Monday, December 15, 2008

Not Yet Huxley's "feelies"

"the feelies"

from Brave New World, chapter 11:

The house lights went down; fiery letters stood out solid and as though self-supported in the darkness. THREE WEEKS IN A HELICOPTER . AN ALL-SUPER-SINGING, SYNTHETIC-TALK1NG, COLOURED, STEREOSCOPIC FEELY. WITH SYNCHRONIZED SCENT-ORGAN ACCOMPANIMENT.
"Take hold of those metal knobs on the arms of your chair," whispered Lenina. "Otherwise you won't get any of the feely effects."
The Savage did as he was told.
Those fiery letters, meanwhile, had disappeared; there were ten seconds of complete darkness; then suddenly, dazzling and incomparably more solid-looking than they would have seemed in actual flesh and blood, far more real than reality, there stood the stereoscopic images, locked in one another's arms, of a gigantic negro and a golden-haired young brachycephalic Beta-Plus female.
The Savage started. That sensation on his lips! He lifted a hand to his mouth; the titillation ceased; let his hand fall back on the metal knob; it began again. The scent organ, meanwhile, breathed pure musk. Expiringly, a sound-track super-dove cooed "Oo-ooh"; and vibrating only thirty-two times a second, a deeper than African bass made answer: "Aa-aah." "Ooh-ah! Ooh-ah!" the stereoscopic lips came together again, and once more the facial erogenous zones of the six thousand spectators in the Alhambra tingled with almost intolerable galvanic pleasure. "Ooh …"
The plot of the film was extremely simple. A few minutes after the first Oohs and Aahs (a duet having been sung and a little love made on that famous bearskin, every hair of which–the Assistant Predestinator was perfectly right–could be separately and distinctly felt), the negro had a helicopter accident, fell on his head. Thump! what a twinge through the forehead! A chorus of ow's and aie's went up from the audience."

From the "Miranda 2.0" hypertext of Huxley's Brave New World.

Virtual Realities like Second Life have developed sophisticated visuals and a variety of audio effects from ambient background sounds to site-thematic music, but tactile and olfactory effects for VR have yet to be sufficiently developed for widespread use. Though SL and other VR programs do not have the level of sensory sophistication of "the feelies" described in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, neither are they designed for the same purpose.

The feelies are a multi-sensory, sensational and simple narrative meant as an entertaining distraction for the genetically designed, heavily conditioned consumer workforce that is strictly divided by caste, completely incurious and uncreative. Huxley opens the novel with a group of Alphas, the management caste, brainlessly copying everything they are told - and it never occurs to them to ask any questions.

Second Life particularly contrasts with
Brave New World and the feelies because SL not only offers a vast array of character and participatory choices, but it demands thoughtful creative participation of its viewer/users. So, if or when the tactile and olfactory features of Huxley's feelies become available to SL users, we'll at least be able to compose the story and its sensory input ourselves. Additionally avatar-educators, like Professor Ignatius Onomatopoea, are actively deploying Second Life in university classrooms with good results. As forecast by the 2008 Horizon Report by EDUCAUSE, such pedagogical uses of virtual worlds will be widespread on campuses within a few years.