ED7A93 – Pink Carnation

Today’s episode is about how to connect when everything is disconnected.

This episode features “ED7A93 – Pink Carnation,” originally published by HEXADEC on June 29, 2020. The piece was written, produced and sound designed by Wil Williams.

Credits:

  • Anne Baird – Emery
  • Katie Youmans – Kimbra

✨Open World is a partnership between Philo’s Future Media and Flash Forward Presents, hosted by TK Dutes and Rose Eveleth, produced by Brittani Taylor Brown and mixed by C. The intro music is Dorica by  BlueDot Sessions. Additional music by T.H. Ponders. ✨

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TRANSCRIPT

Rose Eveleth:

Welcome to Open World. I’m Rose.

TK Dutes:

And I’m TK and Open World is a show about hopeful futures and how to bring them closer.

Rose Eveleth:

Yes, and on today’s episode, we are headed to cyberspace. We’re going to the beeps and the boops.

TK Dutes:

Yes. I love the beeps and the boops and the bops and the bloops.

Rose Eveleth:

This piece is full of them, so this is for you.

TK Dutes:

This is the one I’ve been waiting for. You know what? Let’s not keep these people from their bleeps and bloops and just get into the story. Now, ED7A93, pink carnation, by HEXADEC Podcasts.

Emery:

Hi, welcome to Shop A46920, Emery’s Everyday Skins. Are you looking for-

Customer:

NPC or person?

Emery:

Oh, person. Hi.

Customer:

Oh, thank God. I always get so weirded out with the NPC shopkeeps, you know? It feels like if shops were run by robots back before.

Emery:

Or if you bought everything in some kind of weird digital shop space and then things just arrived on your doorstep, huh?

Customer:

Yeah, like… Oh. Yeah, okay. I guess you’re right.

Emery:

I feel you. Are you looking for anything in particular?

Customer:

Yeah, I was hoping for some buffs on armor. I was helping debug the system and I was kind of into… Do you remember that trend from, I don’t know, 2102? We had circled back to the late 2090 and…

Emery:

This place is cute.

Customer:

You listening?

Emery:

Huh? Oh yeah. For sure. 2090s, you said. Yeah, I think we’ve got something like that over here. Here, go ahead and browse around here and see if this is up your alley. If not, I can do custom orders. I’ve gotten the editing capabilities here down pretty well, all things considered. It should snap to the data points on your build, but let me know if anything comes out all janky. Sometimes things clip weird. You know how it goes.

Customer:

Yeah. Cool, cool, cool. Thanks.

Emery:

Hi! Hi, how can I help you?

Kimbra:

Oh, I was kind of just, you know, browsing, but your detail work here is really impressive.

Emery:

Oh, thank you.

Kimbra:

I got to ask, did you paint back before?

Emery:

No. No, just graphic design work.

Kimbra:

Makes sense. That’s why the skill translated so well here. I’ve taken up painting and it’s nice but it’s not really anything I did back before, so…

Emery:

What did you do back before?

Kimbra:

I was a florist.

Emery:

Oh, oof.

Kimbra:

Yeah, so clearly that didn’t last long. I lived somewhere that was pretty lush but once it’s gone, it’s gone. I was a pretty early adopter to get into the permanent VR space here because a girl’s got to make a living somehow and nobody was really interested in some shriveled little dandelions.

Emery:

Wow, I’m really sorry about that. I never really had the chance to see flowers. I think my dad got me some baby’s breath once.

Kimbra:

Oh, that’s sweet. It’s nice that at least you got to see something before everything dried up. Sorry, I didn’t mean to bog you down with my sob story or anything. I was wondering if you had anything that gave just a little boost to dex. I thought it might help steady my hands when I paint. Here.

Emery:

Oh wow, is this your work? It’s gorgeous!

Kimbra:

Oh, thanks. I hate it.

Emery:

What? No, this is beautiful. Did this flower exist?

Kimbra:

Yeah. Okay, you know the color lavender and the scent? That’s what the flower looked like.

Emery:

Wow, kind of like a cute asparagus.

Kimbra:

Yeah, kind of. But see the blending here? It’s so choppy and I know I could do better with these hands if I just had a little help to steady them.

Emery:

Well, I think it’s amazing. I can do some art, but I’m definitely no painter. I wish I had skills like yours though, but I can show you to-

Customer:

Excuse me? Sorry to interrupt, but this jacket just kind of…

Emery:

Oh man, that just clipped right through your face, huh? Yeah, I can get on that. Sorry. I guess I didn’t get your name.

Kimbra:

Kimbra. Nice to meet you.

Emery:

I’m Emery. Nice to meet you too. I’m just going to go help…

Kimbra:

For sure, for sure. You said you did customs, right? Would it be chill if I just comms’d you some image refs for what I was thinking?

Emery:

Yeah, that would be great. I’d be happy to make something for you. Hit me up whenever.

