Emotion, Remediation, and Data
In our search to obtain the ‘real,’ we are often forced into a consideration of whether technology is ‘real.’ Is it an addendum to human experience, one that might enhance but cannot achieve its own claim to reality? Or is it, perhaps through emotional engagement, merely one part of human reality equal to other experiences?
Star Trek is one series that has addressed these issues admirably over its many iterations. Perhaps the most noticeable way it has done so comes from Star Trek: The Next Generation and its portrayal of the character Data, an android who is alternately depicted as either human-like or robotic. This vacillation can be understood through the dual logics of immediacy and hypermediacy, where each are deployed to lead the viewer into a new relationship with Data, and consequentially, into a new relationship with technology (and media) itself. In so doing, the creators simultaneously remediate and attempt to forge a statement about the way that human-like technologies fit into our subjective experiences.
- Hypermediacy and “Ode to Spot”
“Schisms” offers one in a long series of attempts by Data to enter the creative realm. Here, his exploration takes the form of a reading of his original poetry. This is also the first layer of remediation: poetry moves from its original written form to a spoken form to a spoken form read out by an android (and therefore computer-like) subject. The remediation then moves to one of TV viewpoint, as his recitation is intercut with scenes of other characters’ reactions. The viewer is not supposed to view the poem as the event; instead, the poem is the setting for the event, which is a hypermediated experience that functions as a commentary on the nature of creativity and human response to technology.
Ironically, it’s the removal from the actual poem that allows the viewer to enjoy it at all. As poems go, it’s dry, technical, and devoid of emotional range. To read it in a book would most likely not be affecting. The awareness that the poem is not enjoyable is created by the remediations: the well-framed looks of boredom from the others, the unemotional way in way in which the android reads the poem, our sense of removal by understanding that we are watching a TV show with fantastic elements. The ironic emotional experience evoked in viewers is that of enjoyment by their understanding that the poem is not enjoyable in a traditional sense: “digital hypermedia seek the real by multiplying mediation so as to create a feeling of fullness, a satiety of experience, which can be taken as reality” (53). Entering into this experience pushes viewers to consider for themselves the nature and role of creativity in machine-produced entertainments.
- Immediacy and “The Measure of a Man”
Hypermediacy, then, places Data at a remove from the viewer. At other times, immediacy is used to help us identify with Data as a real, emotional being. In “The Measure of a Man,” a cybernetics expert (Commander Maddox) comes aboard with orders that Data must report for dismantling for study and, hopefully, reproduction. Data refuses this course of action, as do the crew, leading to a trial in which his status as a sentient being must be either verified or rejected. The episode comes to its head as Captain Picard, acting as legal council for Data, gives his closing remarks at the trial. Here, instead of a hypermediated experience, the viewer is invited to enter into the logic of transparency, which sets up an emotional response that coincides with the ruling of the trial: that Data may not specifically be human, but he is a being who deserves to have his feelings considered and his destiny in his own hands.
The episode is able to accomplish this transparency through the use of the Hollywood style, “in which the point of view moves back and forth according to the narrative rhythm of the scene” (150). Viewers become part of the trial’s audience by alternatively ‘sitting’ in the watchers’, Picard’s, and Maddox’s seat. Almost nothing intervenes to break the illusion of transparency. Save for one brief swell, there is no background music. The perspective is that of sitting in the room. The camera moves slowly and unobtrusively. When these elements are combined, the effect is that of watching a film or play with the TV set as frame rather than proscenium. Certainly, this is a deliberate choice, as it invokes the sense of transparency with which viewers are already culturally familiar.
As this logic of immediacy draws viewers into the scene, they are able to make the emotional connection that the trial demands. It is also at this point that we see the cycle of remediation in action, which in this case is backwards. A computer system, of which Data is representative, is remediating TV, an older technology. In the first example, Data’s poetry reading, the remediation moves forward, as older technologies (written poems, TV) remediate computer systems.
The two examples, when considered in juxtaposition, show how “no medium, it seems, can now function independently and establish its own separate and purified space of cultural meaning” (55). The media cause the viewers to account for the ways in which they view technology, either as outside of reality or an integral part. Of course, Star Trek may not be successful with all viewers, but its rich legacy of raising technological issues ensures that each new iteration will continue its journey of remediation.
Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. MIT Press, 2000.