I’ve been communicating a lot of deep, personal sentiments via gadget lately. Text message, email, Skype, social media. I’m really thankful for these relatively new conduits because without them, I would have fewer options in which to express my sentiments. Options. Options. Quantity. Convenience.
But, because of these recurring interactions with buttons and screens, I am acutely aware of their presence overlaying, or contaminating, or watching like a sick voyeur, the precious words and phrases I share with my loved ones. Does the mode of communication alter the content? Is the recipient of my expression affected differently by my voice emitted from a laggy microphone? What does pixelated eye contact feel like?
It feels like I compressed my heart and uploaded some sort of digital format love file to a cloud thing. I don’t even know what that means. I resent my ignorance, but also cannot admit liking things I don’t understand, even if they do give me options, options.
Yet, I am already inside this world, so I’ll dip a little further. I want to play with sensors and bodies. I am going to subject my non-computer compatible brain to the process of learning and implementing Arduino. I will program force resistant sensors fastened on the dancers’ bodies to send a digital signal to my laptop. The input comes from physical pressure on the sensor and the output can be sound, light, video, etc. I will create an environment within a studio in which dancers can use wired technology as their main mode of interpersonal communication.
I’m going to resist declarative justification for some time. I do have some initial gut answers, but I’m going to savor the feeling of mystery and allow myself to prioritize inclination and curiosity over necessity and definition and purpose. Without justification, I allow myself more freedom. Learning Arduino is not a means to serve a predetermined end, but a creative act with unknown consequences.
So instead, I’m going to talk about manipulation.
Manipulation is a fun word. By referencing Etymonline.com I discovered that the word originally described a method for digging ore back in 1730. It comes from manipule, which in French refers to a pharmacists’ measure, and manipulus, which in Latin means handful, sheaf and bundle. “Manus” = hand and “plere” = to fill. It later developed into a sense of skillful handling of objects around 1826 and then the definition extended to include the handling of persons as well as objects in 1828.
The main meanings of manipulate today are:
1. To move, arrange or operate something using the hands
2. To influence, manage, direct, control or tamper with something
3. To handle and move a body part, either as an examination or for a therapeutic purpose
(Source = wiktionary.org)
Dictionary.com also claims that during the mid 1900’s manipulate also served as a euphemism for masturbate. Masterbate / manipulate. To operate something using the hands.
Someone taught me this past weekend that providing food for others is a manipulation tactic; it sends a message that you are caring for and nurturing them, giving them the signal that you are in control of their wellbeing. Have you ever seen a bowl of candy at the bank? Yes, they are manipulating you.
Manipulate definition #1- to operate something using the hands. What is the last thing you operated using your hands? Mine was my cell phone, although I don’t think it would be entirely correct to say “Today I manipulated my cell phone.” I sent a What’s App message to my friend in Belgium. It was simply an emoji of the American flag. This single-character message means, “I’m so excited that you’re moving to my country and I’ll get to see you all the time!” and “My country is the greatest country in the whole world and your country is shit” and “MERICAH” and “You’re going to love sitting around in American traffic and our beer is better than yours.” Hopefully, he won’t just get the flag icon, but he’ll also get the message.
Manipulate definition #2 – to influence, manage, direct, control or tamper with something. Oh, I just love the word tamper!* When is the last time you were tampered with? Or were being directed or controlled? I guess, in a way, I was directed towards that damn American flag emoji. I wanted to send a message, but didn’t know what to say. I stumbled across that stupid flag thing and the moment it presented itself to me, my thumb, as if it had a mind of its own, selected the flag without hesitation. Had my Belgian correspondent said, “ik hou zielsveel van jou” to me in person, I would have made a gesture of affection. But our mode of communication, the cell phone, directed me to a different response. Our mode of communication didn’t provide an outlet for my preferred means of expression. Therefore, I had to accept the options offered to me, like a red lollipop from a bank administrator. I hate lollipops, but I hate the red ones the least. And selecting the red one feels wonderful because I get to reject the purple ones.
*Some other good synonyms for tamper: Meddle, tinker, busybody, doctor, fiddle with, monkey around, muck about…