Customer:

Oh, hey, I think I’ve got… Wait, no. No. Now it’s clipping through all of me.

Emery:

On it. Kimbra, talk to you soon, I hope? Vanta, I’m home, baby. Hi, baby. I wonder if they’ve got anything even close to natural fibers in this thing yet or if I’ll just have to go into the editor and see what I can do. Oh shit, that’s her.

Kimbra:

Hey, Emery. This is Kimbra. We talked earlier in your shop. I was hoping to put in a custom order for a new skin, just clothes preferably. Honestly I’ve never really cared much about clothes. Back before, I just tried to stay comfortable, so I don’t know. I just really liked your work. Sorry. I’m just now realizing how silly this is. Pants? Maybe a cardigan. Sorry. Feel free to hit me back if you need any more information or whatever. Anyway, I’m going to go catch the new overlay they’re doing in the sky tonight. Later.

Emery:

Oh, shit. The overlay change. I’m going to miss it. Vanta, baby, come on. Let’s go to the balcony.

Group:

Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one!

Emery:

Oh, dang. Look at that, Vanta. It’s the Amora Boreanis, Alora Arboretum. Northern lights. Yeah, big mood, baby. It’s gorgeous. Okay, I think I’ve got some inspo for this outfit actually. Do you like it?

Kimbra:

It’s so cute! I really like the structure. This cardigan is great.

Emery:

Okay, cool, cool, cool. It’s not quite done though.

Kimbra:

No?

Emery:

Okay, you see those weird color splotches on your sleeve there? I wasn’t just being avant garde. I was thinking that you might want to help me just do some quick finishing touches on the button up. I know you said your blending could use some help, but I figure…

Kimbra:

Ooh, the colors. Blending. Is that…

Emery:

Yep.

Kimbra:

To match the…

Emery:

Yep.

Kimbra:

And I could just paint on it?

Emery:

I was thinking I’d get the skin’s actual files for you to paint on. That way, it’d look like it was part of the linen texture instead of just paint on a shirt.

Kimbra:

Oh, I love that. Thank you.

Emery:

Pleasure’s all mine. Most people want to look cool. I can’t blame them. It’s just not really my scene.

Kimbra:

Yeah, same.

Emery:

I can comms you a file or…

Kimbra:

I might need a little more help honestly. I’ve got supplies in one of the studio spaces. Would you mind coming with me to show me what I’m doing?

Emery:

Yeah, for sure, for sure. I can just put a little away message on the shop for a bit. Which studio is it?

Kimbra:

B19443. See you over there in a sec?

Emery:

Yeah, def. Oh, wow. I can almost smell the paint in here.

Kimbra:

Right? I got into painting here because I did some painting classes back before when I was a kid and there’s just something about it. I do miss the real smell though and the feeling of it. You can kind of feel it in here, but it’s off, you know? Viscosity just isn’t quite right. Okay, sorry. How do we do this thing?

Emery:

Let me open up the file real quick? Okay, so I know it looks weird all flat like this but that’s how mock ups usually go. This section is the button down. See the buttons and the collar there? Theoretically, you should be able to select the color swatches with your paint brush, set the brush to, I don’t know, some other opacity or something and then go for it.

Kimbra:

Okay, amazing. Amazing. Okay, did you literally just pull these colors from the aurora borealis they made?

Emery:

Aurora borealis! Oh my god, I couldn’t remember what that was called. Yeah, I figured it would be a nice touch.

Kimbra:

Yeah, I love it. I might tweak them a little, mix them with some of my paints here. I never saw the actual northern lights, but I always loved pictures of them. They did it pretty well in the overlay but, I don’t know, it still feels kind of flat. I guess that’s just what we get though.

Emery:

It seems like the switch to VR was really hard for you, even if you did it early.

Kimbra:

Well, yeah. I mean, I don’t love that this was the outcome. I don’t love that we couldn’t fix it, that we didn’t really try.

Emery:

Yeah, everything just happened so slowly and then just so, so fast.

Kimbra:

I wish we hadn’t taken so much for granted. That’s what really got to me when I was still working. When some flowers started going extinct, people freaked out for sure. Orchids were pretty hard to grow in the first place, but people loved them. Same for hydrangeas and I’m sure you remember when people freaked out about roses.

Emery:

God, yeah, I remember that. Must have been a headache for you.

Kimbra:

And a heartache. I mean, roses seem cliched until they’re just gone and then you realize why they were cliched. I stopped remembering their smell a few years before I switched to VR. I had some candles and stuff, but it was never really real. Same for lavender, but at least lavender was always pretty easy to grow, even in the drier climates, especially in the drier climates. It lasted for awhile longer than everything else, but okay, taking things for granted. Actually, could you hand me the navy paint real quick?

Emery:

Oh, this?

Kimbra:

No, the-

Emery:

This one.

