“Demo or Die” the call of BANGARANG! in 1987
When I was reading “Demo or Die” this week by Stewart Brand I just kept thinking about Hook. If you don’t remember Hook I hope the gif is enough. If not, well I’ve got a picture coming… no worries. It seems ridiculous to have that pop up in my mind, or even some bastardization between Willy Wonka and older Peter Pan (one step at a time), but it completely fits.
The way Brand writes about the MIT Media Laboratory, and Nicholas Negroponte, is both parts wonder and technicality.
Out in the Wiesner Building’s sunny atrium, seven-foot-long com puter-controlled helium blimps are cruising the five-story space learning how to be like fish— feeding, schooling, seeking comfortable temperature habitats.
On the third floor, body tracking is in progress, a figure in ultra punk black leather and studs twirling in sensitive space. The studs are position indicators (infrared-light-emitting diodes) being sensed and translated by a computer into an animated figure on the room-size screen dancing in perfect echo to the human. The computer is paying attention and remembering: this is how humans move.
On the fourth floor a violinist strokes once more into a difficult piece, trying it with a slower tempo. The piano accompanist adapts perfectly, even when the violinist changes tempo again in the middle of the piece. The uncomplaining piano player is an exceptionally musical computer.
Peter Banning is, during the course of the movie, either all business or all imagination. In the end, he realizes that he has to have both.
At the beginning of this article, Brand is showing the wonder of the space. Some of these seem humorous now, but they are something to be admired all the same. It doesn’t go beyond the “look at all of this” in the first few paragraphs. It is begging the reader to imagine, to just imagine.
This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Brand goes into the funding issues and how confused all of this can make people.
“Boggle. Too much coming too fast to sort out. Too many named new things. Too much that needs explanation to even understand what it is, much less what it’s for or what’s remarkable about it.”
This is where Negroponte comes in. Brand called him an Amphibian, but clearly he meant Peter Banning/Pan. “Negroponte found it easy to mix with the chairmen, directors, and chief executive officers of major corporations and government research offices. Months on the road every year, he’s acquired a business sense of the world. At the university he’s an exotic with the moves of a jet-set executive and a businessman’s get-on-with-it rigor. But in corporate boardrooms and on trade organization stages he’s the prestigious professor, representing the lofty intellectual perspective and long view of the university. Negroponte is an [Peter Banning], comfortable in both worlds” (6, my addition).
There is also the issue of doing too much at once, something Brand calls the dark side of demoing, starting with sensory overload. I can only imagine it would be like that scene in Hook, before Peter is hip to everything, when they’re all eating food and GOD he can smell it (and it smells great) but he can’t see it. That’s how I imagine this sensory overload, because they may be seeing this stuff, but they aren’t, not really. Because they don’t know what it means. Its meaning is still with those people who imagined it up.
It’s necessary to have that person who can go between both lines and do both things if the worlds are going to meet, and that’s Negroponte for Brand.
I just want to see the food too.
Brand, Stewart. “Demo or Die.” The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M.I.T. New York: Viking Penguin Inc, 1987. Web.