The Ontology of the Hologram
This discussion has been copied from the Discord server, names have been reduced to first name, discussion threads have been grouped and edited for better readability.
Ana: Hello everyone! I’m thrilled to be here and looking forward to your questions
Katherine: Hi Ana! I just wanted to say that I was so fascinated by your analysis of the hologram. I loved the methodology here of delving into the metaphorical language used by the popular press to describe how new technologies are rendered as gothic / horror-related in two historical moments. So interesting the way you frame genre as a way of getting at the ontology of a new medium.
I like your point that both technological change (i.e. less blurry photos, less ghostly holograms) will change the interpretation, but also that the medium will change how we think about categories like alive and dead
Esko: Must chime in to sing praise! The photograph/phonograph moments in history shed excellent light on the topic. What do you think an SFnal language of holograms could look like if the idea of ghosts were abandoned? Can’t recall if Blade Runner 2049 (which I loathe) had anything to this effect.
Katherine: didn’t it have that ginormous blue haired woman? (or was that something else)
Carmen: Yeah. She could be small (i.e. normal-sized) and thus much more relatable or the huge hologram. That was weird.
Katherine: it is interesting to think about how cyberpunk often features the hologram as advertisement
Ana: Hi all, and thank you for your kind words on the presentation! It’s an interesting question, because once “sci-fi” technologies become sufficiently common they’re no longer, well, sci-fi. They’re just reality. We use sci-fi to talk about technologies that are cutting edge, uncommon, still “of the future”. But holograms are in this weird space where they exist (in whatever limited form we have the now) but are not articulated via sci-fi
They’re almost an exception in that way, one of the few technologies I know that get discussed not via sci-fi but via other genres
Esko: This is a really good formulation of the idea, thank you!
Eero: Hi! Seconding Katherine and Esko, it was really fascinating to see how similar the reactions to the technologies were. Also a thumbs up on your mention of the Verne novel, which I read as a child and remember almost nothing about except that plot revelation. Perhaps the uncanniness was conveyed well enough that it managed to stick to my mind…
Ana: That’s wonderful that you’ve read the novel! It’s one of Verne’s later and more obscure ones, so most haven’t even heard of it. I’m actually working on an article (coming out of this presentation) about that novel as a kind of “media theory,” but it’s in its early stages
Eero: Excellent! Strangely enough, what I’ve read of Verne are his more obscure novels (like Les Tribulations d’un Chinois en Chine and Claudius Bombarnac), since for some reason they’re what we had in our bookshelf at home, so I do have a fondness for them.
Ana: Fascinating – and definitely unusual! Most people I’ve talked to grew up with his more famous (and earlier) sci-fi novels
Adam: Just got to say your talk was fantastic, and a really exciting contextualisation of holograms in its more historical technological path. I wanted to ask, do you think that the Uncanniness in holograms might have a different impact due to their less direct comparison with death in contemporary SciFi? The Verne text you mentioned makes its connection to spirits direct, but a number of holograms in SF, or Cyberpunk are for distance communications and at times they die alongside those they represent? (Ki Adi Mundi springing to mind with that)
Ana: Well, for me holograms in sci-fi seem to actually be associated primarily with a kind of immortality, in that they exist on a spectrum of uploaded and duplicated consciousness. I’m thinking, for example, of Altered Carbon – there’s always a backup or a copy somewhere, which can be manifested as a hologram or uploaded to a virtual reality
So death is potentially nonexistent; there’s always a copy somewhere, that can manifest itself digitally
Carmen: There’s often, also, holograms as simultaneous “projections” of people in a different space but in the same time. That’s not what your holograms seem to be about, though.
Ana: You’re right. The hologram examples I used at the beginning of my presentation are actually from primarily non-cyberpunk texts. It’s when you get into cyberpunk, I think, that holograms really start to get entangled with “gothic” concepts such as returning from the dead, immortality, duplicate selves, etc (that ties in for me with a very interesting discussion we were having in Dominic ‘s channel about the gothic and cyberpunk visuals)
Carmen: Totally agree. I think the cyberpunk ones actually are quite different from the “sci-fi” ones in that regard
Ana: Yes. I wish I’d had the time to expand on this, but cyberpunk is full of doubles, duplicated selves, backups of someone’s consciousness, etc. All of which harken back to me to the Gothic fear of the double
Lars: I was wondering if the hologram technology is not only associated with the gothic as a concept (ghosts, dead, undead etc.) but also with technological error and glitches – as seen in the Elvis hologram in BR2049 or even Star Wars – where R2 needs to be “repaired” to play it …
Ana: Oh, interesting!
Lars: also you can constantly see people walking through holograms, or waving a hand through them, ignoring them … so maybe their incorporeality is also seen as an irritating technological feature (like spam)
Ana: In another presentation (Rachel’s on the planetary, I think?) Rachel mentioned how cyberpunk celebrates the fragment, and my association of glitches and technical errors is with fragmentation: if there’s glitches and errors, it’s because something is missing, a file cannot be read in its fullness, etc.