Kimbra:

Yeah, yeah, perfect. Thank you. Taking things for granted. People freaked out about some flowers going extinct, but then for others, there was just nothing. Take the carnation for example.

Emery:

The what?

Kimbra:

The carnation? Oh, okay. The carnation was this… How to explain? Carnations were really silly. They were cheap flowers even right up to the end. Easy to grow, super easy to color with just some food dye and water. They were kind of like… They were the kind of flowers teenagers would get for each other for dates but they didn’t really have a big function otherwise. They were just simple and nice and pretty and they didn’t need to be anything bigger than that. The small things always go unnoticed when they leave, I guess.

Emery:

What did they look like?

Kimbra:

Kind of like little pom poms. There were layers and layers of petals. Pretty thin and delicate, but they had this little jagged edge on the petals that I always loved. They were small and they were silly, but I don’t know, I just always loved them. They actually kind of looked like fabric ruffles, just tons and tons of ruffles but they were overlooked and nobody took them seriously. Nobody missed them when they…

Emery:

You okay?

Kimbra:

Yeah. No. I don’t know. I just miss it, you know? I know we can’t go back but I miss things feeling real. I miss flowers. I know that sounds so silly. I know.

Emery:

It doesn’t. Not at all. It’s weird for me. I never really got to experience anything natural, except for stone and wood. I only ever lived in big cities and by then, even the trees in parks were fake, so this whole new world feels pretty natural to me, even if I know it’s not. I can’t imagine how hard this must be for you.

Kimbra:

Yeah. Thank you. I’m just so worried that in another year or two, I won’t even remember what carnations look like, you know? Even if I try and paint them like I did with the lavender. I don’t know. It’s not sane. Okay, so I think that’s the first draft done.

Emery:

Is this something you’d maybe want to do more of? I’d love to do a profit split or something if you’d be into that.

Kimbra:

Really? Yeah, I’d love that. I would love that.

Emery:

I think this one would look interesting with maybe Grand Canyon colors. Did you ever go to the Grand Canyon?

Kimbra:

No, I never did. My parents always called it a big-

Emery:

Hole in the ground?

Kimbra:

Hole in the ground.

Emery:

Yeah, everyone out my way did too. I can help you with it though. Maybe if I described the colors and textures, we can figure it out together.

Kimbra:

[inaudible 00:15:51] growing up and she taught me and my sisters everything about everything she grew, but I was really the only one who took to it.

Emery:

Are your sisters here too?

Kimbra:

No, not yet. Probably in a couple years. I miss them a lot, but… Oh my god!

Emery:

Vanta! No begging. Leave Kimbra alone. Oh my god, I’m so sorry.

Kimbra:

You named your cat Vanta? Like Vanta Black?

Emery:

Listen.

Kimbra:

You nerd. You absolute art nerd. No, seriously, thank you. Honestly I’m shocked you even think my art’s good enough, though that [inaudible 00:16:30] dex really did help. You’re absolutely sure it’s okay if I set up a shop in here with you?

Emery:

Absolutely. We’re collaborating on just about everything anyway. It’s so much easier. Besides, I kind of get lonely here just sitting in the shop all day. I get a good amount of customers, but it’s just not the same as really having a friend.

Kimbra:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). A friend.

Emery:

Yeah, is that… Sorry, am I being…

Kimbra:

No, no, you’re good. You’re good. I’m happy to be a friend instead of just a coworker.

Emery:

Yeah, of course, Kim. You’re the first person here who… God, okay, don’t laugh at me. Promise?

Kimbra:

Promise.

Emery:

I just didn’t get out a lot back before, you know? It was really hard to. It was literally too hot to go outside most days, so I had friends in the apartments I lived in and I had friends in school, but I don’t know. By then, so many people were leaning really hard into the whole apathy thing and then I came here and I was hoping that more people would see it as, I don’t know, something new. Something to feel something about again and everyone just…

Emery:

Anyway, I know that’s not totally the case for you. I know it’s hard for you to be here, but I like that you still care about things even though it’s hard, especially because it’s hard and that’s the kind of person I want to be making art with.

Kimbra:

Oh.

Emery:

God, sorry. Was that-

Kimbra:

No, that…

Emery:

Gross. I’m such a dork.

Kimbra:

You care about caring. Oh, I’m Emery and I love feeling feelings. Kimbra, paint me a big rain cloud so I can cry but then a big rainbow so I can talk about how hopeful it is.

Emery:

You meanie!

Kimbra:

I love my cat so much I want to cry. Hey, Em. Sorry I was running late. What? What is all of this?

Emery:

Just a little something I’ve been working on.

Kimbra:

They look so real. But Em, you haven’t even seen a carnation before. You’ve only seen my paintings.

Emery:

Good. You knew what they were.

Kimbra:

Of course.

