Will landscape experiences change by the influences of smartphones and on-site-extensive-information (OSEI)? Yes, probably just as radical as novels and travel guides have changed the perspective of the tourist/public gaze, since they first became popular. The educated public notices what it has been familiarised by and vice versa, becomes numb for those experiences that are not anticipated – unless causing sudden fright, pain or undeniable anxieties. For instance, the eighteenth century sublime only became a landscape experience, because influential people started to describe certain anxieties, as part of specific landscape phenomenon.
This excerpt that I will share with you in this springtime month, enables to anticipate situations that may become real within the next decades. Science fiction writers have been creating virtual landscape experiences, influenced by technological gadgets and protective super powers. Yet, they are increasingly challenged by a technological reality that is gaining speed faster than its own shadow. How original and innovative can science fiction writers be in a world that is imbued with proven technology? And how many technological innovations are secretively stored to be suddenly rolled out and, BANG, blow consumer’s experiential fuses? I myself, expect a lot to happen and have peeked at some innovations that allow energy to be transported without cables; or low voltage personal technological gear that is operational by mere embodied interaction. A landscape without cables, but full of nano technological polluted air streams, transporting not only terrabytes/second of information, but also kilojoules/second of empowerment.
In that future reality, people can still fall off a cliff and die. Or could they be rescued by a Bionet, as envisioned by writer Ryan Boudinot? BIONET? What is that? A medical network that can deliver diagnoses and remedy at distance – just switching on the pre-installed nano medicines in your body. Or imagine just a few levels more of bio-logging, now done by simple camera’s on your glasses; in the near future recording full phenomenological responses. This would enable to store experiences and memories on external cards. How would that change landscape experiences? Let’s read this excerpt, situated about a hundred years from now and see what happens.
PS: Notice how experiences become detached from the here and now and become bordering sensations, allowing multiple dimensions to exist.
In the style of a John Muir wilderness expedition, we meet one of main characters of the book: Skinner, a former mercenary for a future Boeing (sponsored) Army. He has been dragging his war baggage with him for nearly a century and decided to engage in a journey to his old – now abandoned – town and the house where he’d grown up.
from: ‘Blueprints of the Afterlife’, Ryan Boudinot, 2012, Black Cat, New York Book. A copy is in ownership by me since October 2013.
He climbed the steps and pushed open the door to his old bedroom. This time he found only a moldy place where, it appeared, pigeons had enjoyed some good times. Nothing furniture-wise but a dresser. The light-switch cover was shaped like baseball mitt. Peeling wallpaper. He stepped across creaky floorboards to touch some artefacts collected on the dresser. A baseball signed by a long forgotten minor leaguer, an empty DVD Amaray case. His hands gravitated to a smallish wooden box. He pulled back the lid. Well what do you know, it was still there. He’d forgotten about it: his first memory kit. Back then these things were only toys, the Apple console an ugly chunk of plastic. Skinner turned it over and found a card still interred in its slot, a dormant childhood memory. It seemed almost too tidy to him, that he should find a memory waiting for him here, that perhaps the hidden motivation for his journey to Bramble Falls was the retrieval of a pivotal, forgotten event. […]
Bramble Falls had delivered what he’d come for. He figured he could make it beyond the narrow ridge tonight and set up a camp in the woods. Only a few hours remained until sundown so he had to move. He pushed on out of town, up the switchbacks, through pines, the sun molten and rotten over the hills. He came to the narrow ridge and steadied himself with his walking stick, taking it slow. The emotional algorithm he’d been processing when he departed Seattle had lost some of its power over his thoughts. His own problems looked small, the cloning of his son more a curiosity than anything. Every few minutes his mind replayed the scene with the Vacunins [ed. a couple he met in the remnants of Bramble Falls] and he laughed again. It was while laughing that his walking stick slid out of his hand. Bending to retrieve it, his feet slipped on the pebbly trail and he found himself momentarily suspended in the air. This state didn’t last long. He fell hard on his face. Then, though it took him a second to understand this was happening. Skinner rolled and slit down the east side of the slope, his descent slowed a little by scrub pines that struggled to stay rooted in the grade. He swore, heard the gear jangling in his backpack, tasted blood on his lips, smelled dirt, and beheld the surfaces of the earth chopped up and displaced together, intercut with bursts of cloudless sky. Coming to rest in a dry gully fill of smooth stones, he lost consciousness for long enough that when he woke he was shivering in darkness. He struggled to get to his feet but the lower half of his body wouldn’t cooperate. He slapped his thighs and felt nothing.
