The Digital Journalist
Waking Up

by Beverly Spicer

July 2006

As an Austinite, it seems impossible that I missed Richard Linklater's film "Waking Life" when it played in the theaters, but I did, so I rented it recently to view at home. I could barely begin watching before I was interrupted my own internal dialogue. This thinking persons' film strongly recalls others such as "My Dinner with Andre," "Mindwalk," the "Koyanoskatzi-Powacatsi-Naqoyqatsi" trilogy, "Baraka," "One Giant Leap," "What the Bleep Do I Know?" and the recently released "Nobelity"-films that ponder thought lurking just beneath the surface of our everyday consciousness that is either enhanced or obliterated by modern, rat-race life. Much was going on in 2001 around the time "Waking Life" hit the theaters—its premiere date was September 1, and the official release date, October 17, 2001. No wonder some of us didn't take the time to see this unusual film. Now, perhaps more than then, this film has relevance. Its main themes of consciousness and reality are favorite topics in E-Bits. Creative people everywhere, most especially in the digital world of video and photography, struggle to define the shifting boundaries between life and art, and many find themselves at one time or another asking, "What is real?" "Is life just a dream?" Watch the trailer for "Waking Life" and see what you think. If it speaks to you, rent this film that tells us, "Our planet is facing the greatest problems it's ever faced. Ever. So, whatever you do, don't be bored. This is a absolutely the most exciting time we could've possibly have hoped to be alive, and things are just starting."

With so much outer struggle and strife going on in a world completely beyond most of us to control, much distills on a personal level into questions about reality and consciousness. As a result, these intense times are producing a philosopher on every corner. Of course there are those who are choosing not to think at all, but for those who do, our collective predicament is producing much fodder for creative thinking. As quickly as ideas are suppressed by those who want to control our every thought, they pop back out again, like Jack in the Box. No longer the exclusive domain of learned and ivory-towered scholars, deep thoughts have become the purview of just about anyone, anytime, anywhere, as demonstrated in "Waking Life." Not just the few, but the many are trying to figure things out. Age-old questions are not only still relevant, but they are more important than ever. Why so much philosophizing?

It seems that whether we like it or not, we are all in the process of awakening to a new, higher state of awareness, a collective consciousness forged from that which was previously subliminal. Paradoxically, fear of change—or worse—is ushering the way. Samuel Johnson said, "Depend upon it sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." As our world rumbles and shakes, and global leaders bloviate and behave like bullies on a playground, events real or imagined are inducing a constant state of vulnerability and alertness in all of us. What is bad about that needs no explanation, but the good thing is that we are waking up to a new world, a new life, and to a new relationship with each other as global citizens. Some would argue that many are asleep—maybe 33%—but 2/3 awake isn't bad, is it? My prediction is that in time, everyone will have to wake up, and the reason is what we've heard all our lives, that we are in all in this together. Philosophers and theologians have told us of our interconnectedness through the ages, as have avatars, physicists, biologists, environmentalists, and returning astronauts who have had the privilege of seeing Earth from a distant perspective—a 'tiny blue marble' floating in space. Freed from his constraints as a politician, Al Gore is telling us in the film "An Inconvenient Truth," about the potential impact to all of us from global warming. For those who missed it, Almost-President Gore appeared on "Saturday Night Live" recently, delivering an alternate reality State of the Union address in this video clip from the show's intro segment. If only it were so.

The trailer for "An Inconvenient Truth" is almost as enlightening and terrifying as going to the see the film, although I will leave it up to you to find and watch either one. My feeling is that the film should be required viewing for everyone, although I suspect the people who most need to see the film will reject it. Maybe they already know all about it, though, and are just playing dumb. There seems to be a lot of that. On my search for the trailer to "An Inconvenient Truth," I found a parody on Google Videos that will appeal to yea- and nay-sayers alike. Watch it here.

We all have had times when it seems as if we suddenly reawaken to our "real" selves to find we have been sleepwalking through difficult times, when we just stopped paying attention or were so busy doing the ho hum and humdrum that we didn't realize the time was passing. A friend keeps reminding me of David Byrne's song "Once in a Lifetime," where you may wake up one day and ask yourself, " did I get here?" Indeed. Those of us born to these times may very well find ourselves asking such questions, and in the grander scheme of things, we may ask ourselves about our world, "How did we get to this point?" Is global warming really happening? Some people aren't worried, or at least seem not to be. Click below to see Will Ferrell's spoof impersonation of President Bush on the issue of global warming.

NASA's take on the issue of global warming is a little more like what we see in "An Inconvenient Truth," as shown in these short animations from their informative site. Click on both images below to watch clips from the topic "Black Soot and Snow: A Warmer Combination," to see how the elements present magnify the intensity of the sun, causing melting of the ice caps.

Philosophizing may help us understand the changes at hand, but problem-solving is needed pronto, and scientists tell us that working together for mutually beneficial goals simply must be a part of that. As ingenious as humankind has shown itself to be thus far, that we are choosing to be neglectful or self-destructive at this point is unacceptable. It's hard to get a fix on reality when so much makes no sense, but I'd like to take an optimistic viewpoint and pass on the words that have resonance for me: "Become the reality you would like to see." I will leave you with a meditation on problem-solving that will amaze and delight, in the form of this little video clip from If these animals can figure out improbable solutions to seemingly impossible problems, maybe we can too.

Here's hoping for new solutions, both philosophical and practical, as the summer gets underway. See you next month.

© Beverly Spicer

Beverly Spicer is a writer, photojournalist, and cartoonist, who faithfully chronicled The International Photo Congresses in Rockport, Maine, from 1987 to 1991. Her book, THE KA'BAH: RHYTHMS OF CULTURE, FAITH AND PHYSIOLOGY, was published in 2003 by University Press of America. She lives in Austin.