Tuesday, April 9, 2013


The small black fish swam along the glass enclosure of the small aquarium. It was difficult to see the details, but it looked like one of those Oriental varieties with frilled fins that fan out magnificently in florid flourishes that hover around the body as an aura, not unlike the northern lights in monochrome miniature: the aquatic aurora borealis. This dark fluttering was suspended between a few vertical, waving bands of green rooted into a layer of smooth round pebbles that provided a speckled fawn base to the bubbling scene. Above, the purple plastic cover concealed a lamp that illuminated the whole tank with a pure white light. One could spend hours looking at this installation, such was its natural intrigue; but it was being ignored. The show was almost an irrelevance.

Ironically, the core of attention was a similar image on the Nexus tablet being manipulated by skilful young hands that flicked fingers and thumbs in a remarkable show of eye-hand co-ordination as a three-dimensional image of a shark was manoeuvred into a repeated attacking position so as to eat whatever appeared on the screen. The challenge was to maximise points that were differently allocated for various fish of assorted sizes and colours. Alarmingly, people were a part of this gory entertainment too - swimmers and boatmen. A mystery chest was located in the subterranean labyrinth. It gave an appropriate reward when discovered. To facilitate the search for this treasure, the screen image could be cleverly changed to illustrate a plan view of the underwater caverns that one had to navigate in three-dimensions.

It was an interesting test. One could say that it was ‘educational’ in an approving way even while holding concerns about the social impact of computer games in general, and this gruesome delight in particular. The points that were accumulated by the successful manoeuvres could be used to ‘purchase’ various add-ons, like a hat or a bow tie for your shark. Don’t ask why! Other sharks with different capacities could also be acquired if one had been involved with this amusement long enough to collect the required quantity of currency. The preferred much-feared White Pointer was the ‘most expensive’ purchase.

As the fingers flashed and fish disappeared into the gorging shark, one could only be amazed at what one was seeing: all of this activity in such fine and precise delineation on such a small tablet! The pale transparent blue of the ocean illustrated depth as well as the field for the beautiful lines of the shark to dance around in, and leap out of to catch people - the swimmers and the boatmen. One could see hazed opportunities in the background as clearly as the much-desired golden fish or the unsuspecting person in the foreground. Scoff down this life and there were bonuses. Sometimes everything turned to gold - the bonanza. More points! What a delight! What satisfaction!

In spite of the master of the sea grabbing everything in its sights - that is the shark as manipulated by you - one did have to be wary of men with spears and of the circumstance where the shark might go hungry and starve, or be stung by jellyfish. A green shark would indicate a sting, a red one death - the fatal blow: start again. The colour coding was as simple as that used in traffic lights. It was a nice-looking computer game; one might say ‘sophisticated’ in its appearance and process, seamlessly real and appropriately fluid and fast in its programming, embodying a complexity that enthused and absorbed. The game demanded an intensity that kept one busy, occupied, and distracted; and it was addictive. Who could ask for more than this indulgence if the aim was to be totally engaged?

The strangely sad, surreal situation was that the imagined world held more fascination than the real one nearby. The gentle dance of the beautiful black fish in the tank had no chance with the easy availability of the potency of this brutal sea game on the Nexus. The amusement made nature look mundane. Reality was dulled by the excited hyperactivity of the adrenalin rush. The possibility of the perception of wonder in a hushed stillness while listening to its searching questions was erased in this assertive commotion. The difference between a fish-and-man-eating shark under your control, and a quiet, finely frilled fish floating, living, in a clear void between glass and weeds was stark. What else could this fish do? It seemed like a living fossil in comparison with the tablet pastime; and it had to be fed and cleaned too. The situation begged the question: Are computer games changing our perceptions? Do they present such a real and convincing identity so immediately accessible by our sundry whims that they make any understanding and awareness of that mystery of difference and distance between others and ourselves in our world, in nature, an irrelevance, revealing only an uninteresting hollowness that is seen as ‘just boring’?

Martin Buber touched on this presence in his book I and Thou. He spoke of this wonder, this unknown that lies between the other and us: a void of meaning and quiet richness suspended in our ability to respond, to reciprocate. The concern is that the easy availability of games diminishes the meaning of the ‘other’ that is excluded - fish and person. These indulgences make one the unquestionable master of all, sovereign, able to put everything and anything aside at any time, or to choose to engage with them likewise, willy-nilly, to one’s complete satisfaction. Do these ‘games’ dehumanise us, blind us to any presence? Do they make mass killings an easy abstraction, where the other is seen merely as a moving 3-D image to be claimed for points and bonuses, a personal benefit? These amusements offer rewards for the strangest of behaviours without ever suggesting a moral code might demand other actions and different responses, even ‘irrational’ forgiveness. ‘I am’ is taken literally to mean ME.

That the small dark living marine specimen swimming alone in its chasm of light could be made to appear so irrelevant and uninteresting is alarming. What hope is there for our environment? This species and many others share our world with us; they participate in our living, our being, enduring the same fate. They require our care and concern, as do other people too: at least our awareness, our recognition of being, being there. Is our youth, are we, becoming corrupted - well, changed? Are we being taught to ignore others, to entertain and care only for ourselves to guarantee perpetual personal pleasure? Are we failing in our ability to empathise by devaluing sympathetic understanding with intense, distracting involvements that reinforce everything different, differently?

What is this doing to architecture? Are we building for ourselves rather than anyone else? What is this doing to others? Once buildings could ‘speak,’ reach out; they could change our experience and understanding of the world. They echoed a vision, a belief, an understanding. What now? Is this something that we have to recognise in order to see it, to ‘hear’ it, to feel it, even to understand its exodus, its disappearance? What are all of these marvellous technological distractions doing to architects? The abstraction of theory might seem esoteric at times but it does allow us to consider more of how we are doing things and what we are doing both to others and our built environment. It seems to me that the hush of humility has been forgotten in this raucous rush: see

“This is the eternal origin of art that a human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him. Not a figment of his soul but something that appears to the soul and demands the soul's creative power. What is required is a deed that a man does with his whole being.” Martin Buber

Here are some other words taken from Martin Buber’s I and Thou that need considering in this context:

“Man wishes to be confirmed in his being by man, and wishes to have a presence in the being of the other….

Secretly and bashfully he watches for a YES which allows him to be and which can come to him only from one human person to another.”

“Love is responsibility of an I for a You: in this consists what cannot consist in any feeling - the equality of all lovers..”

“Inscrutably involved, we live in the currents of universal reciprocity.”

“Feelings dwell in man; but man dwells in his love. That is no metaphor, but the actual truth. Love does not cling to the I in such a way as to have the Thou only for its " content," its object; but love is between I and Thou. The man who does not know this, with his very being know this, does not know love; even though he ascribes to it the feelings he lives through, experiences, enjoys, and expresses.”

“No purpose intervenes between I and You, no greed and no anticipation; and longing itself is changed as it plunges from the dream into appearance. Every means is an obstacle. Only where all means have disintegrated encounters occur.”

“Dialogic is not to be identified with love. But love without dialogic, without real outgoing to the other, reaching to the other, the love remaining with itself - this is called Lucifer.”

“Feelings dwell in man; but man dwells in his love. That is no metaphor, but the actual truth. Love does not cling to the I in such a way as to have the Thou only for its " content," its object; but love is between I and Thou. The man who does not know this, with his very being know this, does not know love; even though he ascribes to it the feelings he lives through, experiences, enjoys, and expresses.”

We need to consider the question:

What happens when reciprocity becomes an interiorised, self-centred activity?

See also http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/angry-birds.htm


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