Q & A with Professor Rudolph Piot. Interviewed by Marion Little for Health & Rumor Magazine, Oct. 13, 2017.
Health & Rumor: You’ve launched an experimental course at San Francisco State this year. You’re calling it Sessions in Augmented Reality: Blending Realism & Fantasy. There are no course materials. Is this class a sort of game?
Piot: I don’t call education a game. Not at all. One of our national leaders recently said, “Life as you know it on Earth is at risk.” I think we all feel this fear in some way. Even those of us who pretend our world isn’t at risk find ourselves reacting in a paranoid manner. We’re in fear of diseased immigrants piling up on our borders, guts sloughing from Ebola, somehow infecting us on our way to Starbucks even if we live in Boise. We fear airline passengers turning inside-out on the seat next to us, viruses exploding masses of humanity like bombs in our heartland. We fear slaughter by governments and citizen strangers alike via infected ISIS campaigns into our national interior. We fear our children coming home from school and dying in front of our eyes, giving us their red-eyed fevers, the entire history of our family dying and thrown into incinerators. Nothing left of us but statistics in media, hospital and government reports. We allow ourselves to get sucked into film and television in our homes, which somehow exacerbates our dilemma, stupidly sitting on our couches with our smart phones, growing paranoid by the second. We’d rather have bloody Game of Thrones than human contact. So what happens if we’re forced to go out into the world and confront fears by tracing societal secrets across contextual boundaries? What happens when we learn from society by putting our hands in the fire? Do we take the risk and find out if we’re going to die by walking to get that coffee? We have to trust someone. We have to trust ourselves. We have to learn to solve our own puzzles or humanity doesn’t survive.
Health & Rumor: They say this is the most severe health emergency in modern times. And you want to send people into public places?
Piot: It is impossible for anyone to go into an airport without a ticket and a respirator these days. Though you’re correct, there are other transportation hubs. BART lines were disinfected of viruses again last week. Three people fell ill. Two of them died. How many more related infections will spring up? There are extremely public places like those, and then there are hidden locales, where secrets lurk like shadows.
Health & Rumor: It seems one of the favorite words of the media today is SCARE. What do you think? Maybe that should be the title of your course.
Piot: People are slipping into augmented realities every day. Advertising distorts your reality, invades your social media, email, gas stations and phones. Film, television, immersive sports and stats and all the incorporated league fantasies—all the same. You become a part of it. Political dilemmas too. Every issue invades you to the core as if following you to your grocery store, where you get your hair cut, onto your school campus, to your job desks. Do you see the way people argue politics? Either side tries to scare the other that Hitler’s DNA is on the loose in the form of a virus that turns men in suits into fascists who eat hearts like Jeffery Dahmer in their grandmother’s spare rooms. People have to become aware that fiction and fantasy are not only everywhere, people are already a part of augmented realities that corporations have declared. Your eyes are being scanned as you head through the mall. Images interacting, influencing, caressing you. They pop up everywhere like a first-person shooter. What weapon do you know? Is there a trigger to pull against advertising? It was novelist Ben Fountain who wrote only five years ago, “Somewhere along the way America became a giant mall with a country attached.” When a country becomes attached to anything be sure your reality will change.
Health & Rumor: Do you worry about your students?
Piot: Every classroom is at risk from something these days.
Health & Rumor: But don’t you worry about them?
Piot: That what? They would discover the truth?
Health & Rumor: That they would get too caught up. That someone might hurt someone else. That someone might die.
Piot: People get too caught up in their dreams every day.
Health & Rumor: How do you account for the viral nature of this game? There are more non-students than students participating.
Piot: I don’t know why you keep calling it a game. The people participating suggest there's a reality to it that's more convincing than everyday life. They’d rather be led down a rabbit hole than into a NIKE store. Is that bad? Just because some of the people searching for answers are connected to me through the university doesn’t mean there isn’t validity to the entire nature of what's happening.
Health & Rumor: What is happening? What is the Geheimnisse?
Piot: Quite literally it means “secrets.” Layers upon layers of realities are being peeled away by some of the most brilliant young minds of the city.
Health & Rumor: Augmented.
Piot: Mostly. I know what you’re hinting at. You want to know if I’m the Geheimnisse. I’m not them any more than I'm a Nazi. Am I a creator of something? You tell me. The intellectuals are disappearing. That’s a fact.
Health & Rumor: How could that be a fact? There are no news reports.
Piot. Ask the people what they believe. Ask them for evidence.