Thursday, May 31, 2007

Visible Men

Two interesting stories from the world of technology.

The Boston Globe tells of a local malpractice case which was blown wide open, Law & Order style:

As Ivy League-educated pediatrician Robert P. Lindeman sat on the stand in Suffolk Superior Court this month, defending himself in a malpractice suit involving the death of a 12-year-old patient, the opposing counsel startled him with a question.

Was Lindeman Flea?

Flea, jurors in the case didn't know, was the screen name for a blogger who had written often and at length about a trial remarkably similar to the one that was going on in the courtroom that day.

In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff's case and the plaintiff's lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing.

With the jury looking on in puzzlement, Lindeman admitted that he was, in fact, Flea.

On the other hand, we have a story from Wired about Rutgers professor Hasan Elahi. who, After being listed on the terrorist watch list, decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. He opened up a website from which you can track all of his movements, purchases, etc. In other words, he has made himself totally visible to anybody who wants to see him:

"I've discovered that the best way to protect your privacy is to give it away," he says, grinning as he sips his venti Black Eye. Elahi relishes upending the received wisdom about surveillance. The government monitors your movements, but it gets things wrong. You can monitor yourself much more accurately. Plus, no ambitious agent is going to score a big intelligence triumph by snooping into your movements when there's a Web page broadcasting the Big Mac you ate four minutes ago in Boise, Idaho. "It's economics," he says. "I flood the market."

His website gives you a google map along with a scrolling of his latest photo from his location. As a commenter on the Wired story cleverly points out, the photos never really show him in them, but I think that is a minor point.

Can we gain a lasting impression if we follow a life while it is lived? Boswell's Interactive Life of Johnson? We already have a fairly good impression of Mr. Pepys, but imagine if we could get gps on him?

The problem with the tedium of constantly watching daily life is that it tends to aggrandize even the most insignificant changes. Though this isn't so different from regular life itself, is it?

Dramatic writing has always been about the compression of the most important moments in a life, a civilization, etc. Sometimes they are decisions and turning points which we may never face, but we can nevertheless extrapolate from similar or even smaller decisions or experiences we have had.

The "live" or more appropriately "authentic" experience theatre allows is for us to experience these moments with another live being, the performer or actor, who is, for the most part, extrapolating as well.

From Terry Teachout's post on death and the film The Bridge, (in which we see people actually jumping off the Golden Gate,) we get the following:

Watching The Bridge, of course, reminds us in the most vivid way possible that there are two kinds of people who kill themselves, those who do it quickly and without fuss and those who agonize at length before plunging into the darkness, thus making them easier to stop. All of which tells us what the wise man already knows, which is that statistics are ever and always to be juggled with the utmost caution. Behind every death is a story, and in stories, as Flannery O'Connor reminds us, we find the only truths worth knowing:

"There is a certain embarrassment about being a storyteller in these times when stories are considered not quite as satisfying as statements and statements not quite as satisfying as statistics; but in the long run, a people is known, not by its statements or its statistics, but by the stories it tells."

Alas, no one can tell us the end of our own story. We must live it, and once we have done so, we can no longer pass it on to anyone else. Even art, which tells us so many valuable things, sheds no light on that climactic puzzle,

Flannery O'Connor is right, but there is a depressing side to this. Now we have to be hyper-aware.

On my desk right now is a DVD of short film which came wrapped in the plastic of this month's Wired Magazine. The film is called Eureka and the tag line is: "The Best Ideas Come From the Most Unlikely Places." And it also includes the following statement: "A Story Inspired by Real Events."

Here is the synopsis from the back of the DVD casing:

Chief Shell engineer Jaap Van Ballgooijen is passionate about saving the world's energy resoucres. Whilst under stress working the South East Asia oil fields, he struggles to solve the problem of leaving "undrillable" oil behind.

Under increasing pressure from a local reporter, Jaap, returns to his teenage son in Amsterdam who ultimately shows that, even with the biggest problems, inspiration can come from the most unlikely places.

This film, including DVD features like "The Making Of", was produced by Shell Oil.

What will be the "stories" when corporations are writing them?

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