Think about it: so many of our perceptions of the world are framed by the corporations that fill it. This idea is represented literally in Jason Nelson’s project “With love…from a failed planet,” as accessed from the Electronic Literature Directory. The work superimposes the logos of 45 of the world’s most famous businesses on a globe, allowing users to read Nelson’s forecasted demise for each and every one of them. Ironically, however ludicrous these predictions seem, they are often also very appropriate, a dichotomy that, given the rapid change in expectations that the digital era has ushered in with the latest i*insert noun* or new smallest computer, challenges our initial impressions as to what is and is not plausible.
For example, Nelson forecasts Sony’s demise as stemming from the creation of the “ALLMAN,” a gadget that, like contemporary devices, attempts to pack as many sources of pleasure as possible into one thing. While Sony could only make 12 of these before collapsing (presumably from bankruptcy), the purchasers of those 12 gadgets each lived for a thousand years. Unrealistic as it may seem, this scenario captures a significant maxim of the digital era: the gains are bigger than ever, but so are the risks. By making such a ridiculous gadget – I mean come on, even the name is awful – Sony has, in one fell swoop, hit both ends of this spectrum by defying life for 12 humans while killing itself.
According to Nelson, similarly “outrageous” (as they initially seem) ends are in store for McDonalds and YouTube. While a tiny defective fryer part coupled with ensuing public paranoia and legal outrage precipitates the fall of the fast-food titan, manipulation of copyright laws strips the video site of any uploads that include consumer goods/services. These two scenarios and many others also address the risk side of the earlier paradox. With how powerful and pervasive McDonalds, YouTube, and other companies are, it would be only natural to think that their downfall would be equally as great and take the form of some unprecedented catastrophe. Instead, many of these giants are taken down by small, subtle errors that have colossal consequences. The downfalls seem more plausible because many of these blips in the otherwise perfect corporate environment resemble troubles that the digital era has introduced to society.
For instance, the widespread panic with which McDonalds’s mistake is met can be attributed largely to communication, that which, with cell phones, laptops, etc. is now faster and more far-reaching than ever before. While this communication can quickly bring flocks of eager customers to an innovative company, it can also destroy entire enterprises almost overnight. Similarly, the nuances in the copyright laws that lawyers manipulate to lay waste to YouTube can be likened to the opportunities presented by coding. Much progress in the 21st century has stemmed from this digital code of law. However, today, if a computer or website is incorrectly programmed, it can be vulnerable to DDoS attacks, viruses, and remote control that can either destroy users’ information or use it for malicious purposes.
But perhaps the most cryptic component of Nelson’s work is its nonstop navigation. At first, I was merely annoyed with the discovery that the globe on which the logos of the 45 corporations, countries, etc. lie wouldn’t…stop…moving. Since one has to hold their mouse over icons to read about the failures, this means that, unless he/she constantly follows the icon with his/her mouse, he/she will not be able to continue reading about his/her selected failure. Hellish? Yes. Meaningless? Perhaps not.
Nelson’s deviation from the intuitive exhibit design of allowing the reader to stick with their choice, when coupled with his digital age subject matter, communicates a lack of constancy in the digital era. However famous and relevant Google, McDonalds, and Wikipedia might be, they – and, indeed, most of the other organizations on the globe – have only existed for perhaps a few decades. This is especially apparent upon examining the context Nelson displays them in, i.e. the Earth, which has existed for these decades plus, oh, quite a few zeroes. Therefore, while Nelson’s imagined deaths of such mainstays in our everyday lives may initially seem childish and insane, when considering the fleeting nature of life (albeit human or corporate) compared with that of Earth, they accrue an eerie aura of realism. Does the world care? Nope – just like in Nelson’s project, it keeps on spinning.
Another apparent aspect of Nelson’s portrayal is the representation of such powerful and revered companies with mere logos. The globe is tightly crowded with these 45 symbols, some of which are wordless (ex. Apple, Mercedes Benz, etc.). Covering such an emblem of nature with which people have identified for generations with designs that would appear foreign to anyone before just half a century ago is unsettling and enhances Nelson’s seemingly negative view of the digital age. Also, instead of placing the logos atop the standard land/water diagram of Earth, Nelson’s globe is a barren ball of gray. This color illustrates the grayness of the paradox that the companies’ successes and downfalls reflected: the digital era is neither black nor white, but is a mixture of massive risks and rewards.
While the inclusion of “failed planet” in the project’s name lends Nelson’s view of the digital era negativity, the gray maxim presented as well as the sheer predictive quality of the diagram gives the project more of a warning nature. Much like the dystopian literature we have read during the semester, Nelson’s work is futuristic, even providing dates in the 2010s (after the project’s date of 2011) and 2020s to chronicle some downfalls. By creating an interval between these dates and the present, Nelson, like Forster, Anderson, and others, hatches hope that humanity can counteract the risks wrought by the digital era.