Eero: To quote TVtropes: “A hologram has to look unreal, so the audience can see that it’s a hologram”…
Ana: And holograms these days are full of their fair share of glitches; when I went to see “Maria Callas” (when we were still all going to theatres!) she disappeared for a few seconds because of some glitch. But my sense of the audience is that they were actually very excited by that glitch, it made it seem more “authentic” to them!
Possibly because in cyberpunk especially, holograms are always glitching in some ways. We expect it.
Carmen: Just going out on a limb here but thinking of deep fake videos…*deepfake. Totally unrelated but thinking about glitches and how they are non-glitchy
Joseph: oh goodness, can we talk about the plot busting use of the hologram in Star Wars episode 8?
Ana: Does it count as a hologram if it’s a projection via the force?
Joseph: good point, but in terms of the film medium, it’s all representational
Emily: Hi Ana – Absolutely adored your paper. It reminded me of the way in which Star Trek Discovery resolved the issue of holograms not being a technology present in the Captain Kirk era. After holograms were used as part of a conspiracy, mimicking people (who had been killed and replaced) a huge anxiety around holographic technology developed and they were removed from the Star Ship Enterprise.
Ana: Ah yes, all those lovely debates about the accuracy of Discovery because “their technology is too advanced.”
Emily: Haha – yeah, have to admit that did annoy me. But the justification they used was interesting – it acknowledges the fact that just because a technology exists or is possible doesn’t mean we actually want to use it. It is only when holograms become useful – familiar through the holodeck that they are accepted.
Joseph: Cory Doctorow has a funny short story called “To Go Boldly” that turns the hologram technology on its head, demonstrating that if the tech can store the bodies/minds of the crew long enough to transport them, it could just as easily store permanent “save states” as well
Ana: well, later Star Trek is also full of holograms: the emergency medical hologram on Voyager and Picard, for example. So clearly at one point they did get adopted
Discovery was just in a corner by virtue of its premise, in that it’s set in the future but was written a long time ago, when the future they envisioned was so limited in many ways
It’s fascinating to me how hung up some fans were on the “accuracy” of Discovery’s technology, as if that was the be-all, end-all
Emily: Of course – it just seemed to fit nicely with your argument that we eventually adapt to technology as we become more familiar with it. In the case of Star Trek – it seems to become familiar through its use as entertainment.
Larisa: I may suppose that for ST fans consistency is a major issue, thus the general look of the ship cum holograms in wide use unlike TOS seemed very jarring. Later on when they found some pieces of the new series to like, holograms ceased to peeve them so much.
Carmen: Only to some of them. I don’t really care that much… But yeah, fanboy/fangirl/fanhologram mentalituy, I guess
Ana: Indeed. It just seems silly to me to worry about consistency over a 50-year series. There will be discrepancies! And they’re a lot less interesting than the actual stories being told. But I digress…
Josh: I’ve been trying to formulate a question about the way Bruce Wagner’s 1993 Wild Palms miniseries privileges the “full virtuality” of virtual reality headsets to the partial virtual experience of the hologram. But I couldn’t come up with one, so instead I’ll just say, if you haven’t checked out Wild Palms, it might be relevant. If you have, though, do you have any thoughts about it?
Ana: I haven’t, but I’ll add it to the long to-read/to-watch list I’ve been formulating here!
Zuza: The lecture was so interesting – it made me think – the existence of ghost with its uncorporal ghostness is in a way the reminder of death (no death = no ghosts…) also as being inevitable and untouchable—features of ghosts and of those that we expect from holograms. When we think of these mediums they are at the same time not really transgressive as they reminds us of unreality of ressuretion and death itself, though at the same time, they let us rework slightly the borders and understanding of death. We still know that Callas is dead, we kind of rework because of hologram what does it really mean in it’s core. Than we observe, as you argued, a medium that was first seen as transgerssive begins to be seen as normal and we kind of forget (loose?) it’s transgressional impact, so …we search for another technology to transgress and redefine the definition of death (of what really death takes from us). So is it really the story of urge to convict every boundary that we perceive – a bit of God-game…? Hmm
Alexander: Just popping in late here (Australian time zone!) to say I really loved your talk, particularly regarding the hologram alongside photography as a almost like a new medium. I jumped to thinking about the potentiality of the hologram in becoming conceived of as a sort of social platform: resurrecting not just long-dead faces, but also literalising those who are exclusively digital. We’ve seen trappings of it for musical artists like Hatsune Miku, but with the rise of completely digital instagram influencers like Lil Miquela. I wondered if it could be subsumed under the rubric of social capital
Ana: thanks for your kind words! There’s definitely a lot of what you mention – not just influencers, but brands putting their clothing on digital models who don’t exist, there was a recent article in the NY Times about “resurrecting” James Dean for a movie, etc, and of course deep fakes got mentioned in the chat above
As to what to call that – a medium? A social platform? a form of social capital? That’s an interesting question. I’d have to give it some thought.