Monthly Archives: June 2010

Sensory Emotional Experience (but no information) in AQUA movie at Ottawa Nature Museum

I took the kids to the newly renovated Nature Museum this morning. Over all, it was basically fine: the restoration means there’s a nice building that will be there for a long time, and it’s clean and functional as far as museums go… otherwise, nothing particular special to report. But the movie (or “sensory experience”) they feature called AQUA (free admission inside the museum every half hour) was totally inappropriate for a museum — I was disgusted.

The movie is about water conservation, and it certainly covers that topic. However, it covers it with basically no information. Instead, the delivery is almost entirely emotional. It’s the kind of thing you expect from a tv commercial about a cause like water conservation, but which is totally inappropriate in a museum. Watch the video above for a sense of what it’s like.

The “experience” starts when you walk into a dark room and you pick up a glowing blue orb shaped like a drop of water to carry with you for the duration of the experience, thereby becoming a protector of the water, or maybe being protected by it’s friendly glow as the lights darken.

Some of the special effects are nifty — at one point the circular screen around the room is projected with the image of water giving the effect of being surrounded by ocean and, following the lead of the museum guides, the kids found they could use their hands and bodies to move the water, splashing its image around on the screen. Cool.

Not two minutes later, the room, and the music, turned very dark as a storm began to brew over the water — becoming what was presumably some sort of mega-storm that will consume the Earth one day if we’re not careful, although I can only guess what it was really supposed to mean. As the room got darker and the storm got more violent around us (in a 360 degree projection, recall), children clung to their glowing blue water drops for comfort, but not for long because, just as I picked up our 16 month old so she would not be scared and as my 6 year old lifted his water drop to her saying “Don’t be scared, here’s some light”, yes, at precisely that moment, the blue water drops flickered (yes, they flickered, sadly, warningly, desperately) and died. This was the first time in the “sensory experience” that children in the room cried, but not the last. Also not the last time something would die in the movie.

A few minutes later, the lights were back up and we were experiencing the water cycle first-hand — although you could only tell this if you already knew the water cycle: Sorry kids, you just have to try to keep up. At this point, as the grand finale approaches, by changing images and music, the mood switches rapidly between Good (beautiful image of water and happy music) to Bad (images of ecological devastation and angry music). For a minute, it’s like a very corny political campaign ad, totally geared toward triggering an emotional response.

Finally, the kicker: as the water drained out of the room leaving us standing on parched land, a voice told us that every eight seconds, a child dies of causes related to water pollution. On cue, the silhouettes of five children appear on the screen and, one by one, THEY DIE. I shit you not, nor do I exaggerate — the children in the video DIE. You can see this for a fraction of a second on the youtube video above at the 34 second mark as a child crumples to the ground and dissolves. Emotional blackmail, much?

The lights came up and the guides ushered us out of the room and, as I mulled over what I had seen and thought about whether to say anything to my kids about it, my 6 year old handed me his water droplet and said, “That was totally inappropriate.”

I couldn’t agree more.

That’s the end of my review, except to say that the museum and the movie’s producers (an organization called One Drop) also managed to blow their only opportunity to redeem themselves and deliver some actual information. After experiencing the thrill of emotional blackmail by sensory overload, the audience climbs to a second floor hall with posters and computer screens where one might have expected to find information about the content of the movie. Instead, on the computer screens, the audience is asked to commit to making a change to preserve water (or not to pollute water? It was hard to know for sure) either by not drinking bottled water, by eating cereal instead of meat (seriously) or, well, something else. By that point I just wanted to get the kids out of there so we could learn about the wonders of the Earth’s minerals in what turned out to be by stark contrast a very informative and well thought out exhibit sponsored by, who else, the formerly-Canadian mining giant Vale Inco.

Does mining kill children? Yes. Does water pollution kill children? Yes. But you know what? The sting of the scorpion or the bite of the Vietnamese centipede also kills children, but they don’t have silhouettes of children dying on the walls of THOSE exhibits, do they?

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Why I will not be commenting on Canada’s new Copyright bill

Jon Stewart, impersonating Darth Vader before ...

Image via Wikipedia

When I finished law school I got an articling position at a firm that represents some major media companies, significant copyright owners in Canada. I had been at the University of Ottawa and worked with Michael Geist and CIPPIC, so my past association with the copyleft??movement was easy for these copyright lawyers to guess. I remember when I met the senior partner on copyright, he said to me, "So you're one of those copyfighters? We'll turn you over to the Dark Side yet!"

Interestingly, just like Darth Vader, those on the Dark Side of the copyfight know they're on the Dark Side.

But I digress. Point being, if you know me at all, you know where I stand on copyright questions. I've spoken publicly and represented Creative Commons Canada which, although it is not in fact anti-copyright at all, is labelled as such by the copyright industry.

I had a lot of latitude to speak out as a student, and then working at a university, and finally working independently. But now I'm working at Industry Canada and, while I am not involved in the copyright file here, I do work on internet policy (slightly??related). Now, there are rules about conflicts of interest in the public service. Since I don't work on the file, I don't think it would technically be a conflict of interest for me to comment publicly on the copyright file. At the same time, I am already pushing some boundaries using Twitter in my work and I know that the powers-that-be are keeping track of what I write (hi there!). As a result, I've had to make a decision about my boundaries for commenting on copyright.

It's Tuesday afternoon and the word is that a new Copyright bill is expected on Thursday. It's going to be tough for me to shut it out, but I'm going to bite my tongue and stay out of it this time and instead focus on my work on the Fighting Internet and Wireless Spam Act (FISA) and the Digital Economy Consultation.

Thanks for understanding!

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