Emery:

Did I do them okay? I know the colors are off, but I was hoping that together we could-

Kimbra:

What do they do?

Emery:

Huh?

Kimbra:

Do they add a buff to something if you equip them? Are they consumables?

Emery:

You can put them in a vase in your home and you can look at them.

Kimbra:

And that’s all?

Emery:

That’s all they need to do.

Kimbra:

Did you do all this for me?

Emery:

Well, I mean, I wanted everyone to be able to look at them and remember flowers. They’ll never be able to be as good as the real ones, but I don’t want anyone to be afraid of forgetting. We’re here now, but I want us to remember what it was like back before. I don’t want us to take things for granted like that again. I want people to be able to have flowers again. But if I’m being real here, yeah, I did it for you, Kimbra.

Kimbra:

Thank you, Em. Thank you.

Emery:

I’m so glad you like them and we can make them better together.

Kimbra:

I think they’re perfect as they are.

Emery:

And I thought I was the corny one.

Kimbra:

I was trying to be suave. It’s my turn to woo you.

Emery:

Your turn to be the nerd more like.

Kimbra:

Boo!

Rose Eveleth:

Okay, I remember the first time I listened to this one and I was like, “This is both hopeful and also the most depressing one we’ve heard”, because all of living on the internet… I don’t know. I’m already incredibly online and it’s not good. Living on the internet, not recommended. The loss of actual stuff is one of the scariest things to me.

TK Dutes:

This makes me think of what happens if we can’t order stuff in the mail anymore or just go down to the store. This is the one that got me nervous, but then you have this friendship that blossoms because of that loss, right? Because these people are longing for not just physical things but each other.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, and I think the other thing it makes me think of too is for this character, the carnation is the thing that they talk a lot about and for me, a carnation is probably not the thing but I’ve been thinking a lot about what would be that one thing that seems kind of small today that I would miss incredibly-

TK Dutes:

Yeah.

Rose Eveleth:

… if we didn’t have it. What thing would that be?

TK Dutes:

For me, that thing would be… You know what? I feel like they’re going to take soda away from us soon. I don’t know why.

Rose Eveleth:

Over my dead body.

TK Dutes:

Don’t take soda. I don’t even drink it that much right now but I think one day, I’m going to need a frosty cold something and I won’t be able to get it poured out. It’ll be generated by a machine and then it’ll be virtual soda.

Rose Eveleth:

That’s fair. I think for me it would be… I like clay. I like to make things out of clay which is sort of the ultimate taking dirt and turning it into something. That would be so sad to not have anymore, to actually use your hands to make something. So much of our work, both you and I, is typing in a computer and clicking the mouse and doing things in this virtual space. For me, having that grounding, here is a bunch of mud that I am shaping into a thing that is not… My art’s not that good. It’s just fun, but it is really important to me and not having something like that I think would be totally devastating.

TK Dutes:

Yeah. If you can’t get that dirt to make into mud to make into clay, what do you do with your hands at that point? That’s why it was tough for us but then you have this growth of a relationship and the passage of time and that never gets old. We’re trying to make friends through Zoom calls right now and virtual birthday parties and this is that. We’re almost there, so I just want us to keep on trying to meet people and be open to people and enjoy their company. When something resonates, grab hold of that real tight.

Rose Eveleth:

For sure. Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah. All of those things are things that we actually talked about with the creators of this episode and in fact, this is one episode of a series now. When we come back, you’re going to hear our conversation with Wil Williams and Anne Baird about all of these things. But first, a quick commercial break.

Rose Eveleth:

Wil, Anne, thank you for coming on Open World. We are so excited to have you here to talk about this piece which is part of a series called HEXADEC. Maybe let’s start there, right? What is HEXADEC and what was the inspiration for it?

Wil Williams:

I have always had a fascination with specifically Pantone colors. I’ve been following the colors of the year for as long as I can remember and it only occurred to me this year… My dad owned a sign shop when I was growing up. He made big fluorescent signs and in his office, I would be there pretty often when I was little, he had this big binder of essentially just color chips of Pantone colors. I would just flip through it obsessively. When I wrote the book that VALENCE is based on… VALENCE is an urban fantasy story and in the book, everybody’s magic has a different color and those all have thematic implications as you do.

Wil Williams:

They are categorized by their Pantone color names, but when we translated that to audio, that’s something that just didn’t really carry over given you can’t… Well, some people can hear color. I’m not one of those people. Instead, we had them all have different sound effects for their magic. When it came time to write this piece for Open World, I wanted something that’s futuristic but also still kind of sweet, so Pantone colors were just automatically where my brain jumped.

