Well Done Little Rover
I’ve posted a few times over the years about a fairly recent habit of NASA’s to personify its robotic exploration probes. It started most overtly when the Mars Phoenix Probe got its own Twitter feed, and due to the 140 character constraint, the publicist tended to tweet in the first person. I wrote about that here.
Well this morning my RSS feed turned up a speech by John Callas, project manager of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover project, marking the formal end of Mars rover Spirit’s mission (you might recall that Spirit, 2210 days into its 90 day mission and irretrievably stuck in soft sand, became unable to orient its solar panels for maximum power, and succumed to the Martian winter. Spirit’s twin, Opportunity, continues roving).
Callas’s speech in many ways is a eulogy to Spirit, and it ends with a heart-felt “Well done little rover. Sleep in peace.” Read the whole thing here. I suspect this tendency to treat robots as people (or maybe faithful pets) comes from a implicit need to disguise the costs of a mission that many people might consider unnecessary*. It has certainly made the mission seem more accessible to more people than it might have, were it couched in dry, scientific (and less emotionally loaded) terms.
You cannot deny the value of the science returned by the rovers. What is less definable is whether the implied personalisation has affected people’s perception of the mission. In times of budgetry constraint, I certainly hope so.
. . . Not Offered to Me
I’ve just been reading Henry A. Giroux talking about child beauty pageants in the US and the way that they teach children to assume particular, very narrow, powerless, and sexualised identities. Giroux argues that this constitutes a form of child abuse, and frankly, I’m inclined to agree with him.
Doctor Who Season Four Final
It’s fair to say that this is NOT a spoiler free zone, just in case you haven’t seen it as yet (it aired last night in Australia).
The Personification of Technology
When I was 10 or 11, and a bookish youth fascinated by anything science fiction or science fact, I found an article in the Reader’s Digest about the soon-to-be-launched NASA probe, Pioneer 10. I read and re-read the article over and over, fascinated by the scale of the endeavour—Pioneer 10 will enter the constellation Taurus in about 2 million years, if the Klingons don’t blast it out of the sky first—and by the prospect of learning new things about the solar system. I even cut out the article and pasted it into a scrapbook, which I think I still own, if only I could find it.
But mainly I think I was taken by the style of the article, because Pioneer 10 was literally personified as a plucky little adventurer exploring the depths of space, and beaming home treasures of knowledge until it was too far away to communicate. Portrayed as an obedient and dutiful pupil, Pioneer 10 obeyed its masters’ commands, and sent home the most beautiful and extraordinary photos.
And then, the article continued, after all the adventures of the asteroid belt and the close encounter with Jupiter and its moons, the little spaceship would start to die… [more]
A list of shame
A list of shame: the MPs who avoided Parliament yesterday when the Prime Minister formally apologised to the Stolen Generation. May their names ever be blighted.
(Via Larvatus Prodeo.)
The fragility and permanence of the digital self
Warren Ellis on Lifestreaming
Lifestreaming seems to be making a comeback. It’s “hot” at various trend sites right now. I wonder where people draw the line. Do people take a photo of every meal they have and upload it to a public site? I think the old Nokia Lifeblog sites were private, weren’t they? I guess some people would consider that kind of record valuable regardless, even though it holds no information for anyone else. Unless you’re eating at an interesting restaurant every night, I suppose. And even then, it’s not much more than a top-slice and a record of plates that have been shoved in front of you. Unless you consider the massive aggregation of feeds from online services that represents the bulk of lifestreaming as digital entrails that meaning can be divined from.
Class in the USA
Kevin Drum reports on the decline of labour reporting in US newspapers. The discussion thread has some interesting gems, too:
I’m still playing my one-note tune: The disappearance of “working class” from the American vocabulay forty years ago, and the substiution of “middle class” to placate the Cold War gods, bears its tasteless fruit. As an autoworker I was amused at this effort to blunt class consciousness. I am no longer amused.
It begins with perception. I remember my eleven-year-old daughter coming home from school: “We’re middle class, aren’t we, Daddy?” They got to the kids first, equating the working class with street sweepers and welfare mothers. Everybody else was middle class in the best of all possible worlds.
It’s a lie, of course. If you live off a paycheck you’re working class — no matter how much you may hate it. How can there be labor reporters if there’s no such thing as a laboring class? They disappeared us.