This book presented a lot of moments where I thought “Hmm… so this is why Kathleen chose this text for our class. Got it.” The reflections on interfaces and their effects were impossible to ignore. I found Jackdaw’s character to be especially interesting. His initial description constructs a familiar stereotype about “nerdy” tech folks, though especially tinged with pettiness: “He might have been attractive, except for the steady diet of Doritos and the inability to abide much direct human contact without flinching.”
Inn one of those “keyword” moments, Jackdaw’s inability to communicate with Adie is succinctly described: “Jackdaw struggled mightily to address the barrage. But he could not parse her. Their interface was makeshift, the cable between them noisy, and their throughput limited to the intermittent burst.” Powers goes on to say that Jackdaw isn’t “comfortable talking to living things. Living female things. Their firmware algorithm eluded him.” Aside from being somewhat comical (though slightly offensive?), I think Jackdaw’s relationship to Adie, living female things, or living things in general gets to a lot of the things we spoke about last week.
Chapter 16 gives us more of Jackdaw’s biography, and especially his first immersion into the world of technology through “Original Adventure” on his father’s Televideo 910 in 1977. He describes his father’s pushing him to use it as “an elaborate diversionary tactic to fool a boy into—of all things—reading.”
When I looked up “Original Adventure” I found this link: https://quuxplusone.github.io/Advent/
So I clicked it. The game started with the same narrative as in Plowing the Dark: “You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.” So naturally, I figured this was the same game and played it, trying to get a sense of what the original would have been like. To my surprise, what I initially perceived to be essentially a prehistoric game proved to be VERY DIFFICULT. The parameters on the actions you can command are strict! Commands can only be 1 or 2 words, and only the first five letters are looked at. It requires a lot of imagination to decide what to do, since the game says: “I know of places, actions, and things. Most of my vocabulary describes places and is used to move you there. To move, try words like forest, building, downstream, enter, east, west, north, south, up, or down.” I’m in a building, there’s a key, a lamp, some food and some water. Now what? What on earth am I supposed to do? Where is the danger? What is the goal? Where am I going?
While playing this game I felt like Jackdaw when he talks to Adie. The interface between myself and the game exists, but it is entirely “makeshift.” I cannot “parse” this game, nor do I have the patience to do so. The “algorithm” eludes me. In some ways, I am unable to “read” into what the game is asking me to do, even though I am technically reading the words appearing on the interface.
This made me think of the later section when Jackdaw talks about graphics and the way that they sadden him. That they throw “open portals all their own.” I especially connected with Jackdaw’s father’s line about TV killing off radio: “Hearing about creatures from the eighth dimension beat having to look at them.” Playing this game proved to me how reliant I am on graphics and visualization. I think our moment in culture privileges the visual above everything else, which in some way limits our imaginations. Like Jackdaw, I am saddened. It seems that everything I can conjure in my imagination is a poor recreation or forgery of images I have seen before, which I think speaks to many of my colleagues’ posts about the role of art and simulation. What happens when the image in my mind of any given topic or object is just a simulation of the graphics I have been inundated with on a daily basis since birth?
I think it would be really interesting for others to play the game and record their experiences/frustrations/limitations. How does our incapability of parsing this interface reveal the kind of culture we are living in, and furthermore, how is our relationship to the written word and reading affected by the images living in our head that we did not put there? Sorry for the long and rambling post, but this book generated a bunch of (admittedly, existential) questions for me.
One thought on “My imagination is not my own? (Help!)”
I didn’t even think that the game might be real, in a sense! But I just checked it out and I feel like I could waste a *lot* of time playing around with it. It’s fascinating that it’s the kind of game where you have to actually visualize or produce your own simulation, inside your brain, of the space you’re occupying. And it just occurred to me that the commands are in second person, just like in the Taimur and Room chapters of the book… and I can’t believe I didn’t make that connection until now. But it makes a lot more sense after playing the game… all Taimur’s actions are governed by the little space he’s in. He can only take a set number of actions, though he doesn’t always know exactly what those are. When they take his chain off, he’s able to explore, but he still doesn’t know quite what he’s seeing.