Wil Williams:

After we wrote it, Anne and Katie, Katie is one of our co-creators of Hug House, co-founders, she’s also one of the voice actors. Anne and Katie both kind of razzed me, like, “Wil, you and your Pantone colors.” I was like, “I know, I know.” Then we just kind of thought this would be a really fun way to get out all of the ideas that don’t fit into something like VALENCE or don’t fit into something like Scoring Magic, just these little one offs. We’re going to open those up… We’re going to open up submissions for that to our other creators in house, like our voice actors, sound designers, things like that and then maybe eventually, the greater public.

Rose Eveleth:

So exciting. Did you think the sign shop inspired the shop in this piece?

Wil Williams:

Almost definitely.

Rose Eveleth:

I just love that it’s super future and we’re still browsing in shops, which I think is so fun.

Wil Williams:

Right.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, maybe let’s talk about this piece in particular and sort of what maybe the inspiration was for this particular piece and why did you go in this direction for this piece?

Wil Williams:

I really like discussions of VR and I really, really like sci-fi where there’s something massive happening, some huge cultural shift, but meanwhile, most of the mundane things stay the same. I think that that’s actually a lot more common than we think and I love these super advanced, really built worlds where everything is different but I think that if you’re taking a society as if we were starting here and doing one massive change, I think that we’re too in love with patterns to really move past things like browsing in a shop.

Wil Williams:

We see these changes slowly for sure. I know that most people are more likely to just buy something online than go into a storefront in some cases, but I like the idea that people regardless of the changes will stay the same and they will stay passionate about the things that they would’ve been passionate about before, especially if they’re the people who are strattling this change. They’ve been on either side of it.

Wil Williams:

For me, when I think about digital spaces, one of the things that I lose quickly and feel distance with is things like scent and things that are tangible. I wanted a really, I guess, sensuous concept for where to go. Something that is past just sound and visual, something that you can’t really attain in a digital space. First thought was smell and then second thought was touch and that just immediately had me hop over to flowers.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, I love… To me, there sort of feels like a meta conversation going on in the way that the format plays with the idea too because you’ve picked something that’s really hard to do in audio, something very visual and then you’re also sort of talking about the ways in which VR sort of distances from some of these senses that we can’t get in VR. So, I love that sort of parallel between the form and the story here.

Wil Williams:

I love putting things that shouldn’t be in audio in audio.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, I’m just thinking of a lot of the stuff you want to do in VALENCE. It’s like, no, you can’t do that.

Anne Baird:

No. So often, our notes in VALENCE to our sound designer Julia Schifini are just like, “Hey, is this anything?” And yet, right? And yet you get there. I think that…

Rose Eveleth:

Who says a dog can’t play football?

Anne Baird:

Who says you can’t have scent in a podcast?

Wil Williams:

Right. I wanted listeners, or I guess the audience, to focus so much on the sensory experiences that they weren’t having and can’t be conveyed in audio to make that hyper sensitive to them, to see if I could elicit that kind of response, make them really picture a carnation and think about the texture of the petals and then think about the scents of other flowers. I really like emphasizing a lack of an experience to try to get the listener or the audience to create that experience on their own.

Rose Eveleth:

I want to go back to something you said earlier about the mundane and the ways in which a lot of science fiction is super action in space and there’s not a lot of just making bread or doing these more “normal” things. In the last conversation we had, which is with the Obsidian podcast, the duo there, they talked about the same thing and in particular, pointing out mundane afrofuturism where particularly Black people have to be exceptional all the time and be saving the world all the time and not just living their lives and going on a family road trip and doing normal things that regular people just sort of do and pointing that out and how that is almost a radical act to include in these conversations around the future.

Rose Eveleth:

I love that you also brought that up too, this idea that the future, it might have space war but it’s also going to have taking out the trash.

Wil Williams:

Right. Not to compare the two marginalized experiences obviously, but I think that a lot of it is the same for queer people. Obviously I think it’s not a surprise to hear that a big inspiration for this piece was San Junipero, the Black Mirror episode. In that, you have a queer relationship that has these really beautiful moments of quiet but it’s still wrapped up in this really high stakes event driving it and the sort of trappings of figuring out what’s going on.

Wil Williams:

A big credo, and Anne can attest to this, at Hug House is [inaudible 00:32:27] but make it gay. I think just these little vignettes of something, just again, really mundane and really sweet but make it gay. I think that that can be really powerful and something that I know I’ve felt really lacking. Sometimes I think it’s easier, at least for myself, to envision that kind of media in a world that is separated from ours. I think that it makes the tension there a little bit easier and makes it easier to focus on the positive and the beauty of that experience versus, “Wow, I wish we could just have this in mass media right now set present day.”

Rose Eveleth:

Anne, what drew you to playing this particular character? Was that always on the table that it was going to be you or did you say, “I call this one. I want to be this character”? How did that sort of play out?

Anne Baird:

Oh gosh, what did we… It was always going to be me and Katie playing Kimbra and Emery. That was the only two options.

Wil Williams:

I mean, I can say, I definitely wrote those two for you two. I had in my head who I was writing for. Did not broadcast that to you two, knew who you’d gravitate for.

