Did Ray Bradbury Invent AT&T’s Digital Life?

Photo: CNN

Turn down the thermostat from your office. Lock the back door from the other side of town. Watch live video of your pets from your phone. These are but some of the features that AT&T’s Digital Life offers. The company’s new service (slated to launch this year) aims to equip homeowners with a platform to monitor their homes via smart phones, tablets, and PC’s. These are some of the wirelessly enabled devices that come with the service:

  • Cameras
  • Window/door sensors
  • Smoke, carbon monoxide, motion and glass break sensors
  • Door locks
  • Thermostats
  • Moisture detection and water shut-off
  • Appliance and lighting controls
Just imagine–you can have a house that practically takes care of itself while you’re away. Water leak? Digital Life will shut off the main water source if one is detected.  Cracked window? Digital Life will alert you in case of a potential burglary or robbery. This all sounds like cutting edge stuff, but it also sounds eerily familiar if you’ve read Ray Bradbury’s work.

In 1950, Bradbury published a short story called ‘There Will Come Soft Rains,’ borrowing the title from a poem by Sara Teasdale. The story is about an automated house that continues to function despite its owners’ untimely death from nuclear warfare. All the appliances in the house continue to run as if the house’s tenants were still there to receive its services.

“Until this day, how well the house had kept its peace. How carefully it had inquired, “Who goes there? What’s the password?” and, getting no answer from lonely foxes and whining cats, it had shut up its windows and drawn shades in an old-maidenly preoccupation with self—protection which bordered on mechanical paranoia…The house was an altar with ten thousand attendants, big, small, servicing attending, in choirs. But the gods had gone away, and the ritual of the religion continued senselessly, uselessly.”

This dystopian projection of the future raises an important point. While it may seem that we are slaves to our devices, our technology only exists because it serves a purpose to us. Without our tech, where would we be? Similarly, without us, where would it be? This Socratic discourse leaves us with more questions than answers. Then again, perhaps that’s a good thing as we shift paradigms with the adoption of Digital Life and services like it.

Video animation of “There Will Come Soft Rains”

Digital Comics: Thinking Outside of the Box(es)

This wildly interactive, visually striking comic about how Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter game (while high on LSD) is proof of digital storytelling’s radical change. With many platforms to choose from (tablets, mobile, print, desktops, laptops, etc.) in order to ingest our media, the demand for design is increasing.

Interactive formats for long form reads, magazines, and newspapers are becoming more ubiquitous. For instance, Pup Contemplates the Heat Death of the Universe was one of the first of its kind in challenging traditional panel formats for comics. Even the 2012 U.S. election was captured in graphic novel form.

Here’s Scott McCloud’s inspiring TEDTalk about the future of digital comics and storytelling:

“Media provides us with a window back into the world that we live in, and when media evolve so that the identity of the media becomes increasingly unique […] you provide people with multiple ways of re-entering the world.”

Stories no longer have to be static words on a page. New digital storytelling formats bring content alive, stimulating the senses and inviting readers into the story itself.

The Kendall Band

“Shake the handle back and forth slowly to sound the bells.”

One of my favorite things about Boston is the Kendall Band, a musical sculpture at the Kendall/MIT stop. The audiophile in me can’t resist. The musical sculpture is composed (no pun intended) of three different musical “instruments” that inquisitive commuters can play. The chimes, named Pythagoras after the mathematician (it is the Kendall/MIT station, after all), are my favorite.

On either side of the T stop are handles that you can swing back and forth to rock the hammers against the chimes. When they sound, a lilting B minor chord reverberates through the station.

“Although the detailed mathematical analysis of motions is quite complex, most visitors quickly and intuitively figure out how to operate the sculpture without any written instructions.”

What I love most about this sculpture is that it invites the curious to interact with it, luring eyes previously glued on backlit screens back toward the physical world. The secret of the chimes is left to the discovery process, and the consequent chord elicits an ambience that starkly contrasts the litany of a typical commute. It triggers almost all the senses–something that you can see, feel, hear, experience, and immediately share with others. When approaching curiosity in this case, don’t knock. Ring the bell.

Other neat public, kinetic art sculptures include the Singing Tree in Lancashire, UK and Sway’d in Salt Lake City, UT.

Hello, Curious World.

Well, hello. Nice to meet you! [firm but gentle handshake] My name is Lily, and I’m a public media junkie interested in transmedia storytelling.

This particular intersection is where my brain likes to hang out:

To me, the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of knowledge are one in the same, so it’s safe to say that I’m interested in, well, a little bit of everything. I created this blog in order to re-post and write about stuff that tickles my fancy.  And I’m quite ticklish.

Twitter: @dangerbui & @CuriosityCult