If a video of a tree falling in a forest plays when I’m not looking at it, does it make a sound? According to the Samsung Galaxy S4 the answer is “no” and it’s because the video ceases playing because there’s no business value in questions of metaphysics.
“Using the front-facing camera, the S4 knows when you’re paying attention to it. It’s only implemented when playing back video, but it means if you look away while watching a movie, the phone will kindly pause playback. When your eyes return to the screen, the video resumes. It worked flawlessly when I tried it out.” – Nate Lanxon, Wired.co.uk
Smart Pause is an expression of how what technology values and what it has been set up to monitor and record (our eyeballs) is influencing what it deems important to us in return. Video which plays while we glance away may or may not continue to exist visually, but it continues to generate sound. In developing Smart Pause, Samsung are specifically stating that attention not involving our eyeballs is simply not good enough.
The pause negates the question of what exists when we turn our backs on technology and it stems from there being no business value in the gaps between our interactions. Attention is now the dominant form or expression of currency. Without our attention businesses fail to exist, therefore it is attention which is to be measured.
At the moment attention is often quantified with a laughably crude basic arithmetic calculation combining unreliable data on number of unique users, number of page views and the amount of time spent doing a thing. The second a more reliable [legal] way of tracking how and why we distribute our new currency the business pinata will burst, showering the inventor with treats.
Eyeball tracking is one answer in the discussion. It is also the reason the Galaxy S4 has firmly shut the door on the metaphysical problem posed by existence without perception, video without viewer. The technology has been programmed to obsessively monitor our visual perception in relation to the phone and to video. A side effect of this is that it assumes a similar set of values on the part of the user.
It’s a curious idea which has links to Berkeley’s concept that “to be is to be perceived” – a maxim which resonates with contemporary culture. If you send out a tweet and nobody responds, if you write a blog and nobody reads, if you update your status on Facebook and receive no likes did you really do any of those things?
Maybe you did. Or of course you did. So why the nagging insecurity. It’s because existence, identity and performance of identity are inextricably linked. The business of technology thrives on a combination of our desire for performance space and our ability to indulge multiple existential micro-crises and doubts.
We seek an audience for our actions and technology obliges. Previously this was by providing platforms through which to engage other human beings, but increasingly it is the phones, the televisions and the cameras which are watching us back and responding to our performance. In point of fact, Intel are currently building a television that will monitor the viewer in order to offer personalised (and therefore more financially valuable) content.
Taking the question of what happens to a video when you look away, the answer is no longer about whether the form exists or not but whether the value exists or not. A tree falling in an empty forest may or may not create a sound, but according to Samsung’s Smart Pause, it definitely does not generate a profit.