Over the course of the semester, I had to retell a story using four different mediums: text, still image, sound, and video. I elected to work with Brian Aldiss' science fiction short story "Super-Toys Last All Summer Long." Text made with Scrivener/Google Docs; Images made with Photoshop CS 5.5; Audio made with GarageBand; Video shot on a Canon SX160 IS and edited with Adobe Premiere Pro CS 6. Spring 2014.
Because “Super Toys” carries motifs of reality and loneliness, I wanted to explore how the characters in the story interacted with these elements.
For David, “real” means that something is good (a definition provided by Teddy), but he cannot find the sort of connections in his life that would reassure him of his own reality. David’s preoccupation with his status in the world carries over through all of his interactions with Teddy. David attempts to prove that he is real by trying to forge a loving connection with his mother, but he never manages to get it quite right. Teddy proves unable to help, too—his tip of writing his letters in crayon is a shallow suggestion that fails to understand the real problem David is having. When David’s mother finds the unfinished letters, the crayon only makes her more upset because it reminds her how false their relationship is. The reader finds out at the end of the story that David is not human; whether or not he is “real” may be a source of debate.
To show David’s struggle with the real, I wrote a list of things he might call real because they bring him comfort. Teddy has been crossed off because David sometimes believes that Teddy competes with him for his mother’s affections. The alternating colors of the letters put into practice David’s style and add irony because the reader knows that, though David may act like a human child in all ways, he is playing at being one by imitating human experiences.
Part II of my text object is a memo written by David’s father regarding the trouble his wife Monica has had with David. Henry and the rest of the workers at Synthank seem to misunderstand the problem of human loneliness; and for all the concern they show about ending this crisis, their main concern will always be to sell their products. Because of this, Synthank focuses almost exclusively on human buyers. “Super Toys” includes an extreme amount of irony wherein David's "malfunctioning" is actually the most human thing about him—he has an existential crisis. However, this is inconvenient to his owners, so they discuss sending him back to the factory to fix it.
I wrote the memo to show how coldly Synthank views its synthetic life forms. The memo’s content and formatting contrasts that of David’s list to show how Synthank’s views of super-toys’ humanity/realness affect how David can perceive his own humanity/realness.
I imagined a magazine ad campaign for the fully synthetic serving man (and upcoming serving woman) that Synthank unveils in the middle of “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long.” Because the serving man and woman seem to be modeled on the same software as David and Teddy, I wanted to explore the problems still inherent in both the programming and the concept for these products. I made three ads with text I thought the campaign might use and three ads using dialogue from the story (from both Teddy and the serving man). The last ad gives the user a place to fill in the speech bubble to emphasize that these serving men and women are completely customizable for each person’s needs.
The gap between the projected dialogue for the serving man or woman and the actual dialogue from existing super-toys shows that first off, Synthank has not succeeded in making an actual lifelike artificial intelligence. Though they claim that the serving man and woman are meant to banish loneliness, the disconnect between their speech and human speech means that they do not have this capability. I used a headless model to represent them because of this; despite the technology involved in creating the serving man and serving woman, they still lack that which would make them humanesque. Synthank’s choice to limit their super-toys in order to make them better companions is ironically the thing that makes them less capable of providing true companionship.
“Super-Toys” mentions that the Swinton house is a mix of the real and the holographic, and the illusion is not merely visual. I wanted to create a soundscape for the two “Wholograms” mentioned in the story—a cityscape and a garden. Though there would doubtless be soundscapes that corresponded with the expected noises (breeze and birds in the gardens, voices and traffic in the city), I imagined that there might be a music option as well. Therefore, I created a piece of music for each place that can be played in a loop to give the inhabitant a more immersive experience. My choice to do music instead of natural sounds highlights the fact that the whole mirage is unnatural. I kept with this theme by using only the synthesizer options in GarageBand, rather than the options that imitate traditional instruments.
In “Super-Toys,” Monica seems to live the life of a 50s housewife whose rich husband keeps her well provided for. Her life seems dull, but she cannot escape it. I imagine that she would keep a diary to record her life, but in a futuristic form to match the setting. I created a week of entries using video and voiceover audio to show what her life might be like. I wanted to capture not only the ennui of her life, but also the ways in which she might feel trapped—in her marriage, by expectations of motherhood—in a life for which she cannot live up to the expectations.