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Cyberman (2001)

by Erin McMullan


RETURN TO TECHNOLOGY


Director: Peter Lynch
Cast: Steve Mann (himself), William Gibson (himself)
CBC
87 minutes


Steve Mann has been living for the past 20 years as a cyborg.

Using wearable EyeTap technology he developed and built himself, one of Mannís eyes functions as a digital recording device. The images can then be uploaded to his website for public consumption. This affords the viewer the unique opportunity to share Mannís perception of the world, or as Mann phrases it "to be me [rather than] see me."

The device masquerades as an ordinary pair of sunglasses. The bulk of the computer circuitry is concealed by a small fanny-pack, allowing for what Mann terms "blatantly covert" photographic capture of the world as he interacts with it.

Cyberman chronicles this living experiment and examines the philosophy behind it. Mann, a professor in the University of Toronto Computer and Electrical Engineering department, sums up his approach as a challenge of boundaries. This suggests first and foremost that cyberspace is not some nebulous geography disconnected from our daily lives but, through Mannís technology, directly accessible and directly connected to the world as we see it around us.

Mann seeks to erase the boundaries between people by allowing them to live one another's perception vicariously. He starts the ball rolling by affording us this glimpse inside his own head, strengthening our sense of interconnection and community. Mann envisions a future where his own grandchildren might re-view this Andy-Warhol-like representation of his life, using a more evolved device where the sunglasses would function as a projector screen.

Professor Mann looks closely at the impact our level of awareness of being recorded has on our behaviour, and at the ethical considerations inherent in his covert approach. In the process he raises some troublesome questions about the nature of personal and public spaces in contemporary society, with its prevalence of security surveillance.

Mann's work can be perceived as pure visual art. Witness his beautifully enhanced night imagery of New York icons such as Times Square, or the traffic flow coursing across the Brooklyn Bridge in a polychromatic blur of lights. Yet it is also social experiment, as when he deliberately challenges a Walmart employee to prove his authority to photograph and broadcast his own image on the store's surveillance system in its entranceway.

Mannís film explodes not only the notion of objective space, but also the traditionally antithetical relationship of art, mathematics, physics, and technology. They are all conjoined in this selective, conscious recording of his own life and experiments.

The documentary is at its most powerful when the grainy images of Mann's digitally enhanced perception run side-by-side on a split screen with the filmmaker's footage, the subtext suggesting that these two glimpses of reality are both personal and constructed. We are left to reflect on the degree to which our own glimpse of the world is altered by our perception: by what we choose to see, and to edit out.

 

 

Mann sums up his approach as a challenge of boundaries. This suggests first and foremost that cyberspace is not some nebulous geography disconnected from our daily lives, but directly accessible and directly connected to the world as we see it around us.




To visit Professor Steve Mann's site: www.wearcam.org

 

Erin McMullan 

Erin McMullan



Erin McMullan is a writer and 35mm film projectionist with an Honours B.A. in Cinema Studies and English Literature from the University of Toronto. Her company, Fresh Horses, provides everything from ad copy to copy editing for the Internet and print markets. She is also the editor/creator of crimescenemagazine, which reviews the latest in crime fiction and film as well as offering the original e-serial, Fluid.