Rose Eveleth:

It’s almost like you collaborate a lot and know each other very well.

Wil Williams:

Hug House, and the three of us in particular, have a really specific vernacular and it was very nice to write with that. One, because it just came so easily and I know those two so well and two, because it’s in the future and maybe people just talk dumb. Maybe people just say ridiculous things in ridiculous ways and it’s normal.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. Anne, do you have a favorite moment from the piece that you were just really excited to voice or just a moment that you’re like, “Yes, this is what this piece is about”?

Anne Baird:

One of my favorite parts to record was when Kimbra is supposed to kiss Emery on the cheek, because when we recorded it, we recorded this in a live call together, all three of us with Wil directing and then Katie and I acting. We got to that part and Katie was so nervous about faking a kiss in the call, so we told her she could do it off the camera and then I proceeded to kiss the back of my hand a bunch of times just obnoxiously. It’s that easy, that’s all you have to do and I think that’s what you ended up using.

Wil Williams:

It is!

Anne Baird:

One of my obnoxious hand kisses.

Wil Williams:

These awful… Most of them were these terrible, slurpy noises. It was ridiculous, but one was good, so I was like, “Yeah.”

Rose Eveleth:

I feel like that is peak audio drama, just listening to 100 bad sounds so you can find the one good sound that you want. I want to go back to, you all met online and obviously a lot of this story is about making friends in an online universe and what are the limitations and what are the possibilities when you’re interacting with people in VR. I’m wondering how you thought about crafting, because sometimes you see VR world as a dystopia where it’s like we’re all just living in our headsets and we’re not connecting. Then other times, you see it as a pure utopia and you kind of have a little bit of both in here. I’m curious if you can talk a little bit about how you came to that version of a VR future.

Wil Williams:

Online friendships are some of the most important friendships I have, at least. I met Anne and Katie through this Discord server and that led to two of the closest friendships I’ve ever had, which also led to starting up an LLC and getting artistic work out there and sharing business knowledge and being in business meetings together, et cetera, et cetera. But also, I live in Phoenix. The other two live on the east coast and distance sucks.

Wil Williams:

The way that I think about it is all of the digital solutions that we have to distance or to connection, they all have these huge upsides, but they all come with some kind of a cost. I don’t know if we can ever have a perfect solution to anything like this. I know that I try to visit Anne and Katie as much as I can, but I miss them.

Anne Baird:

I miss you too.

Wil Williams:

It sucks to not have the people I care about most always physically present and I think that sort of lack and that longing for something more physical and more immediate also led to that lack of sensory information. A lot of what we wrote about in Pink Carnation or ED7A9E…

Rose Eveleth:

I just keep calling it the piece.

Wil Williams:

Yeah, the piece, yep. One of the things I tried to talk about a lot there is the concept of what is the real in that you can’t touch anything really there. You can have something close to the sensation. At the end of the piece, they have done their best to get the best approximation of a carnation and of these flowers but they’re going to keep working on it together and I think that’s as… I think that’s me channeling as grateful as I feel for things, even this recording right now. We’re recording on Zoom and I can see you two and it’s wonderful and I have calls with Anne and Katie.

Wil Williams:

We are doing out best to approximate the closeness that we cannot actually achieve physically right now and I like that there is an idea of consistently working on that too, finding other ways we can fill those gaps.

Rose Eveleth:

I want to talk a little bit about too, there’s this interesting play in the piece about job elimination but also creativity, right? Because you have a florist who loses their job not because they’re automated out of it but because there are no more flowers, which is a surprising twist on you lost your job in the future. But you also have this artist who is creating these skins and creating this work that sort of even in this future, computers can’t do. I’m curious how much you thought about sort of the future of work almost as a piece of this story.

Wil Williams:

Yeah, this was a big one for me and this was one where I think… I can be kind of not tech pessimistic, I wouldn’t say that, but tech cautious, wary, suspicious. I spend a lot of time, and part of this is because of VALENCE which is largely a discussion of data privacy, I spend a lot of time steeping in articles and news reports of how big data companies are spying on us and what have you.

Wil Williams:

But when it comes to that field of thought, I feel like I am very, very, very different from most people in that when it comes to the future of work, I don’t see automation as something that is necessarily a hindrance. In my mind, that comes with a lot of other really probably naively optimistic ideas where we would be post-capitalist or we would have a universal basic income and people don’t have to worry about their art necessarily being able to provide for them because they would just be able to live. Obviously if you’re in VR, there’s other things that go into that, blah blah blah.

Wil Williams:

I have also read a lot of stories about AI making art. There was a really fascinating, I think, RadioLab awhile back about an AI that had composed a piece and arguing whether or not we can call that art or call that music and who owns the copyright. Does the AI own the copyright? All that is fascinating to me, but I think that there is something impossibly human about most of the art that we consume and irreplaceably human.

