Friday, July 16, 2010

Analysis of "Tap to the Super Highway"

Tap to the Super Highway is a song written and performed for the 1997 Film "The Brave Little Toaster To The Rescue" in an attempt to explain the future of networks and computers as tools to enlighten and connect humanity. The upbeat soulful energy of the song is paired with anthropomorphic computers, modems, speakers and keyboards that dance and sing, lead by three Macintosh Powermac G3 computers. The well-endowed "girls" (computers with floppy and compact disks sticking out at key points) sing louder and higher with praises of a new system of communication, a language as close to Telepathy as may ever exist.
 They belt out promises of a utopian network of humans, where "no one ever has to feel alone". But through the lens of 2010, the true prophecies and promises of Tap to the Super Highway have become clear, a future world of physical isolation where human interaction and touch is all but eliminated, our natural desire for companionship sublimated and supplemented ad-naseum by unfeeling machines.

The song opens when the computers literally BREAK DOWN the door to the room, barging in uninvited, which is obviously a reference to the rapid appearance and adoption of the internet. Initially, the internet was mostly text based. IRC clients allowed users to chat and view text based sites, but this required a higher level of computer savvy to navigate than most people possessed.
Therefore, the early internet banished the "stupid monkey" users by virtue of it's complicated nature. As time progressed, the internet became "kinder" allowing the average user to make himself "a little smarter". The monkeys were let out of the cages when the internet became more a intuitive point-and-click interface. Now, the internet is a wash with people spouting their opinions on forums and comment sections who never would have had the intelligence to make their voice heard before. Now, they are suddenly placed on equal footing with their intellectual superiors. 
It degrades the quality of the internet because anyone can write an opinion (myself included) and it is just as easy to access and read as a collegiate dissertation on the same subject. Therefore, the internet has in some ways made it easier to find information, but harder to find facts and truth.

The song also tackles media sharing and social networking sites and their effect on our creative expression and personality.

The yellow electric blanket (Blankie) dances before suddenly being sucked into a printer, which then shoots out several color copies of Blankie in various states of dance. While perhaps just a cute thing to depict, from a 2010 perspective, the photocopies easily represent how our reality has been sucked up by our online identity. Social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace have boxes where you list your former interests--the things you did before you spent all your time on the internet, writing about them. They allow you to upload pictures of yourself doing the things you used to love doing--before you became sucked into the digital realm, your real existence replaced with facsimiles of reality, your avatars, accounts and logins.

Vacuum attempts his own self expression through dance. However, he turns and is horrified to find that he has been videotaped, and his silly dance has been replicated on a wall of screens behind him. He is ridiculed by everyone else for his expression. How many viral videos have originated organically from self-expression or utility, and shared (often without permission of the creator) on YouTube? A classic example of this phenomenon is Aleksey Vayner, who created a 6 minute video resume which he sent in with a job application. The video began making it's rounds through e-mail and in spite of being confidential material, someone uploaded it to Youtube. (You can watch the videohere, as it is no longer on youtube.). It has spawned parody and ridicule. Later Vayner appeared on MSNBC and stated that the video was never intended for public consumption. Yet in 2010, it seems everything must be shared.

On of the most startling lines of the song is when they sing "we lead the way through the great unknown. to a nation of our own. where you'll know what she knows and she'll know what he knows! and no-one ever has to feel alone!". The visuals depict a girl sitting back to back with a boy, both using computers, before pulling out to reveal many users, all tapping away on their keyboards, physically isolated from one another.
 How exciting that must have seemed at the time! But now that we have arrived at that point--that time "where no one ever has to feel alone", we are often left pining for the "good old days" where you were actually able to be alone! With cellphones, personal computers and wifi, we are never disconnected from our constant state of conversation with our social network, yet we rarely spend any physical time with most of them. Why bother meeting someone to discuss the days events when you can live tweet your every thought to the whole world. It's so much more effecient then arranging a physcial get together. Which means that when we do meet our friends, there is nothing to talk about. We are already acutely aware of our friends' every thought.

While it's obvious that this song was not made or animated to be a stark prediction of the future, it has become an artifact that represents our expectations of a new technology. Looking back, we see how their expectations came to fruition, in both good and bad ways. Sites like wikipedia have made knowledge easier than ever to find, which certainly benefits our society. Youtube has pushed the envelope of entertainment--allowing a home movie classic like "The Brave Little Toaster To The Rescue" to live on and have new life. We can't live without the internet, yet it isn't the dream we had either. We're settling comfortably into the digital age, and we are already able to look back and see how far we've come, and what promises were kept, and what ones were broken.