Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Dualing Demos

I wouldn't be earning my keep as a digital rhetorician, if I didn't say anything about two demos of new technologies that are getting lots of attention on YouTube in recent days.

One comes from the gigantic videogame expo E3 and shows what seems to be an amazing controller-free game experience being developed by Microsoft's Project Natal. Using movement tracking, facial recognition, and voice recognition technologies, players can interact with game characters and scenarios with much less instrumental mediation, although the Minority Report style interface may create a bizarre sense of phantom tangibility.

Of course, I'm always fascinated with how Microsoft and other corporate giants in computational media represent the domestic space of suburban whiteness and nuclear family dynamics and love to see these living room scenes inevitably parodied by Sarcastic Gamer on YouTube.

Peter Molyneux may have less stage presence than some high-tech spokespeople who speak to both large live audiences and a larger Internet public, but his argument for emotional connection between man and machine is a feature of many such talks. Of course, the Playstation 3 demo was all about the controller and exploited mixed reality situations more.

The other demo that everyone seems to be talking about is the demo for Google Wave, which relies much more on live performance than the canned videos that stage the Microsoft event. As someone who studies digital rhetoric, I certainly thought that it merited the hour-plus time that it took, since it showed the ultimate product representing what Siva Vaidhyanathan has called "the Googlization of Everything." I was also interested to see references to many of the social costs to civil society in the era of social network sites, as the spokespeople joked about "flame wars" and hurt feelings about feelings of social exclusion created by posting artifacts from leisure activities that were only shared initially by a select few.

Although the demo highlights possibilities for identity management, as users surf through Orkut, Twitter, documents, games, and maps, the integration of work and play creates many possibilities for rhetorical gaffes. Compositionists seem to be most interested in the software's contextual spell checker, and the fact that the company also promotes a "quote generator" for beginning essays.

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