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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Musing Pictures: H+ Episode 15

No, it's not a movie.  It's an episode of Brian Singer's web series on YouTube.  But I was struck by something here -- let's see if you see it, too.

Robert Altman is considered a pioneer of overlapping dialog, scenes in which several characters hold parallel conversations at the same time.  Altman made sure to put microphones on all of his characters, so when it came time to mix the audio, he could bring up a word here or a phrase there, and guide our listening.  We'd hear a cacophony of voices, but with Altman's help, we'd be able to tease out the bits of each conversation that were important.

Singer, in this episode of "H+", seems to be playing a similar game.  The conceit, of course, is that characters have computers implanted in their brains that allow them to communicate with each other, "digitally", in addition to their face-to-face interactions, as if they have Skype in their heads.

In this scene, I count at least three conversations, possibly four or five, two of which we are at least partially privy to.  There's the verbal conversation about the patient and her baby, and that's the obvious (and standard) conversation.  Then, there's the bearded guy on the right, who seems to be communicating via notes to someone else on the network.  The other bearded guy, clearly distracted, seems to be communicating with someone, too, and the patient is either communicating or observing something through her own implant.

What struck me here is that unlike Altman's scenes, where we need to listen to multiple conversations, but where we are guided to what we should pay attention to, here we have two modes of communication: verbal and written, and it appears that we need to pay attention to both.  We're not given one over the other, in the way Altman might mix certain words or phrases so they're clearer than the babble in the room.  It's confusing, but it's also very well-integrated in to the narrative itself:  The implants provide people with multiple, simultaneous layers of information, sometimes to the point of distraction.  And that, of course, is a stand-in for our experience of the internet, a vast source of all the information in the world, available to us all at once, but how could we possibly process it all?  Are we being overwhelmed by information?

What I don't know is whether or not the effect is intentional here, or is it yet another side-effect of the information age?

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