Taking Pictures of Elvis on TV: How to Almost Break Google+

There's no better way to disrupt a machine of perpetual documentation like the Google monolith than to create something ephemeral

elvis tvs.jpg

I have a friend who collects old photos of TVs. Scratch that. I have a friend who collects old photos of TVs playing Elvis.

She has about thirty photos in total. Some were found in an abandoned rural farmhouse, while others were resurrected from her grandmother's basement. Why Elvis? I have no idea. But they're a static document of something that used to be ephemeral. In a world before VCRs and DVRs and handheld video recording devices, there was such a thing as a "moment" to be missed.

When I was a kid in the 1980s I had a VHS tape of the movie Captain EO.

I loved Michael Jackson and would watch that thing over and over again, wearing out the tape, back when there was media that would show its age if you loved it enough. But the thing was, I didn't understand the nature of recorded visual media; I understood the concept of live television. So my five-year-old brain thought that every time I put that tape in the VCR it would cue some kind of crazy chain reaction where Michael Jackson, in a TV studio far far away from suburban St. Paul, would start singing and dancing just for me. (Editor's note: Wait, that's not how it works?!)

I live in Los Angeles now, probably not that far from where Captain EO was filmed. It's Carmageddon Eve and earlier tonight I was thinking about the next three days of being holed up in my apartment. Frankly, I don't remember the last time I even used the 405 freeway (I knew I had become an Angeleno the day I starting putting "the" in front of freeway names) but the closure of such a vital strip of pavement meant that I had an excuse to stay in and be productive. Well, as productive as a man with Internet access can possibly attempt to be.

After banging out two and a half sentences about the history of World's Fairs, I hit command-T to open up a new browser window like a hedonistic ape in some perverse will power experiment. Gotta check Google+!

The land of Google+ is still virgin territory. The rolling hills of pixels so inviting, so fresh, you just want to grab a digital scoop of Google+ earth to feel the ones and zeroes against your flesh. So many people to put in their little boxes, sorry "circles," and so many new self-referential jokes that must be made to show how above this new technology we all are.

I start thinking about how I might break this technology. Fundamentally I'm kind of a jerk. I think most people who tinker are jerks. Something deep inside people who futz with technology there lies the arrogance of wanting to create something special, something unique. Something we can plant a flag in and claim as our own.

How better to break a machine of perpetual documentation like the Google monolith than to create ephemera? I decide to create a Google+ movie screening. Flipping through my DVDs I started to think about what my friends, sorry "circles," on Google+ might be interested in. I decided on an old episode of Disneyland TV titled "Magic Highway, U.S.A." which aired on May 14, 1958. Directed by Disney animation legend Ward Kimball, the entire fifty-odd minute episode is actually quite boring, and television reviewers at the time weren't shy about saying as much. But those final nine minutes, when we're shown a shiny futuristic world of driverless cars and miles of tubular highways glistening against the desert sun, is pure retrofuture porn.

Presented by

Matt Novak started the Paleofuture blog in January of 2007. Matt has since become an accidental expert on past visions of the future, and oversees a tremendous physical archive of materials related to retro-futurism.

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