Technology and Theme Parks

By on May 14th, 2013 in Human Impacts, Privacy & Security, Topics

Ok, so I just got back from a week with the grandkids at Disney/Universal/and Kennedy Space center in the Orlando area.  But, it is a great place to visit to see the social implications of technology in the kinesthetic and sense-driven aspects of entertainment.

First, these parks are often on the leading edge of applying some forms of technology — video projection, sensor based games, animatronics.   With a bit of liberal mix and matching between the theme parks — you can get on a ride that moves in all possible directions for short or long distances (shake, rattle, roll, flip, traverse, etc etc), that presents you with compelling imagery — often involving video projection (onto fog, water), 3-D (glasses) imaging, dioramas with animatronic elements, sound effects, sound tracks, squirts of water, steam, fire, smoke, and now scents — orange orchards, pine trees, skunks, etc. Add a bit of flavoring, and you will be totally enveloped.

There is a tendency for the rides to push the “thrill” factor, how many times can you go upside-down before you share your lunch with others in an un-intended way?  This is an aspect of your capabilities you can fully explore at today’s parks.  Note: while NASA’s Kennedy  Space Center exposes you to some of these considerations, the discussion is medical and technical, not personal and embarrassing.

Some rides or shows engage audience members.  Not just by soliciting volunteers, but by capturing photo images, or training a video camera on folks for live interaction.  It is fun to find your face attached, albeit in a rather hokey way, to various animated images.  But there are some residual privacy issues as well — residual being a key word — how long do they retain those images, what rights do they have in said images, etc.?

Perhaps my greatest disappointment was in one of the best theme park areas, Universal’s  Jurassic Park.  They have re-created that theme park for your enjoyment.  For those who have seen the movie(s), you will recognize the park, entry way, music, concepts, etc. All of which is good fun.  However, if you know the first movie, the purpose of the park was educational not just have fun looking at the dinosaurs.  While those elements are contained within Universal’s park, particularly in the Dinosaur Discovery Lab — they blew their opportunity to actually met the (fictional) Jurassic Park objective of education.  I can accept the hatching area where the live staff members portraying scientists reveal the miracle of a velociraptor emerging from the egg — and even the implication that they might have gotten the DNA from blood sucking insects — this is too much a part of the story line to be ignored.  But from then on every element could be today technology rather than Hollywood hokum   For example, they have a wall with imitation “neutrino imaging” technology — where side-scan radar is a real example that would accomplish the objective today.  Their recombinant DNA demonstration could do much with scientific accuracy that would inform the visitor.  Universal could take a page from Disney’s Epcot playbook and invite vendors of related technology to run a bit of a show room.  DNA sequencing would be an obvious example in this particular case.

I have been concerned with the “Crichtonazation” of technology for some time. Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain, Prey,  etc.) often uses the trope of technology gone astray (as opposed to people, or other flaws) that can re-enforce a public mis-trust of technology.  The problem of course is that there is an appropriate mis-trust of technology, that should be in the public eye and dialog without the hype that is necessary to sell books.

Best ride? Harry Potter at Universal — I’m an engineer, I understand wizards and magic, that is right down my (Diagone) alley — great use of most of the above devices — and did I mention that it snows inside the castle — much  cooler than getting wet. — and yes, I did avoid sharing my lunch … just.