Laurie Anderson’s performance piece “The Language of the Future”, though first released in 1984, can in many ways be interpreted as a commentary on the culture of technology and language we experience in our present time. In this piece, Anderson acts as a narrator, telling the story of a near-death experience on a plane after which a fear of flying is developed. This fear can be assuaged only by initiating a conversation with another passenger, prompting a discussion between the narrator and teenage girl sitting nearby. The girl speaks a language the narrator (Anderson) refers to as “Computerese”, due to it’s ever changing or “digital” nature. It is this constant shifting which defines it as “the language of the future”
The fact that this piece can be interpreted according to contemporary technological and social developments proves the point that the piece itself makes—that language and technology are constantly evolving and recreating themselves in a way which though ever changing, is consistent in our assuredness that it will change, and is therefore familiar to us. Though each generation must face the unfamiliar language and technology of its successor, each generation is in fact connected through this inevitable reality. In some ways the language of the future is in fact one of technology as many modern forms of communication are enacted through the use of electronics, either telephones or computers.
Anderson also addresses the impersonal qualities of communicating through the use of technology. In “The Language of the Future” she speaks into a microphone, which transforms her voice, giving it a deep masculine sound. The voice that is created through this process is a man’s voice, a voice of authority. It is voice that is simultaneously soothing and disturbing. It is almost the voice of big brother subduing and supervising us. The voice tells us, “Jump out of the plane. There is no pilot. You are not alone”. This brings up issues of surveillance surrounding technological innovations. Though these innovations allow for faster and easier communication they also allow for more easy surveillance of our daily lives. The voice of authority is once again subliminally directing us while assuring us everything will be fine.
The use of an artificial voice also references the anonymity of the Internet personality. In this social networking arena we are free to create ourselves as characters, molding the many sides of our personalities into one succinct and generalized being. Yet beyond this illusion of accessibility we are in reality putting up a wall against others. By defining ourselves by our likes, dislikes and number of friends we are creating a false persona, a two-dimensional overview of the self. Anderson’s voice of authority is just such a persona. The character is defined by sound in combination with one or two anecdotes.
Anderson also makes a reference to this culture of shallow and indifferent communication in the analogy of the plane conversation. The narrator describes his need to find someone to talk to during the flight due to his fear of flying. The relationship between he and the girl is one formed out of his fear of loneliness and need to connect to another. Yet this relationship is only meant to last a few hours, whatever the length of the plane ride may be. In this way we as people have begun to define our relationships in such meaningless ways of quality of text message. Connections are made and defined quickly and at times extinguished in a similar fashion. Like the relationship in the piece they are “on again off again. Always two things switching.”
We are connected more than ever through cellular phones and the Internet and yet in some ways this technology isolates us from each other even more. Through technology we find camaraderie and like-minded people, yet we further sever our ties to reality, blinding ourselves to the possibilities of more tangible relationships.