Wil Williams:

I like this idea of a future where AI is making art. I think that that is delightful. I think ti’s very sweet and fascinating and fun, but I don’t think it’ll ever replace real intentionality in art and the inherent mistakes that humans make. Thinking about the future of work and what job replacement by systems does, but I tend to think that if there is less of that kind of labor that we are mandated to do and less of a need to do that labor for the purpose of survival, we will have more options to do more things that capitalism has largely frowned upon, like making art, which isn’t to say that everybody will abandon farming or abandon other things like that.

Wil Williams:

I like a future where we have the choice, where we don’t have to limit ourselves to the occupations that seem available to us based on location or our previous income or our education or et cetera, et cetera. We can look past a world where what we do everyday for X amount of hours everyday doesn’t have to be something that’s just needed, but something that we embrace.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, I also love the sort of ways in which the piece gets at memory and who decides what is conserved and what is preserved. The fact that these flowers are not already in some database somewhere for this person to look at means that somebody decided that they weren’t “worth it” to preserve and this history making and conservation of ideas and feelings with these two individual people and sort of building that for themselves feels like a commentary to me a little bit on data and data storage and who gets to decide what data is important and who is tagging that data. I know it connects to some of our other work with VALENCE and I saw that sneak in there with this piece too.

Anne Baird:

That’s our secret. Everything is data privacy.

Rose Eveleth:

It’s so true.

Wil Williams:

It’s so true. But I think that also goes back to how we write about the mundane. The reason I chose carnations is because at least… My mom hates carnations and when I was being raised, my mom would talk about how carnations were just so ugly. My grandmother was a florist or is. She was a florist. She is still alive, for clarification, [inaudible 00:44:15].

Wil Williams:

They just have a lot of flower opinions, a lot. When I was getting married, my mom was like, “Just do whatever flowers you want. Just no carnations,” and I was like, “Okay.” But I’ve spent a lot of time looking at them in grocery stores, especially being a very broke, very sad person who wants a pretty thing. Carnations are dirt cheap and everyone hates them but they’re actually really beautiful and they’re so silly. They’re just a ridiculous little puff of a thing. What? I love it.

Wil Williams:

I think that we focus so much on big, huge spectacle like you were saying and tend to forget about the importance of really small things that others might see as boring or simple or silly or cheap, but I think those things are so wonderful. That was definitely a commentary on that, on trying to focus on the importance of small, fleeting things because that’s another thing that I think is so important to the human experience is the experiences that are very small.

Anne Baird:

So much of our day-to-day lives are… It’s made up of the little things and you don’t think about it until it’s gone and then you’re like, “Aw man, wish I could see a carnation,” and you can’t or just the little tiny things in your life that you take for granted and you see everyday and then you don’t realize they’re gone until suddenly something’s different and changed.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, and widening out from those little things, the small stuff, there is also this element in the episode or in this piece of not being in the bigger environment with sort of maybe a capital E. The ecosystem, the trees, and the sky and sort of things around you. What do you think the impact of not having nature, more broadly, would be on people?

Wil Williams:

I think that it would have to be something psychologically catastrophic for everyone. I can’t… Maybe this is just from having lived up in the mountains for six years and then moving down to the desert. Don’t get me wrong. The desert is a nature, it does nature things. Love a prickly pear, absolutely, but sometimes a tree is real good, you know?

Anne Baird:

Grass.

Wil Williams:

Grass, amazing.

Anne Baird:

Trees. Big colorful bushes full of flowers. The leaves changing color in the winter, in the fall.

Wil Williams:

Yeah. I don’t have that.

Anne Baird:

You don’t get that.

Wil Williams:

Anne, you’ve said that it would be really hard for you to move away from the ocean.

Anne Baird:

I could never. I lived less than a mile from the ocean. I’ve always lived on the east coast where I have all the four seasons and even this year, we didn’t get any snow and even not having that, that I’m so used to, it feels off. Something feels off. I had one of my friends say she was going to drive up north to where my parents live because they’re getting three feet of snow tomorrow, because she misses snow. It’s just something like that.

Anne Baird:

I think, yeah, without the natural environments that we’re used to, they’re a part of us and if something like that were to drastically change suddenly, it would have immense impacts. Over time, if it changed, then it would have maybe less of an impact but to go from something to something else just so suddenly and know you can’t get that back, I don’t know how I would cope with that.

Rose Eveleth:

I’d love to know from both of you, at the end of the piece, what are you hoping listeners or the audience is feeling? What is the feeling you’re hoping that they leave with?

Wil Williams:

I think a little weary still. Read about climate change. Write some letters. But ultimately, I hope comforted. I think that’s the main feeling. Comforted in the fact that things will change always forever, but that doesn’t mean that the way that we experience those things and the humanity of who we are will change. I think that we will be human people forever and ever and I think that we will experience countless changes as things get more dire and even if they don’t. I think nothing really ever stays the same forever, so I hope they feel comforted in the fact that change will happen no matter what, we will still be okay.

