The scary notion of a post-truth era gains ground, driven by the overwhelming experience of evolving technology – or more precisely, its applications. Trust is a vital theme in this. Daniel Barenboim argued in his 'Reith Lectures' that sound was primal to the human experience of trust because it was the first sense the foetus had that there was something beyond, outside the purely tactile experience of the womb. Sight comes later, in its own overwhelming way.
This distinction is relevant to the strange notion of a post-truth era because that notion has been largely led by a focus on the visual and how easy it has become to fool people with the wide range of photographic and video tricks now available. 'Would you', asked Barenboim, 'trust someone just on their photo or would you need to hear the sound of their voice?' The question applies across truths doubtful from the political to dating. I, for one, have heard enough of Nigel Farage’s voice to know my view, even without the recent visual prompt card held up by his colleague in the EU parliament. I would never have dated someone (halcyon days long gone) I had not spoken with.
Trump's tweets really genuinely talk. He assumes no response. The fact is people are listening. The responses are yet to come.
Today politics, certainly big politics, is photoshopped by the millisecond. as, indeed, is much else. Adobe, the creators of photoshopping, have now launched a voice equivalent. Project VoCo is designed to mimic any voice, dimensionalising all its patterns, pauses and much more, linking them so that it can reproduce convincing replicas of your voice saying whatever it, or whoever runs the software, chooses to put in the script. Soon it will be perfectly capable of producing a video of J K Rowling and Eddie Reid agreeing, in their trusted voices, to lead Scotland on a campaign to recapture Spain, or sell Holland (many Scots are capable of believing they own it) in a venture to re-reimburse Jamaica. In short we have seen great changes before and often not understood them.
The coming changes are at least as great as any before. Of course we cannot understand them; most of them have yet to come. The important thing is to talk. All the voices in your head are good conversations; hardly perfect, but necessary. Most people have them, fretting – and striving. Hannah Arendt emphasised the importance of these pluralities of human life, and the absence of these internal conversations in those, like Eichmann, who exemplified 'the banality of evil'. Absence of internal checks. We need to listen as well as see. We also need to talk.
To my mind the potential is phenomenal. Above all a chance to bring art and science back together – our attempts to glimpse reality. I still want to walk across a bridge with confidence, indeed awe at the glimpses of truth that makes that possible. I can only repeat. Post-truth era? Piffling rot.
This is an era of better understanding reality, being humble across all disciplines that our understanding is partial, flawed and limited.
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