Monday, August 13, 2012

Negotiating alien terrain

I had to think of Ray Bradbury’s “The Day the Rain Stopped” when my vertigo came to a stop. In the story the kids don’t recognize their world once the noise stops. The silence overwhelms them. On June 9th my vertigo stopped for a moment. I was startled by the silence in my head and overwhelmed with joy until it revved up again. I wept after this incident because I had forgotten what it felt like to stand on solid ground.

I must have been thinking about Ray Bradbury because he recently died. I listened to an old interview with him on NPR and he talked about how he spent all his free time while growing up in the LAPL, where he read voraciously He emphasised that he read good books. That was his education. I thought wow just like me, I used to read a lot – but I only read horse stories. I should have read what Ray Bradbury read. I didn’t look into what he read, but I am revisiting texts in my head that resonate with me re: health and society on Mars.

It is impossible not to consider Kafka especially The Trial, Amerika, or the Metamorphosis. Because there will be stringent and extensive rules on mars, and no one will be privy to all of them. And they will drive people mad, as will the simple difficulty of the physical demands and limitations. And you won’t have to imagine that something is working against you. It most assuredly is.

I am rereading Freud’s essay on The Uncanny. It becomes relevant anew set on Mars. Because everything is uncanny on Mars: familiar yet strange. The same but completely different. Each new Marsian will carry her own ghosts as well as those of her ancestors and culture. These ghosts will visit their attendant hosts at will, further confusing familiar existence with alien.

In the past I’ve already attempted to read the chapter “Of the Refrain” by Deleuze and Guattari. It is in the section “One Thousand Plateaus” in their book of essays “On Schizophrenia and Capitalism”. I don’t really know what the book is about, nor the essay. But I revisit this essay again and again due to the intrigue and breadth in their examination of the human condition. They play around the question “What makes us human?” while focusing resolutely on how mammals signal to each other while they negotiate their social terrain.

These notions become profound when considered in the context of Mars colonization, just like some songs become profound when you consider their stories on Mars, because we realize all the things we take for granted every day. Signs and symbols will be everywhere on Mars of course as interface. But how will milieus form, reform and morph in a new world through signification, with the knowledge and tools of past interactions at their disposal? How will groups of people express their interests or limitations on the nature of interplay with other groups? How will interplay between various Mars colonies be negotiated? Though interdependent for survival, various stations will also be in competition with and mistrustful of others.

Marsians will be protected and covered against gamma rays, cold, dust storms, and other extreme physical conditions. Consider that mistakes and sabotage can be deadly in the Marsian environment, and infrastructure to negotiate developing crisis will be limited, hacked together, and vulnerable. How will individuals within or across groups mitigate crisis? Ideally a group cognition process would be utilised among marsian stations – a sharing of not only data and ideas but also tasks and problem solving. At the same time sensitive information and personal space will be protected through a complex of both automatic and discretionary or personal acts. These negotiations will take place on several platforms at once: wirelessly (local adhoc network), wirelessly (remote or offical comm system), and through face to face presentation. The latter may include surreptitious language exchange or formal outward codification through automatic or customised expressions. Imagine a Wondershell that emits moods or other real time info, changing as its wearer moves across the Mars landscape or inside the Station. Just as tartan plaids signified association with a group and a simultaneous warning, these visible patterns could mitigate human interaction, expressing or withholding information. The significance of this liquid skin could be changed at will, into: an avatar, a presentation screen, or a foil. It could act as an invitation, a repellent, or an open book. It must replace the function of: pheromones, street attire, casual meetings, and whispers.

This kind of expression will come naturally to those chosen to  attend Mars, as they will be screened/cultivated for both technical as well as expressive acuity. The latter will help them invent ways to address the communication, stress, and crisis situations as they occur.

Imagine an impromptu concert from printed musical instruments. Maybe these are the instruments the performers learned to play on earth. Maybe the instruments are automatically tweaked via autocad to better respond to conditions in the mars atmosphere. You could put together whatever you wanted, if you didn’t have a shortage of appropriate printing materials. Maybe these printed materials could be recycled. You couldn’t have a concert outside with a didgeridoo, a tuba, or a coronet, because there is no oxygen for human lungs. But outside you could play a piano, a guitar, a mandolin. How does string frequency change in low gravity, in a lighter atmosphere? Would the strings vibrate at a higher pitch? Would they sound forever?

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