________________ CM . . . . Volume I Number IV . . . . July 7, 1995

HI-TECH Culture

Omni Films, 1995. 52 minutes
Distributed by Moving Images Distribution,
606-402 West Pender St., Vancouver, BC, V6B 1T6. Voice/fax: (800) 684-3014

Grades 10 - 12 / Ages 15 - 17.
Review by Duncan Thornton


If you took my computer away, so that I had no access to being on-line, I'd have to hunt you down and kill you. I think the number one thing is meeting people. Being able to sit in your living room, no make-up, dressed horribly, not having to even go out, and be able to talk to anyone, anyone you want to, is just absolutely amazing.
It's hard to imagine that you can sit in front of a screen, and there may be no sound, all you're doing is reading, for three to six hours, or longer, a day, and how anyone could get any enjoyment out of that. It's totally different from reading a book; you're actually talking to people live . . .
-- Cheryl, a woman with over 100 close on-line friends

HI-TECH Culture is a quickly paced, magazine-style overview of the "Digital Revolution." (Depending on your point of view, the on-line CM you're reading is either a herald or a symptom of that revolution). The video moves quickly and appealingly through six aspects of the Digital Revolution that might be of special interest to young people, starting from the most familiar and leading through to the most exotic: Games; Education; Getting Wired; Law and Order; Virtual Reality; and Cybersex.

Along the way, HI-TECH Culture (which is also to become a weekly series on the Discovery Channel this fall) covers a lot of interesting ground, both high and low. The "Games" segment might seem redundant for a high-school audience, but it looks beyond electronic games themselves to how the industry has grown to rival Hollywood in both revenue and production values. We hear from makers of both hi-tech shoot-em-ups and of the dreamy and absorbing "MYST," and from two guys from JamBone Comics who are trying to claw their way into the big-leagues with a home-made baseball game.

In the "Education" segment we start with an image of a blackboard, and an explanation by Adam, our host, of how primitive it is: ". . . monochrome interface, one-to-many communication metaphor, and that horrible screeching sound. . . ." Industry leaders and students from the computer-intensive Virtual High, explain how computers can expand the learning process, though Brian Falconer, who takes kids out to sea to learn about nature first-hand, is on-hand to bring a contrary, low-tech viewpoint. Still, Falconer's concerns are pretty much lost in the shuffle, and HI-TECH Culture itself is such a resolutely "high-tech" sort of product (something like Fashion Television: fast cuts, graphics and clips overlaid and thrown at you, lots of sound-bites but no interviews, etc.), you know who's going to get the last word in any argument.

So in "Getting Wired" concerns about high-tech culture spawning a new underclass without the education or money to access the Internet are quickly answered by introducing the Vancouver FreeNet. And in "Law and Order," issues of high-tech policing and social control are debated by simply cross-cutting rapidly between boosters of crime-control kiosks (where video-clips of the recent Vancouver hockey riot are displayed so that offenders can be identified by the public), those worried about the social effects of the new law-enforcement technology, and clips of rioters. Again we end with the easy answer that the crime-kiosks are "no different than a wanted poster."

Actually, I think I agree, but I still wish that Adam, who pops up almost randomly in the corners of the screen, like some video-game sprite, was more like a real journalist -- that he actually interviewed people on either side, asked them hard questions and gave them time to develop their arguments.

The "Virtual Reality," segment looks at that technology from an artist's perspective. There's a sort of debate here too, of the "but-is-it art?" variety, but since even its proponents agree that the technology is still too primitive to really do what they want, it's moot. The really fascinating part is a Virtual Reality math exhibit where you put on the goggles and zoom along the surfaces of a möbius strip, or something like that. I don't know if it's art, and I don't know if it teaches topology, but it sure looks fun.

Saved for the end, of course, is "Cybersex," where theoretical talk about the nature of acquaintance, intimacy, and romance over the Internet is overshadowed by a sad story (told, for once, without too much haste). A young woman tells of forming a close friendship with a man over the 'net which gradually became (virtually) sexual. It was only then that she discovered he had a live-in girlfriend, and even after that, it wasn't until she sent him a picture of herself that the (virtually) adulterous affair came to an end. Apparently her real image didn't live up to his fantasies. A very human story from the high-tech frontier, and the video ends, appropriately: "The new digital media offer us fabulous opportunities to expand our realities . . . but as we've seen, they raise the same basic human questions we've been trying to answer for centuries: How do we teach our children? How do we form communities? What is love?"

At times HI-TECH Culture makes you desperate for a more sceptical, even Luddite viewpoint. For that you'll have to read Clifford Stoll's Silicon Snake Oil (using both together would be an excellent thing for a class considering media and cultural issues). But HI-TECH Culture delivers just what it promises: an entertaining overview of the digital revolution. And it serves as a useful introduction or discussion-starter for many of the issues raised by the change we're living through.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364