Media and especially electronic media is an extension of our central nervous system. That was the idea of Marshal McLuhan back in 60’s-70’s. imagine the outreach of the electronic media this days. So much so that for many people denied, or even delayed access to their electronic devices is indeed experienced as an amputation. This word – amputation – is also central to the movie 127 Hours (2008) by Danny Boyle, not only because of its narrative where character amputates his arm in order to survive but also relationship and role medium played in this psychological and mental journey. The movie is kind of diary of that relationship, very interesting diary in fact.
What happened was that young mountain climber became trapped alone in a Utah canyon for days after slipping on a loose rock and gets his arm locked between huge rocks. He is stuck there without food or any communication tools what so ever. Only companion he has is his video camera. To whom he talks, communicates etc during this 127 long hours.
As the time passes the camera becomes more and more important. It appears as a tool, as a function that clarifies that he still exists and more importantly that he is still relevant and not delusional in such high stressed situation. Shortly, video camera assumes the role of social element for him.
But on the flip side because of that substitution where camera takes the role of the social element he never really stays alone even in this hostile situation thus never really able to face hard decision he has to make in order to survive. Decision that unconsciously he must have known for some time already but was not able to admit to himself out loud. The role of the medium now appeared to postpone the problem and obscures the only solution he has left, the solution that is hanging in the air for 127 hours.
Only after the camera runs out of the battery is he able to see clear and simple truth: he must cut his arm off in order to survive. he is able to amputate his arm only after medium (in this case video camera) is amputated.
Perhaps it is relevant to end with one more McLuhan metaphor about myth of Narcissus, who collapses on himself because there is no longer a distance between him and the mirror, between the screen and himself, between him and his medium while closing the circle in a perfect loop.
The movie is just a story of one man’s survival, doesn’t really tries to go further than that, but I think exactly because of that it opens up the possibilities for lots of interpretations. Somehow it got me thinking that this sort of relationship between man and the medium has become the main mythology of our times and will be even more important in the future. And our culture can also close up in the same perfect loop as Narcissus myth describes unless we are able to keep the distance between our reflections and us, between our screens and us, between our faith in technology and our faith in ourselves.
Here I just leave you with some exerts from McLuhans essay:
Medical researchers like Hans Seyle and Adolphe Jonas hold that all extensions of ourselves, in sickness or in health, are attempts to maintain equilibrium. Any extension of ourselves they regard as “autoamputation
Narcissus as Narcosis”. In this subtitle he is recognizing, in a Joycean sense, that Narcissus comes from the word narcosis, which means to be “numb”. When one is considered Narcissistic, one does not recognize their own image and are blind from the mirror (or insight) from which external reality provides
Unless the area is located as the problem, our nervous system will protect itself from pain by producing a counter or balance of that pain in a form that is a representation of that offending pain, accordingly to where that pain derives from in the body. Many times we are unable to locate the discomfort and thereby the technology thats created from this is unseen as anything in our image, and thereby we remain numb to the problem.
Because technology then exists in the autoamputated state, as an exalted quality of ourselves, man then serves as a type of sex organ for these machines to continue their existence. It might be said, then, that machine has its own evolution or intelligence – not unlike our own, and not independent of us, but because of us. “Physiologically, man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology.”