Edward Ross, in one of the chapters of his interesting illustrated essay Filmish(Reservoir Books, 2017), reflects on architecture and its role in movies. He stresses Blade Runner(Ridley Scott, 1984) for the influence of surroundings on the personality of the characters. Thus, while Rick Deckard, the human agent assigned to “retire” the rebellious androids, is clumsy and disoriented in a city that is no longer his, the replicants blend in with the lowlife, the granite and the glass, perfectly manipulating their surroundings to their advantage.
In Mad Men (Matt Weiner, 2007-2015), the second wife of Don Draper suggests to him that he listen to the track that ends the Beatles’ Revolver record(1966),Tomorrow Never Knows, to “open his mind.”After a few seconds he brusquely turns off the record player. Seems that Don doesn’t like innovation, but ironically he’s the most creative ad man in New York.
In both cases context comes from a social revolution: in the first case, one caused by genetic engineering, and in the second, by the counterculture movement of the 1960s, which caught the main characters off guard. Today, the replicants could be those people who are right at home in digital surroundings, while the ones resisting technological change would be the conservative grouches like good old Don Draper.
We professors are requested to adapt to the new times, to become “replicants.” But it’s hard to understand how present-day students are capable of understanding the contents that they consume each day. Numerous publications show that the users of digital video platforms and radio podcasts see or listen to their favorite programs at faster than normal speed, probably because they want to devour the greatest amount of content in the least time.
And this is not just a consumer habit: the entertainment companies also promote the rapid consumption of content. In the sports area, the summaries of La Liga football games on Youtube have been cut to 90 minutes, and there’s hardly any time for watching how elaborate plays are prepared or other moments except the highlights.
A human being has a limited attention span. If nobody is capable of watching a movie at home without consulting their cell phone, imagine a two-hour class. But cutting down on or accelerating content can make it hard to understand. We can’t reject the new technologies, but neither should we support a truncated, accelerated consumption of content because if we do we’re certainly going to lose something. Don Draper turned off the record player, but at least he didn’t play the record at twice its normal speed.