The Overview Effect

Quick read: Overview Effect – a phenomenon from space travel can have some great creative parallels in the arts. 

There’s a strange phenomenon that happens to astronauts when they see Earth from space. Most astronauts describe this as a cognitive shift in awareness, a state of mental clarity or a sense of deep connection.

This state called the “overview effect,” occurs when you are flung so far away from Earth that you become totally overwhelmed and awed by the fragility and unity of life on our planet. It’s the uncanny sense of understanding the ‘big picture’ and a humbling appreciation of our infinitesimalness in comparison – all at the same time.

Recently, two creative technologists have created an oddly mesmerizing website that provides something approximating the ‘Overview Effect’ for the rest of us.

Check it out at astronaut.io

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astronaut.io

Andrew Wong and James Thompson created an algorithm that picks YouTube videos fitting specific criteria: uploaded within the past week, with generic file names (IMG, MOV WMV) as titles, and zero views. And juxtaposed this seemingly endless stream of random videos against a view of our planet from low Earth orbit. (source)

The result is a fascinating glimpse at the mundane, perplexing, and oftentimes sweet events of everyday life juxtaposed against the monumental, mystical and often times sublime views of the planet earth.

The insight here could be about the possibilities that can be achieved w.r.t driving a shift in the viewers’ perspective when an object is made to interact with a meta object. E.g., what if a character in a story interacts with someone that typically exists in a dimension higher to that of the character, like the author? 

Let’s take two examples.

The Gunfighter

Think of an actor in a film as an object.

Now think of the narrator of this film. A narrator is conceptually meant to be at a degree higher in dimension or abstraction vs an actor in that film, in order for him to be able to narrate the story to us. Right?

But what if the actor in the film is made to interact with its narrator?

The result? See it for yourself here. The Gunfighter

Directed by Eric Kissack, The Gunfighter has won several awards across categories like best narrative, best short film, best comedy etc and was the official selection for various film festivals.

Old Mout Cider even commissioned him to shoot a film with the same narrative device for their ad. (see here)

The Museum’s Ghosts

This eponymous photography project by Andrés Wertheim is an experiment on similar lines.

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Photograph from The Museum’s Ghosts – Andrés Wertheim

The premise as stated by Andrés Wertheim is simple.

It is assumed that when people go to a museum, they carefully observe the paintings and sculptures and thoroughly read the explanatory panels.

But what if the characters portrayed in nearby paintings looked upon visitors while they aren’t paying attention, what unusual scenes would we find ?

Through double exposures made in camera, Andrés Wertheim merged in a single photoframe, both planes of the visible reality – the audience in a museum’s room and the portrayed characters on the same room’s walls – trying to create a dialogue between them.

The Museum’s Ghosts as a photography project, has also been featured in National Geographic for its creation of such surreal scenes that place art and its observers together in a new imagined dimension.

The bottomline

Whether it’s art walking off the walls to interact with the visitors of a museum, or the characters in a film being able to interact with its’ narrator, or a micro level human narrative getting juxtaposed against the macro level perspective of the planet earth, they all have one thing in common.

They are all examples of objects interacting with meta objects, compelling us to re-evaluate and reconsider our perspectives of the world within and around us – perhaps just like in the ‘Overview Effect’ as experienced by a space walker when looking back at our planet earth.

(Featured Image: Photos being shot from International Space station. Source)

TGFA

Quick Read: Some communities resort to fascinatingly extreme means to preserve and propagate their culture. Fortunately for the rest of us there is advertising.

On the outskirts of Pretoria, South Africa is an extremely closed community called Kleinfontein.

It is home to a small group of 1,200 Christian Afrikaners who embrace traditional Afrikaner culture and exclude all others from their settlement.  

They are so excluded from the larger population that at the entrance of the settlement is a gate monitored by security guards 24 hours per day who let in visitors only if they have an invitation.

NatGeo

(Pic Erica Canepa, source: Nat Geo)

No wonder then, when Erica Canepa – a freelance Italian photographer started researching the community she couldn’t find even a single photo of the place. Thus began her quest to get into the community that culminated in a brilliant NatGeo piece.

The big insight that dawns from her NatGeo picture story is that the Kleinfontein’s way of life is more about preserving their unique cultural identity than simply keeping others out. 

“I found it’s not about the race; everything is about the culture, and racism became a consequence of their desire to protect themselves and their culture.”

After all, isn’t this need to preserve our collective DNA (a.k.a culture) universally applicable?

Ask the ultra orthodox Rabbis if you are still in doubt. 

Recently as part of their long struggle to keep the modern media from corrupting their ultra orthodox Rabbi community also called the Haredi, their council gathered earlier this year to discuss a “great spiritual danger” a.k.a WhatsApp.

Why?

Because it turns out, it has become a popular method for their followers to form groups for exchanging gossip and even “immodest” images and video clips. (source)

Consequently, as the economist reports..

The ultra-Orthodox community’s purchasing power is such that Israeli mobile-phone providers agreed to market special “kosher connection” smartphones, without the offending apps and allowing only carefully regulated information services. To make sure the faithful use them, these devices have their own group of phone numbers and a distinctive ringtone.

Haredi Phone

(A Haredi man with a mobile phone. Pic Source)

Apparently, what do the younger Haredim that want to ignore the edict do?

Interestingly, as the report says, they buy two mobile devices: one for calls within the community, while tucked away in another pocket is a smart phone to keep up with the outside world.

The extent to which these younger Rabbis go to, to get what they want while still ostensibly trying to appear “kosher compliant” speaks (ironically) about their commitment to be part of the larger community moment to preserve and propagate their core cultural ideals and ideas.

Meanwhile elsewhere..

Did you know of this ongoing plot to liberate North Korea with smuggled episodes of Friends?

Not just Friends. In fact by the estimates of the group that has been meticulously executing this cross border “culture smuggling”, over 3,000 USB drives filled with foreign movies, music, and ebooks land into the North Korean territory annually.

Kang Chol-hwan, the founder of this group likens the USB sticks to the red pill from The Matrix: a mind-altering treatment that has the power to shatter a world of illusions.

north_korea_lead

(Kang Chol-hwan and the thumb drive guerrilla invasion. Pic Source)

Now that’s some real transformative power of cultural propagation.

Fortunately for the rest us there’s advertising to lend a helping hand. 

See any festive ad now – anything that you can think of.

And arguably it would be about this one single thing – preserving and propagating our culture, within communities and across generations.

This festive season, amidst all the fun and frolic, among family and friends as you exchange your warmest gifts and greetings why not reflect for a moment and ask yourself..

Would this festive occasion still hold the same special meaning to us with all its finer nuances and rich textures without this thing called ‘advertising’?  

Festive Greetings and Thank God For Advertising! 

(Featured image source)