Utopia or dystopia? Corning’s viral video “A Day Made of Glass” envisions “a shift in the way we will communicate and use technology”
Ironically, just as I’m preparing to abandon Facebook within the next week or so, my horror author colleague Ted Grau has used FB to share one of the more fascinating items that I’ve encountered for quite some time. It’s a five-minute video titled “A Day Made of Glass,” and it represents Corning’s vision of a sleek future utopia where we’re all empowered by — and also surrounded by, hounded by, confronted with, and encased within — a super-high-tech “paradise” of glass fused with computer technology. The video’s production values are brilliant. Its conceptual design is astonishing. The implications are mind-blowing, although whether they seem wonderfully so or terrifyingly so depends on your starting assumptions and point of view.
No mere description will do it justice. Take five minutes and watch it for yourself:
There’s also a second installment that’s fully as amazing:
What’s more, Corning has capped it all off with “A Day Made of Glass 2: Unpacked” (11 minutes), in which a host/narrator/emcee expands on the second video by explicitly explaining its ideas and future likelihood:
Now, there’s all kind of commentary I could offer at this point. I could, for example, invoke Thoreau’s legendary (and still penetrating) observation that “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at.” I could point out that the very “coolness” of these videos, the feeling of “Wow! Cool! Amazing!” that they impart, is inextricably bound up with America’s, and now the world’s, historical infatuation with technological progress for its own sake, which is truly a deceptive and satanic (in the sense of Blake’s “dark satanic mills”) psychological tendency if ever there was one. I could point out that Corning’s ostensibly utopian vision is amazingly close in both tone and specifics to Spielberg’s cinematic interpretation of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report; see, especially, the four-minute mark in the first video, where the underlying and supervening consumerist ideal of this imagined future is made obvious. I could point out that if we unpack the metaphor of “a world of glass” in a way that Corning hasn’t intended, we’ll recognize that this type of world would be one that’s utterly transparent, and thus utterly devoid of privacy, reflectivity, interiority — that it would, in other words, mean the death of the subject, the self, the soul. Following this same line of thought, I could note that the antiseptic appearance of this sleek future calls to mind Ray Bradbury’s rage against the machine in stories like “Pillar of Fire,” where, in a future anti-utopian society of excessive light and “purity,” the government exhumes all of the buried dead in order to cremate them and thus obliterate all awareness and memory of death, organicity, the embodied reality of life as a fleshy, earthy phenomenon with a soulful underside.
I could talk about all of this and more. But instead I’ll just quote from the host’s words at the end of the third video:
Of course, this is not just a story about glass. It’s a story about a shift in the way we will communicate and use technology in the future. It’s a story about ubiquitous displays, open operating systems, shared applications, cloud media storage, and unlimited bandwidth. We know there are many obstacles to be overcome before what we we’ve just seen can become an attainable, reliable reality, but at Corning we believe in this vision, and we’re not waiting. Care to join us?
And I’ll respond with something I stumbled across recently that expresses my reaction both verbally and visually with more force and clarity than any extended commentary could do: