Classical Rhetoric

Next World: Intel Claytronics shows  a video first that details this astounding possibility of Claytronics: objects made of catoms that change form and appearance by need [Found via Syzuki of Fashioning Technology]. This is truly mind-boggling, not only in the physical possibilities, but in the superficiality of possible uses projected. Called Intel Claytronics, Prof. Seth Goldstein of Carnegie Mellon calls this a new media type, and if the “catoms” perform as simulated, it most certainly will be. Reading the Carnegie Mellon Corporate Visitors page for Claytronics gives more information, but still directed to the layman. Intel Corp. is involved in this, which should make it more believable.

As a science fiction fan, the idea of shape-shifting is very familiar, and one that inhabits many future visions. The fashion uses are clear, which is why Fashioning Technology noted this. The illustrations of a shape-shifting chair or car that changes color fail to consider that a technology like this may negate the need for chairs or cars. Aside from that, I’m more concerned with the last part of the clip, which broaches the idea of communication. Way back in 1965 I went to Tomorrowland in Disneyland and clustered with the many others to see a videophone. It was amazing, but impractical. It was, in fact, an imperfect projected remediation in the sense that Bolter and Grusin use the term remediation. A known medium, sound via telephone, was being re-visioned to include sight with little to no other changes and the result was artificial. As things really developed, rather than going from station to station to communicate, consumers preferred complete portability over sight. The closest we’ve come to that earlier vision is videochat or Google/ Skype video, which is a different medium, more identified with the computer than the cellphone as well as being a medium that involves negotiated access that can be outright blocked without social fallout. Sight is still possible in the unmetered sense that was projected in 1965, but as they say in some parts, there ain’t much call for it. We have abandoned all vocal privacy, but as a counterbalance, hold fast to visual privacy. If you don’t believe that, consider the people who answer their cell phones in public restrooms. Ahem.

In the last part of the clip, the futureman dials up and projects a tangible simulacrum of who he wants to talk to. This is the point where I say consider your ethos. I don’t want to be conjured up somewhere just because someone dials. I’m pretty attached to my form, and intend to keep it exclusive, thank you. I have no idea why this didn’t occur to anyone on the research team, but I sincerely hope it will soon. Another communication possibility that also involves what I’m calling “thinking into being” would be a recreation of concepts or a physical regeneration of things discussed that need form. On a very practical scale, this could be the end to the “I forgot my keys” problem. Just let them reshape using catoms. Even then though, it has that Tomorrowland aroma to it, that sense that we’re considering 2009 uses for technology that will make that need archaic. With a medium like this, there may not be houses or keys. We may carry potential personal environments with us. Or, we may go the other direction, firmly reject this as impractical or creepy and carry yurts on our backs. Hard to say. All the same, claytronics is the thin. pale green tip of a new medium emerging out of familiar dirt with familiar issues surrounding it, all housed in rhetoric.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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