What is a hologram?
Dictionaries say one thing, but popular discourse says much more. From its birth as a collage of post-WWII optical sciences through the 1970s, holography was an evolving but fairly easily defined practice. Its products were called holograms — photo-like film images that delivered a more three-dimensional view of the subject.
Then "Star Wars" happened.
And write the obit when you do
He never ran out when the spirits were low
A nice guy as minor celebrities go
— Scott Miller, “Together Now, Very Minor”
I’ve been rightly accused of liking Beatlesque bands better than the actual Beatles. True, give me Big Star over the Fab Four any day. But given how rarely either band actually figures into my everyday universe, my dispositions are even one more generation removed. Truer, give me Scott Miller over Alex Chilton any other day.
When researching and writing about (or designing and producing) hologram simulations, there’s always an initial coming-to-terms with the terms.
When I analyzed the discourses of simulation designers, nearly all of them made some attempt to square and/or pare the language of their field. Designers and artists usually opened interviews with this, eager to make sure I understood that while we call these things “holograms” they’re not actual holography. “The words ‘hologram’ and ‘3D,’ like the word ‘love,’ are some of the most abused words in the industry,” one commercial developer told me. Michel Lemieux at Canada’s 4D Art echoed a common refrain: “A lot of people call it holography. At the beginning, 20 years ago, I was kind of always saying, ‘No, no, it’s not holography.’ And then I said to myself, ‘You know, if you want to call it holography, there’s no problem.’” In my own talks and presentations, I’ve let go of the constant scare-quotes. The Tupac “hologram” has graduated to just being a hologram.
It gets stickier when we begin parsing the myriad and important differences between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Many of us think we have an understanding of both, largely as a result of exposure to special effects in movies and TV — where the concept of a hologram underwent its most radical evolution, from a mere technologically produced semi-static 3D image to a computer-projected, real-time, fully embodied and interactive communication medium — but it’s AR people usually grasp more than VR. They’ll say “virtual reality,” but they’ll describe Princess Leia’s message, the haptic digital displays in “Minority Report,” or the digital doctor on “Star Trek: Voyager.” Neither of these are VR, in which the user dons cumbersome gear to transport her presence into a world inside a machine (think William Gibson’s cyberspace or jacking into “The Matrix”); they are AR, which overlays digital information onto existing physical space.
Yet both VR and AR refer to technologies requiring the user to user some sort of eyewear — the physical reality-blinding goggles of OculusRift (VR) or the physical reality-enhancing eye-shield of HoloLens (AR). Volumetric holograms — fully three-dimensional, projected digital imagery occupying real space — remain a “Holy Grail” (see Poon 2006, xiii) in tech development, and we may need a new term with which to label that experience. One developer just coined one.
Black lives matter, yes. But what about black holograms?
The criminalization of black bodies apparently extends to their digital form, as well. This important lesson came to us via Chicago rapper Chief Keef, who a couple of weeks ago attempted to perform in concert as a hologram simulation; his digital body, however, was powered down and prevented from performing in the same manner as his physical body. It’s a weird case of police overreach and an interesting example of how culture is still trying to get its collective head around the meanings of hologram simulations.
I just returned from Denver, where my best friend David and I saw Morrissey in concert at Red Rocks. I’d intended merely to wax nostalgic about this — we’d seen him on his first solo tour in ’91, also in Denver, and I’ve much to say about how rewarding it’s been to grow old with Moz — but something he did at the end of his show makes for a poignant follow-up to my previous ramblings about the evolution of protest music performance.
This week marks the 30th anniversary of Live Aid. Memory flashes I’m still able to conjure from my aging brain: Paul Young’s flouncy pirate cuffs, the poetic irony of Geldof’s mic failing during his own set, Elvis Costello’s classy choice of "an old northern English folk song," the Pretenders’ playing surprisingly laid-back, of course U2’s career-making set and Queen’s delivery of the world’s quintessential arena-rock performance. Political opinions aside, it was an unequaled day of, let’s say, musical performativity.
The DVD set of the concerts bears a postmark-like stamp that reads, “July 13, 1985: The day the music changed the world.” Thirty years have allowed for much evaluation of nearly all the changes wrought (not all for the better; read this excellent piece about Live Aid’s “corrosive legacy”). What it did change — drawing from research I conducted a few years ago into protest music (or the lack thereof) at Occupy Wall Street events — was the common conception of popular musical protest practice, resituating it from the open street to the ticketed arena, as well as the establishment of celebrity at the very core of such practices.
The film “2010” — the 1984 sequel to the vaunted “2001” adaptation from ’68 — opens with its protagonist facing a huge decision: whether or not to embark on a long mission fraught with danger while prone to both failure and a threat to his marriage. He soon wakes up far from home in a bewildering technical environment among a cohort that speaks a different language. They struggle to collaborate on their first project, a research mission in which they find something unexpected, some groundbreaking new knowledge. Then their computer crashes and erases all the new data.
I see it now. It’s a movie about grad school.
Saul Bellow was born a hundred years ago today, and people of letters have been spilling a lot of them in appreciation of and retrospection on his considerable work as a very American novelist. As it happens, this spring is also the centenary of a pivotal moment in those same American letters — the expression of a problematic idea that still haunts cultural discourses and one that speaks directly to Bellow’s particular literary tactics: publication of Van Wyck Brooks’ claims about this country’s great divide between “highbrow” and “lowbrow” cultures.
People are fascinated with ... nothing, I guess.
— Johnny Carson
One thing the mediasphere does not need tonight is one more white dude extolling the virtues of David Letterman. But, ah hell — whaddya, say, Paul, do we need one more? Ladies and gentlemen: one more!
Just a slightly nifty post from the “nothing new under the sun” file: All that fuss over the (never available) Google Glass, all the hype over the (still unavailable) Oculus Rift, all my excited bewilderment over the (only demoed) Microsoft HoloLens — yet these head-mounted augmented-reality displays have been on drawing boards since at least the ’60s.
I'm THOMAS CONNER, communication researcher and culture journalist.