In Douglas Adams’s seminal space opera, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the ultimate torture device is the Total Perspective Vortex. Once inside, the prisoner is made to understand the vastness of the universe. And then, in the tiniest of microdots, the prisoner’s place in the whole of reality is shown to him, with a “You Are Here” sign as final kick to the ego.
It drives the prisoner mad.
Now, the goal of the brand new Digital Immersion Gallery at Calgary’s Telus Spark is not to humble a person to the verge of madness, but to entertain and slide in a few educational bits during the show.
Visitors are ushered through a series of rooms, which activate when entered. There are screens all around — and underneath. You are totally surrounded by visuals.
For the next six months, visitors will see the 15-minute show, Every Second, created by the Montreal group Les 7 Doigts, and narrated by famed Italian actress Isabella Rossellini. The show follows the average human life from birth to the senior years — and, in doing so, makes us consider how much of our lives we spend… puttering about. It makes us think about how big life really is, and how much of it we actually spend doing, well, nothing much. Like our own little perspective vortex.
As you tour the rooms and are surrounded by dizzying images of everyday middle-class life, Rossellini’s narration includes some numbers that are meant to make you wonder what you do with your time. You learn that the average person will spend six months of his, her or their existence waiting at red lights.
You’ll learn about the millions of bacteria that are exchanged during one kiss.
Sometimes the numbers overwhelm, and they’re really too big to be comprehended. Can I accept that I am going to spend more than 20 years of my life asleep? Well, I’m already well on my way, right?
As a parent, how do I mentally reconcile the fact that, when we get to the room that deals with the teenage years, we learn that 81 per cent of adolescents are using social media, and 50 per cent check their statuses as soon as they get up in the morning?
Life comes at us in bits and bobs, so when the big numbers are presented, it’s almost like when we’re told a country is billions upon billions in debt. We don’t comprehend how large a number that is — and it’s easier for us to be outraged about a politician overspending an expense account by $500. Likewise, being told how many years we’ll spend doing menial tasks, well, they’re just big numbers. Fun, but really hard to wrap one’s head around.
Although there was one fact that did underwhelm. According to the narration, the average human will drink enough coffee in his, her or their lifetime to fill 125 bathtubs. Only 125? I could have sworn I hit the 125-bathtub mark by the third year of university.
Unlike those who emerged from the Total Perspective Vortex, I wasn’t driven insane. But, maybe, on the three-hour drive back to Edmonton, I did pause to actually take notice of the farmers’ fields, the livestock and the highways signs with offers of free legal representation to those who have received “lockdown fines.” It reminded me that it’s OK to not be in a rush, and to actually have a look around now and then.