Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Inevitable Loss of Language

As technology improves and expands, it shifts the way we interact with each other. Laurie Anderson's "Language of the Future" examines the complexities of this change as we find ourselves hopelessly caught up in it. She finds herself surrounded by a continuous motion forward as she chats with the girl on the plane: her plain English is outdated by the "language of the future"- by the abbreviated and replaced words in the teenager's dialect. Laurie can't "scan" what the girl is saying; the barrier between their language is just too big.
This pushes her to feel impending doom: her generation is "switching" with our generation- becoming replaced by this group of incomprehensible, technology-dependent teens. Anderson expresses her fear (or is it simply acceptance?) by discussing the phenomena of "switching," then repeating her mantra of the captain's advice: "Put your knees up to your chin. Have you lost your dog? Put your hands over your eyes." These nonsensical statements parallel her confusion and the realization as her existence as replaceable. One moment people her age are there and relevant, the next they're replaced by us, kids with short attention spans who speak gibberish and are dominated by our technology. It's undeniable and inescapable, just like a plane crash. Laurie Anderson is indeed "not alone" as she jumps out of her plane without a pilot: as she and her peers age and eventually pass away, they become simple sentences in a history book instead of the millions of individuals that make up a single generation.
Anderson's utilization of technology in her performance of the Language of the Future is another sign of her surrender to the fate of her generation. As she tells the story, she speaks into a sound system that changes her voice, outputting an eerie deep robotic voice instead of her own. As Anderson's act of taking this futuristic voice on as her own ties her again to the problem she faces: she can try to understand, even mimic, those of our generation, but she will never quite fit in with them. No matter how we try to to keep up with and pin down the language of the future, we will always remain caught in the ocean of technology; one day along with the flow and suddenly, unpredictably, caught in the undertow and flung out to the middle of nowhere, unable to see the shore. As up-to-date as we are right now with our laptops and our iphones, we will inevitably find ourselves entirely lost someday in the advances our own peers began. Things we innately picked up before will become lost on us; "currents [that] run through [our] bodies" won't any longer, and at this point, we will lose something between ourselves and the next generation. We will be caught off guard by the thing we celebrate most, technological growth.
We will become, as Laurie Anderson's teenager might say, so digital.

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