, Games. I had such an idea walking home last night – which I need to work on and draw a structure from this. An issue that I had with my plays (and theatre in general) is mobility. The physical live nature of theatre makes it fleeting – which makes it precious but also any energy generated from this interaction fades out very quickly. Can AR, gaming and live streaming be able to prolong the conversation of issues raised in theatre? Can the impact be stretched temporally and in terms of audience?

I’ll get back to you with that.

I just want to thank everyone for their support and willingness to listen. Much love x

 

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The Future from all angles

Science Fiction has always been about exploring mind bending concepts, big ideas, extrapolations into the future that makes us think about our present and so on. That’s not new. However, there is this tendency to think towards the nostalgic – torn between the hopes of furthering our progeny star-ward between the evils and privacy invasion that technology will provide here on Earth. It’s like a very odd tennis match going on as eyes ping-pong between what could be and what shouldn’t be. What used to be a constantly forward looking genre has been criticised for being a self-sustained system.

Articles like “The Widening Gyre” and “Science Fiction without the Future” have picked up on this, as well as many other sources. The Guardian article on SF titles for SF haters has racked up an impressive number of those advocating the Golden Age favourites – the Heinlein, the Clarke, the Asimov etc. and whilst these undoubtedly have their merits – what can we say about the case of Science Fiction today?

I tutor 11+ and have taught Science Fiction writing to GCSE age students this year. It’s interesting to see what they think of the genre – I brainstormed with each group in different schools about what they thought the genre was about and what it had to say. You can see the post that I wrote about the experience here.

The important message here is that they’re not scared of the information age. Why should they? They’ve grown up with it. What scares them is being disconnected from the link, an absence rather than presence of what we may see as the looming grid. It’s their confidante, their sounding board, their teacher – however dangerous it may seem to us.

From what I’ve seen from tutoring and researching digital natives for my copywriting job, this fear is only in our minds. Take the average 10/11 year old of today. She/he watches ads – company videos that the internet has told them specifically to watch in order to collect points or some form of imaginary currency. These help them to unlock something in a game or purchase something online that they normally would have to beg their parents to buy for them. In other words, it gives them a false sense of “agency”. When I heard this, I was rather shocked, but they seem to do this without batting an eyelid. They are absorbing this information and being “paid” for it. Even if they don’t remember what they’ve watched, it’ll be stored somewhere in their memory. I asked a girl if she was worried by what she was doing. She told me that it was just normal. Something everyone does.

Does anyone remember Neopets? I was a little too old when this came out, but I remember knowing that there were “job offices”. You would apply to watch ads or collect certain items for their Neopoints. It’s not a new concept as such but to think it’s seen as normal nowadays to do this – children waiting for ads to appear just so they can buy a hat for their character worries me a little. That’s just a drop in the ocean, of course, as to what the internet can really do.

Therefore, if we need to write scenarios that will appeal to the up and coming generation, we have to embrace the technology ourselves. See what it is that magnetically draws them to something we may see as horrific and invasive.

Cuckoos and Chrysalids, a play that I’m currently redrafting, is about a woman who has stored her children indefinitely in cyberspace, waiting for the “right time” to activate them. She feels that this space is safe enough to even go as far as preserving her bloodline and only falters when she tears herself away from the grid as she is criticised for exceeding her data limit. In a space where the rules are constantly being redrawn, it’s a debate between the older and newer generations – even though many of the characters use the technology themselves for other reasons. It all boils down to whether you can trust humanity to do the right thing.

I’m writing a short play about someone who, in a future riot, decides to forego the internet entirely, hiding in a looted house. Because of the false information fed to the public via these feeds, she decides to rely on her instincts entirely – ignoring the consequences.

Of course, writing about the fears of technology is something we can do quite readily. But what we may have to do, as writers, is to imagine ourselves in the mindset of our children or our younger generation if we wish to reach out to them.

Transhumanism – where no man has gone before?

The simple answer is no.

But, since I don’t want to leave it at that, because I announced that I would be writing this post a long time ago and got round to it now, it would be a dreadful anticlimax. The concept of Transhumanism has been around for some time now, otherwise known as H+,which allows for human enhancement of their own capabilities through technology. It could be for strength, health, communicative purposes amongst I imagine, quite a few others and subsections of these. What has brought it into the spotlight however, is not only how far these technological enhancements have come, but also its use in politics. In August this year, Italy saw its first Transhumanist MP Giuseppe Vattino. You can read his interview here about how he towards the mixed public reaction, his political stance and how he became interested in transhumanism.

But transhumanism is not all about bionic eyes and microchipped limbs. Aspects of hybridisation between man and “machine” or “tool”  is a rather old concept, and can even be seen to be traced back in documentation even to Adam and Eve’s desire to cover their modesty ( the use of clothing as a human enhancement). To say that transhumanism is merely a feature of an extrapolated, melodramatic future is somewhat myopic (without the use of corrective lenses – which is of course, another human enhancement!). Since the dawn of time, we have devised and used tools to enhance our modes of living of course; these tend to become more specialised as time goes on as environment and society perpetually evolve. These new modes – or as Donna Harraway puts them – informatics of domination, we start seeing a increasing shift towards technology and the use it has in our lives. It’s not just limited to the individual enhancement and trying to simply better yourself – Giuseppe mentions the use of nanotechnology to solve energy and environmental problems.

After the Olympics and Paralympics this year, we were given an amazing display of what humans are capable of, focusing on the can rather than can’t – which I also saw in the Superhuman collection at the Welcome Trust Collection (which I think ends next week? Don’t quote me on that). With displays from monocles and eye glasses to prosthetic limbs to contraception and even err… phallic replacements, the collection housed a timeline of contraptions/technology and how they have enhanced (or to take from Heidegger) or enframed our lives.

I was also fortunate to see the performance art – We are all a cyborg – featuring spoken word Richard Tyrone Jones on his operation to recover from heart failure with an implanted defibrillator to Sarah Ruff on the contraceptive implant. We also dressed up a manikin (I think its name was Gene at the end) with different tags to show where our enhancements are and/or enhancements in people we know.

I’m not that clued up on the whole of transhumanism but there are a lot of ideas that are coming more into play today than ever, and it’s something I’m interested in exploring. I will come back to it and write a follow up post as already I have a lot more to say but don’t want to ramble on this one post. Even from the issue with adding fluoride to the water in order for people to become less susceptible to tooth decay – who gets a say in who wants these enhancements, even if they are for the greater good, for example?