Earlier today I took part in a panel discussion at Watford Palace Theatre – where they serve illy coffee, I’m pleased to report – as part of the Ideal World season for which the theatre worked with CRASSH – the Cambridge Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. The theatre commissioned three plays on technology and its impact on human life and we were there to discuss some of the wider implications.
You can still catch the plays – Perfect Match, Override and Virgin.
I got there in time to watch the afternoon performance of Perfect Match, the plot of which hinges on the idea that an algorithm with full access to your entire social media profile could find your ‘perfect match’ and that this could be life-changing. I don’t want to review the play here but I will note that throughout the play there was no real questioning of the algorithm itself, perhaps making it more of a plot device than a fully-rounded examination of contemporary technology – an iGuffin, perhaps.
[an iGuffin, like a MacGuffin, is an object of power or desire used to propel a plot which in the end turns out to be either unimportant or simply an empty vessel. An iGuffin is a technology that serves as a MacGuffin]
Out of Body
As for the panel, the question posed was whether we are having ‘a collective out of body experience’ and we were asked to consider the role of the technologies as pulling us out of the moment and ask if it is important to live life increasingly in an embodied state.
Using the theatrical performance as the analogy, we ask if there needs to be co-presence to full engage with others, or in fact if it is possible to have social interactions with others in an increasingly disembodied way.
The organiser was Dr Kathleen Richardson and she asked specifically what we each felt the consequences are for these technologies/robots that seem to be pulling us out of the moment and locality and into the virtual world and encouraging us to have more interactions with machines.
These are my notes, which I suspect betray more about my views of those who believe that consciousness and the body can somehow be separated than the use of technology in theatre. I’ve tidied them up a little but as you read them you’ll get the right authorial tone of you imagine me coffee fuelled in an upstairs room behind a long table trying to be entertaining at 4pm on a wet Friday in Watford.