Thursday #edcmooc

Day 4

It seems quite fitting that today be the day I reflect on the third film, Thursday.

This is the film that I relate to the most. Set in the near to present future, it tells the story of just another day in a busy metropolis. While folk go about their business – sweeping the streets, making the commute into the office, working from home, going out on a date… it is business as usual for the humble blackbird, too.

The course wiki page describes the film as ‘depict[ing] a tension between a natural world and a technological world, with humans caught between the two’, but upon first viewing, the film seems to be a commentary on the negative impact that mankind is having on the planet and its other inhabitants. The city in the film is a vast, uniform grid of high rise buildings and streets. The only open space, a single patch of parkland. In this sterile environment, the blackbird is reduced to foraging the streets for discarded food. It’s song mimics the meep meep warning siren of the roadsweeper and the beep beep of electronic games.

Soon, however, it becomes apparent that this plucky bird seems equally at home among forests of telecoms antennae as she is in the treetops. Indeed, she has chosen a satellite dish and steals wires from electrical systems to make her nest. She and her young are thriving in spite of the technology. I wonder if Matthias Hoegg deliberately chose the blackbird as his symbol of the natural world, since this species has proven itself to be a most adaptable creature. Originating in woodland habitats, the species is now ten times more common in suburban gardens than it is in the countryside.

The people, however, are less adaptable and when the power goes out in their office block, everything grinds to a halt. Theirs is a life contained within box-like cubicles and rooms. Daylight is shut out, lest it cause a glare on the computer’s monitor and even leisure time is spent floating in a tube enjoying the ‘amazing views’ of the city lights by night.

In this film, it seems that man no longer needs nature, but I suspect that such a life, detached from the natural world, would be highly detrimental to our welfare. A growing body of research [1] indicates, for example, that the natural landscape has significant beneficial effects on both physical health and psychological wellbeing. Even the presence of plants in an office or hospital ward [2] can lower stress, reduce headaches and fatigue and lift the spirits.

Similarly, taking Hoegg’s example of the blackbird, there is evidence [3] to suggest that birdsong has a positive effect on human wellbeing, bringing about both physical relaxation and cognitive stimulation, achieving a  state among humans that Julian Treasure, chairman of The Sound Agency calls “body relaxed, mind alert”. This reaction is no coincidence. Instincts developed through sharing our environment with the birds tell us that birds only sing when it is safe to do so. When the birds stop singing, we have something to worry about (psychological evolution coming into play once again).

Detail from 'Pigeons & Blackbird' by Jim Field

Detail from ‘Pigeons & Blackbird’ by Jim Field

Interesting, then, that the people in the film seem content. The cheerful graphics (reminiscent of the minimal realism of the works of Charley Harper) give it a utopian feel, while the reality of a lifestyle like theirs would be quite the opposite. It seems that technology leaves little room for nature, but in the end, our incessant quest for better, faster, more profitable, more efficient machines (and the demands on life and work that go with it) is likely to bring about our own undoing.


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