Wednesday, 5 December 2007

A Deeper Understanding

I don’t know about you, but these days I seem to be permanently connected to a computer, whether it be at work, tapping away for hours on end or at home writing this blog or exchanging emails with friends. It is an environment that just seems to have crept up on me and to not have a computer humming away within earshot would now seem untypical. But it certainly wasn’t the case back in 1989 when Kate Bush wrote ‘Deeper Understanding’, a song that ended up on the album, ‘The Sensual World’.

Listening to it recently, the song shows itself to be surprisingly prophetic now. It tells of a lonely person whose computer takes on its own personality after having been loaded with a ‘voice console’ and becomes a friend – a sort of updated version of ‘Sparky’s Magic Piano’ (this will date you, ‘Sparky’ was originally recorded in 1947!)

Looking through the lyrics, it all becomes a bit unsettling. For example:
‘As the people here grow colder
I turn to my computer
And spend my evenings with it
Like a friend.’
Oh dear! Does she mean me?

Of course, after a brief and passionate affair, it all ends in insanity:
‘I did not eat, I did not sleep,
The intensity increasing,
'Til my family found me and intervened.’

The clever part in the writing is that when the computer ‘speaks’ it is with a beguilingly beautiful melody, backed by the Bulgarian vocal ensemble, Trio Bulgarka, whose control over those slightly grey areas between semi-tones is breathtaking, giving the ‘speech’ an aura of otherworldliness, especially to traditional western ears.

In a wider sense, it seems to me that Kate, intentionally or otherwise, hit obliquely upon a growing phenomenon – that of the virtual community. Today, with the aid of a computer and the Internet anyone can have a global community of ‘friends’ without ever meeting any of them. In the good old days such people were called pen pals but frankly, waiting 6 weeks for a reply from Outer Mongolia doesn’t really compare with the instant response available from email.

With networking sites like MySpace springing up all over the place, a lifestyle based on virtual friends is looking increasingly like a sustainable choice. A sci-fi future of isolated humans, working at home, never leaving their room and communicating only via cyberspace beckons and it’s not that far away!

I suppose the danger that ‘Deeper Understanding’ warns of is that the computer itself becomes the perceived ‘friend’ rather than the people, but we’re all well-adjusted hackers here, aren’t we?

Aren’t we?


Time said...

For an even earlier example (amongst others) of cyber-isolation try Isaac Asimov's "The Naked Sun" - 1957 [originally 1956].

musicobsessive said..., real science fiction on a music blog. I've just checked the link and see what you mean. I feel much better now knowing it's all a known state and I don't need to worry...sort of.