‘This is some deep shit’, he said aloud. He managed to take off his backpack and unfold his thermal blanket, find his phone. No service. Next he found the first-aid kit and clicked the key fob Bionet transmitter. The little blue light took its time growing to full brightness. He turned his eyes to the night sky, hoping to spot one of those pinpricks of light moving in orbit. He pointed the device south to a section of the sky where he thought a Bionet satellite might hide out.
Within five minutes, the device spoke in a woman’s calm voice. ‘Welcome to the Bionet. What is your ailment?’
‘Paralyzed form the waist down’
‘What is your hoped-for resolution?’
‘I want to walk again,’ Skinner said.
The transmitter appeared to ruminate on this, modemy scatting sounds issuing from within its plastic shell. After a minute or so, it said, ‘We’re sorry. We cannot complete your request this time. Do you wish to report another ailment?’
More scratching, like there was a rodent in there working gears. After some time the device reported Skinner’s heart rate, blood pressure, endocrine levels, sperm count and a variety of other vitals. It all sounded miraculously within the range of normal, but then again this was an old model of transmitter and there things were known to be buggy. […]
A smattering of rain forced him under the thermal blanket where he shivered and clutched his belongings. After a coughing fit he consulted the transmitter again.
‘Bionet. What ails me?’
‘You’re getting a cold’, the transmitter responded.
‘Well, no shit’, Skinner said. ‘More painkillers, please. And give me something for these fucking hallucinations.’
‘Sorry, that’s kind of out of our area of expertise,’ the transmitter said. Did it sound sad? As the pharmacological haze suffused his body. Skinner dug though the backpack. The memory console. This would be his treat for getting out of this mess – indulging in some memories from his childhood: a happy trip to an amusement park, a birthday party, building a tree for with his dad. The beautiful tropes of a boyhood were hidden here, he hoped. […]
When night fell the Bionet transmitter died. Skinner smashed it against a rock and tossed the five broken pieces as far as his weak arm could. He added a few more sticks to the fire and ate a meagre ration of food, enough to keep his body awake. The rain picked up. He cradled the memory console against his chest, and, suspecting he was about to die, pressed ENGAGE.
The memory was so faint that at first it barely overlaid the physical world’s darkness and fire. Yet if Skinner squinted he could make out faded green grass in a yard, a stuffed bunny with one ear lying on a hardwood floor, a bowl of Cheerios. The memories were choppy, sputtering, not entirely visualized, struggling to connect to his consciousness through the ancient console. The software had a tendency to render memories in greater resolution in response to feelings of empathy and tenderness. He packed his belongings and prepared for a long hike. Wait, he hadn’t moved from this spot under the tree. The packing belonged to the first-person narrative loading before him. Someone else’s memories had gotten tangled with his own. Crap interface. The rememberer shaved in front of the bathroom mirror and said, ‘Memory console calibration. Remember this now.’ The memory card didn’t contain Skinner’s memories at all. These memories belonged to his father.
Skinner watched the courtship of his mother through his father’s eyes. A coffee shop, afternoon light through the windows, the sound of a burr grinder, this woman who would carry him knitting with red and yellow yarn and occasionally sipping from a cup of Earl Grey. The next memory was a moment or two after lovemaking, the stickiness of belly sweat and a house fly butting its head against a pane of glass like a frustrated nugget of static. Skinner watched his parents hiking through an alpine meadow, coming to a ridge overlooking a swath of western Washington, breathing hard. His dad brought a pair of binoculars to his eyes and swept them across the horizon, finding a distant city in flames.
Skinner watched his own head emerging form between his mother’s legs, felt with his father’s hands the warmth of his own seven-pound body, smelled a wet diaper, heard wails coming form the direction of the crib in the next room, then watched his infant self suckling from his mother as snow fell outside. He saw wisps of hair sprout from his head, turn into brown curls, say his own first steps, saw himself smack wood blocks together and stuff blueberries into his cheeks. Through his father’s memories he witnesses himself vomiting all over himself, eating a pancake, pushing a toy ambulance, feeling a dog a potato chip, pointing at squirrels, crying at a loud noise, tearing apart a magazine, falling asleep in the crook of an arm. He was snoring, crawling, babbling, laughing, drinking from a cup, using a crayon. Skinner watched his father’s hands smoothing, patting, clapping, buttoning the buttons on his clothes, wiping a tear, opening an envelope, manoeuvring a spoon into his mouth. As he grew older the memories sped up, a slideshow of skinned knees and sandwich bread, fishing tackle and wood grain. Running to catch a matinee. Learning how to change a tire. Chasing each other with a football. Blowing bubbles with bubble gum. Boyhood! He ached witnessing it again through the eyes of the man who’d loved him most. As the rain came down in an angry hiss, the broken soldier shivering alone at the bottom of the world mouthed the words, My son.