Today I watched Looking Ahead to Today, a 2010 documentary about the making of World on a Wire, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1973 science fiction television serial, which is based on the 1964 novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye.
I was particularly interested by what Fritz Müller-Sherz, co-writer for World on a Wire, says about their tactics for depicting the near future:
We looked for futuristic architecture, one which went in a new direction, which was different and visually unusual. At that time, everything was topsy-turvy in Paris. Construction sites everywhere. Just what we needed. The housing developments were especially interesting, where the streets weren’t completely finished, and there were no front yards yet. It looked really futuristic. Like building blocks. We also found it in shopping malls, which were as yet unheard of in Germany. Everything was underground and available: boutiques, services, restaurants, snacks, drinks.
It reminded me of a talk I heard by K.K. Barrett, the production designer for the movie Her. Barrett had a different perspective on creating an image of the future. In Her, Barrett and director Spike Jonze were careful not to make the future look too ‘futuristic.’ Barrett made the point that people in the future aren’t simply going to throw out all their favorite mid-century furniture and replace it with white plastic. The future will contain a mix of old and new things. There will be technological advancements, but they don’t necessarily need to look technologically advanced. I also thought about the range of future worlds depicted in episodes of Black Mirror. The horror comes more from their familiarity than their strangeness.
Another vivid voice in the documentary was that of Moritz Eggert, appellation: Sci-Fi-Fan. Eggert describes the sense of wonder he felt watching World on a Wire on German television as a boy. He is particularly struck by the climactic final scene, in which Dr. Fred Stiller, the protagonist, has been transported from the simulated world where he has spent his entire life into the real world:
…[Stiller] wants to open the windows and finally see real life. I remember thinking as a child, “What now? That must be a crazy world and totally different.” But it’s not different at all. Suddenly there’s a view — What is this world? You see a dreary German city with a church steeple.
This illustrates one common contrast between real and virtual worlds in science fiction: the real world is boring and safe, so people create a more exciting and dangerous virtual world (e.g., Westworld). World on a Wire and Westworld also share a theme of simulated people striving to escape their simulation for the real world.
Young Eggert, however, saw something more in World on a Wire—the simulated world, with its designer furniture and chic interiors, looked more familiar to him than the dreary ‘real’ world depicted at the end of the show. He couldn’t help but wonder whether his world was also a simulated reality.
The Simulation Hypothesis still has influential proponents, including Tesla founder Elon Musk and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
I am interested in further exploration of the contrast between real and virtual worlds in science fictions. What are the characteristics of the real world? Why do they make people want to escape into VR? Or out of it? How does that square with popular VR games like Job Simulator, where people do boring jobs for fun?
Today I also skimmed another chunk of Bruce and Stephanie Tharp’s big book on Discursive Design. I particularly appreciated the caution against presenting others’ reality as your dystopia, and I want to learn more about Sputniko!, NSAF, Kolkman’s Outrespectre project, Neri Oxman, Calibre pens, Hidden Wealth nails, and what Lasting Void stools are made out of.
I’m also thinking about how confused my kids were by the radio when they were younger, the difference between haptics and ergonomics, and how the weight of something changes its meaning.