Author: lydhall

From little things, big things grow; India in a Day

The introduction to India in a Day filled me with the same delight as my favorite Disney movies; the slow sleepy normality of daily life that exemplifies the goodness and beauty that exists in the mundane aspects of our life. The concept of a seemingly ‘crowdfunded’ film, using found footage, donated video diaries and snippets of people’s lives to create a touching and refined film filled me with admiration. When discussing the process of creating the film, scouring through thousands of videos and sorting, selecting, and editing them to create a narrative out of a hundred individual voices is a feat in itself. The result is a choir of moments, singing an ode to Indian culture and the impact of technology on the lives of communities and individuals. Although this film is produced by Google, which would create a large bias in the presentation of the impact that technology has had on India, the film portrays a myriad of stories that show the breadth of living conditions and digital interactions in India. 

This film struck me in the way it seemed so immensely nostalgic, comfortable and yet also was completely foreign and intriguing. It paints India as a beast of many colors; showing the beauties and harsh realities of life, as well as the vast social hierarchy and differences in quality of life experienced by its citizens. Some scenes seemed like they were shot by my friends in high school, or a zoom call from my cousin’s house; whereas others made me deeply invested in the trials and tribulations of others. A man shows how his whole apartment block uses one neighbor’s wifi, the tangled mess of cords, and the desperation to have an internet connection contrast starkly with a comfortable family’s living room where they are using their phones and cameras like an everyday activity. These realities seem worlds apart. A farmer and his friend are the only people in their village able to check the weather forecast are juxtaposed against a taxi driver making his living talking to people in his tuk-tuk; almost a different dimension from teenagers playing around with their friends. 

Through the eyes of the people filming, we are exposed to the ups and downs, beauty and poverty; but the highlighting of a rich life is the most prominent aspect of this film. It shows the way that internet connection and video technology allow us to connect and develop, not only within our own communities but as a global family. To me, this also showed the changing landscape of India that technology brings to the surface, one where the disparity in wealth and education gap gets wider, and people who are not connected get left behind. With a problematic social hierarchy and cast system, gaining social equality and allowing cultural evolution are primary concerns of mine, and I sincerely hope that the addition of technology will lead to a brighter, more just future than a further divided one. 

AlphaGo: man, machine and everything in-between.

The documentary AlphaGo, unpacks not only the history and future of our human relationships with games like Go, but also picks apart the triumphs of technology and the confusing interactions we have with emerging powers of AI technology. The sheer mathematical, engineering and digital design feat that is creating a program like alphaGo was enough to amaze me in the initial introduction of this documentary. The team at Deepmind and Google achieve a masterpiece of technology, as it explains the painstaking learning and building blocks that go into the creation and editing of this kind of software. Shi Yue, a top Go player from China describes the programs strategy as “They’re how I imagine games from far in the future,” this incredible program has quickly defeated the masters of the game around the world, showcasing its dominance. However, how miraculous and impressive this computer program is, the aspects of the documentary that properly held my attention and intrigued me further were the human interactions and histories that were tied into the game Go, and how the upheaval of this through technological input brought a lot of these shadowed characteristics to light. 

A longtime lover of family and strategy games, mainly backgammon and Othello, which is greatly similar to Go, though vastly simplified, the personal connection to the game that many of the players had really impacted me. The first european master of the game that the film interviews as he plays against the computer seems baffled and hurt that an AI could be prominent at a game that is renowned for its connection to the individual’s thought process and personality that shines through when playing. When he lost, a piece of his identity seemed to vanish as well; showing how deeply engrained the game was in his life. The game obviously was more than a strategy game or an activity, verging on a spiritual ritual and a cornerstone that builds onto a global community of Go fans. As a historical and worldwide phenomenon, Go acted as an ode to the human condition and achievement, glorifying the ability to think and comprehend as well as providing a cohesive link to our histories and cultures. When this link was severed by the emergence of technology not only mimicking but surpassing in these abilities, it disturbed the master and creation balance many people view in their relation to technologies. 

This triggered a childhood fear of technologies stemming in fictional works like the film “The Matrix’, where evil robot overlords pray on the poor human population that they had long ago overthrown. This trope is common in science fiction movies, where technology, especially AI softwares are portrayed as an evil creation, that we as humans pushed too far until they overpowered us. When viewing AlphaGo, I was struck by these similar narratives. Are we fulfilling a prophecy of evil robot takeover? Or is technology and its eventual superiority to man just a step in humanities bettering and evolution? AlphaGo argues for both sides through a board-game.

All’s fair in love and war; or when Live streaming in China

“Have you eaten? Love you. Kiss kiss. Welcome to Showroom 2391.”

Shen Man

Watching the documentary,  People’s Republic of Desire (Hao Wu, 2018), was like being on safari and watching an alien ecosystem interact. Being an insider on all sides of the streaming experience provided a surreal but extremely informative experience not only on digital culture in Asia, but also the internal social and cultural structures within the streaming industry. These attributes highlighted by the digital nature of streaming show many aspects of modern Chinese social interactions and the roots of many values imbedded in that ethnicity. The equilibrium of the digital chat rooms, video streams and online competitions rests on the shoulders of a food chain, where the companies and the idol streamers they control sit at the top, followed by tuhao fans and then the bottom most rung of diaosi fans. The diaosi fans contribute a little in terms of money and donation, existing to praise the richer and money splashing tuhao fans; who ultimately benefit and push up the idols and streamers. In the documentary the director estimates that tuhao fans account for 80% of a star’s earnings, while regular fans account for the other 20%. 

This brave new world, full of beauteous people, simultaneously terrified and bewitched me; aptly earning a comparison to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Hosts, idols and streamers act like magicians, pulling smoke and mirrors around them to create a dynamic that begs for donations and attention alike. Even as the hosts crash and burn into controversy, unpopularity or failure; their face to face connection with their audiences encapsulates a must-watch atmosphere. The two streamers the documentary focuses on are comedian Big Li and singer Shen Man, opposing but similar entertainers who are navigating the turbulent sea of the online world. When watching, as I reflected in my live tweeting, the levels of confusion I felt at their perusal of such a seemingly painful but lucrative career. Chinese society has long had a focus on material wealth and the glorification of attaining a social status as a ‘rich’ person, which was made obvious when observing the social interactions that occurred online between hosts and their fans. The hosts have a rags to riches story, but the immense stress and social scrutiny of existing in the digital ecosystem filled me with a deep sense of dread and uneasiness.

Watching grown men and women cry over an amount of online votes, seeing them completely breakdown, loose their real world connections and relationships over digital fans and competitions is concerning. However, this changing and emerging way of digital social interaction does have redemptive arcs, offering a medium for human interaction and connection that can have a positive effect on people’s lives. I believe that this digital community and the emergence of this online landscape are part of the future of entertainment and communication; as well as being necessary in the changing interactions between the physical and digital worlds. As the global pandemic has made painstakingly obvious, we need our online connections more than ever; and watching the YY stars in China navigate this sets the stage for the evolutions of this industry. Our lives are becoming more digital, for better or worse, and the challenge remains to stay afloat on the online sea, achieving balance and spreading positivity in our lives.