Jumping Jack Flash -or- Computers and Planes, Buses and Trains

Computer Operators and the Operational Flow of Travel

The computer has changed many if not most people's lives in one way or another who live on our planet.  People "commute" to work everyday using buses, trains and even planes. Computers and "computer operators" help to maintain the commercial and commuter  operational flow of traffic in the "global village". Many dreams sent to the International Institute for Dream Research attest to the growing social psychological influence and effects of modern technology and media on the marketplace and theatre of our dreams. One of the earliest films that used the modern computer and the Internet as a plot device was "Jumping Jack Flash", an underrated Cold War comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg. In the fourth installment of the "Die Hard" series "Live Free or Die Hard" John McClane (Bruce Willis) fights a group of cyber-terrorists. The terrorists are able to take cybernetic control of transportation, electrical grids, and the stock market in order to create a "fire sale" that underscores American reliance on computers and vulnerability to cyber-warfare.

The dream below comes from a "computer operator". Here's the dream:

Virgina, 47 American Computer Operator

This is a recurring dream that I have had at least once a week for the past few years. I call it my "travelling" dream. In my dream I'm on a bus, train or airplane and I seem to know where I'm going, although I have never reached my destination in any of the dreams. During the dream I have to transfer several times to other buses/trains along the way. It's not the type of travelling you do when you go on a vacation, but rather like commuting. Anyways the trip goes on and on and the route frequently changes, but I remain unconcerned that I've not reached my destination. I never feel frustrated or anxious in these dreams, I simply go with the flow and plod on to the next step of the journey. I'm never with family or friends, although there are other commuters on the bus/train/plane.

Recently I had this dream and it had a variation (just this once). I was on a train and it was nearing my station. I was wondering what my next step would be when I got off, whether I would catch another train or a bus. The train stopped and as I stepped off I noticed my van in the parking lot. It was like a light bulb went on as I thought (in my dream) "Aha! That's it! I'll use my own vehicle, then I'll surely get there this time!" The dream ended at that point, so funny enough, I still never got to my destination. I thought that maybe this was the final version of this dream and I would not have it again, but I have had it several times since then. Pretty boring stuff, but a VERY frequent recurring dream.

What surprises me are the emotions that I feel when I wake up. I feel so frustrated at having the dream yet again, plus I feel that the dream didn't end properly (I didn't get to my destination), I get angry at the passive "version" of myself in the dream, just going with the flow and seeming unconcerned about the lengthy route. Whereas in my dream I'm a sort of Stepford commuter, transferring endlessly from bus to bus, train to train, plane to plane undaunted. I feel like yelling at the "me" in the dream, to get off and take another route, whatever it takes, just get there this time! Have fun with it.

Mr Hagen's Reply: Traveling Dreams-or- The Stepford Wife's Subroutines

The rational method of the "next step" in the dream in terms of mathematics, computers and computing, points to the computer science concept of the "algorithm". In your dream report, you say you feel as if you are a "Stepford commuter", thereby making reference to the film "The Stepford Wives", where all the women are replaced by zombie like obedient and submissive cyborg wives. The psychological problem as your dream seems to point out, is that as humans, we are not only rational agents (behavioural economic), we also have emotions, which is most likely a non-algorithmic process of thinking. This is why you feel frustration and angry at your passive automated self, you have feelings, not behavioural sub-routines.

This becomes a social problem when a society that overemphasizes and values rational logic at the expense of the emotional. The original "Star Trek" TV series, as well most of the other spin off franchises spent a great deal of time in various episodes and films contrasting the difference and the psychological problem (think of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" and V'Ger). Donna Haraway "A Cyborg Manifesto" uses the cyborg metaphor, and in her own words: "The cyborg does not dream of community on the model of the organic family, this time without the oedipal project. The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust."

While mathematical computation metaphors and computer poetry may help both men and women to think, problem solve and dream rationally, it does not necessarily follow or help those trying to solve emotional problems such as passive aggressive behaviour, or as Haraway points to, Oedipal feelings of jealousy. In the novel "Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K. Dick the quantifiable difference between androids and humans is measured by empathy and emotional response (The novel was later made into a film "Blade Runner"). Empathy is the real test and definition of what it means to being human. While there is certainty that computers today or in the future will pass the "Turing Test", films like "I Robot" and the "Terminator" franchise illustrate the psychological problems machines have with processing emotions.

Further Reading:

Joseph Weizenbaum, "Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation"


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