Anne Baird:

Just that glimmer of hope always. Yeah, the change is going to happen, people are going to stay the same.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah. We have two questions that we’re asking everybody at the end. The first one is what is your favorite piece of hopeful media? It doesn’t have to be science fiction. It can be kind of anything but what is a piece of media that when you engage with it, whether it’s writing or music or film, just at the end of it, you’re feeling hopeful.

Wil Williams:

One of the other big inspirations for this piece is the piece 17776 or What Football Will Look Like in the Future by John Boyce.

Rose Eveleth:

Yeah, Boyce. I love that piece.

Wil Williams:

Thank you. It’s maybe my favorite piece of media just ever. For people who haven’t experienced it yet, it is an online multimedia thing. It’s amazing. Even if you don’t like football, I don’t like football, I don’t care, it is so beautiful. It’s about a future in which humans can’t die, just accept that at face value. They have been living for hundreds and thousands of years and it’s an examination of how we keep ourselves entertained and what we do in our spare time.

Wil Williams:

It’s another thing that’s just so mundane. Everyone speaks so naturally. A lot of it is depicted as almost chat logs where people have different colors of dialog and they’ll cut each other off and you can hear how that sounds even though there is no audio to it other than a few songs and videos.

Wil Williams:

Some of the characters are satellites and I love them. They’re some of the most human characters. It’s just so wonderful and it’s such a… It also talks a lot about climate change but it’s so aggressively humanistic and so loving of humans in a way that’s almost like aliens looking at humans and being like, “Look at these cute little guys. What are they up to? They’re doing what?” I think that’s such a genuine way of looking at why humanity can be great. We’re so ridiculous. We are such ridiculous things. Yeah, so 17776 by John Boyce, hands down.

Rose Eveleth:

I love that piece so much and I always love introducing it to people because-

Wil Williams:

Yes.

Rose Eveleth:

… the first time you experience it is really the best time because you’re just like, “What is going on?” And then once you get into it, it’s just this incredible journey. It’s amazing.

Anne Baird:

I just love Broadway musicals, so everything like that. Aw man, I know exactly which one. I’m going to mention Hadestown.

Wil Williams:

Yeah, you got to mention Hadestown.

Anne Baird:

Hadestown is a musical by Anais Mitchell, started as a concept album. Wil, you’ve been a fan of it for 10 million years, but the whole premise of it is you go through life, you know something’s going to happen and you tell the story again, you do it, you keep going even though you know… Maybe it might turn out different this time. It always just ends and I’m like, “Yeah, maybe it will be different.” I know it’s not going to be.

Wil Williams:

But the persistence.

Anne Baird:

But the persistence.

Wil Williams:

And the hope, yeah.

Anne Baird:

Yeah, I guess that it ties back into Pink Carnation and others. It’s an apocalyptic world kind of. Nature is dying, but they’re still going on and maybe something will change and what you do can make a difference.

Rose Eveleth:

What are you the most hopeful for right now in the world?

Wil Williams:

I think I am most hopeful for the gradual but continual uprising of the oppressed. I think everything happens too slowly but it happens and I think that’s what gives me the most hope.

Anne Baird:

Well, mine’s going to seem insincere now because I’m just… I have to be hopeful for the little things right now and I am just hopeful that for the next 10 minutes, my dogs don’t bark because they’ve barked a couple times but only once and they haven’t started up and I just have to be hopeful that they don’t start up before we get off this call.

Wil Williams:

It’s the little things, man.

Rose Eveleth:

That’s your carnation for right now.

Anne Baird:

That’s my carnation right now.

Rose Eveleth:

Well, Wil and Anne, thank you both so much for joining us to talk about the future and this piece.

TK Dutes:

ED7A93, Pink Carnation, was written, produced, and sound designed by Wil Williams. Emery was played by Anne Baird. Kimbra was played by Kate Youmans. You can find out more on HexadecPod.com. Open World is a partnership between Philos Future Media and Flash Forward Presents.

Rose Eveleth:

Hosted by TK Dutes and Rose Eveleth.

TK Dutes:

Produced by Brittney Brown.

Rose Eveleth:

Intro music by Blue Dot Sessions. Additional sound design by TH Ponders.

TK Dutes:

With engineering by C. You can contact us via social media. We are on the Twitters @openworldpod.

Rose Eveleth:

You can email us at hello@openworldradio.com. You can visit openworldradio.com for more about any of what you heard on this show, more links to the amazing creators who we featured here, how to find their work. Also, there are transcripts of each episode up on the website if you want to read those or revisit them and we really love taking this journey with you, so thanks for coming along for the ride.

 

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