TELEPRESENCE IN POPULAR CULTURE

A study of portrayals of presence

The Twilight Zone: I Sing the Body Electric

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ABOUT THE WORK

MEDIUM:

TV episode 

YEAR:

1962 

WRITER(S):

Ray Bradbury (based on his short story with the same title) 

OWN COPY?

No 
 

ABOUT THE STORY

SUMMARY:

(copied from http://tzone.the-croc.com/twilight1.html#third) "They make a fairly convincing pitch here. It doesn't seem possible, though, to find a woman who might be ten times better than mother in order to seem half as good - except, of course, in the Twilight Zone." A widower buys a robot grandmother for his three children. Two of the children take to her immediately, but one, Anne, doesn't. The robot reminds her too much of her mother, a woman she hates for leaving her. when Anne accidentally walks in front of an oncoming van, the grandmother throws herself in front of it. Anne, seeing the grandmother is unhurt, realizes she can never leave her like her mother, and she finally accepts her. Years later, the children are all grown up and leaving for college. The grandmother tells them she is going back to Facsimile, Limited. She knows her job here is finished. "A fable? Most assuredly. But who's to say at some distant moment there might not be an assembly line producing a gentle product in the form of a grandmother whose stock in trade is love? Fable, sure - but who's to say?."  

ERA/YEAR:

Present day when produced 

CHARACTERISTICS
OF WORLD:

It's the U.S. in the 1960s, except with robots. 
 
ABOUT THE PRESENCE-EVOKING TECHNOLOGY
NAME:
"Grandma" 
DESCRIPTION:
She's an android, customized by the children's selection of features at the "showroom." She looks, talks and moves just like a woman in her 50s or 60s. She is affectionate toward the children, and devotes herself to their care. Her "superpowers" include producing objects like marbles and kite string from thin air, making things magically appear on a blackboard, and producing audio playback of the children's voices by cupping her hands over their ears. 
NATURE OF TASK OR ACTIVITY:
The children hug her, eat food she has prepared, learn from her, and treat her as their grandmother. 
PERFORMANCE OF THE TECHNOLOGY:
She acts just like a human being - no sign of her being a robot at all, except when she pushes Anne out of the path of an oncoming truck and falls onto the road. She seems to be out of commission for a few moments, then moves her fingers mechanically, opens her eyes and gets up. 
 
ABOUT THE CREATORS OF THE TECHNOLOGY
DESCRIPTION:
A company called Facsimile, Limited which advertises in "Modern Science" magazine. The father and children are led around their showroom by a salesman-type man who encourages the children to pick the attributes they want and send them down a chute w 
MAJOR GOAL(S):
As their ad in the magazine says, to provide moral guidance of and care for children. 
 
ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO EXPERIENCE PRESENCE
DESCRIPTION:
The father and children are Caucasian, middle-class, and the mother has been dead one year at the time they acquire "Grandma." 
 
ABOUT THE PRESENCE EXPERIENCE
TYPE(S) OF PRESENCE:
Social presence 
DESCRIPTION:
The children have differing reactions to "Grandma" at first, but in the end (after 10 years' time), they all treat her as if she is their primary caretaker. 
USER AWARENESS:
They are aware of her constructed nature because they chose the attributes used to make her. Upon meeting them, she hands them a key to prove that she is indeed a machine. But we the viewers never see any evidence of her robotic make-up other than her "superpowers." The children seem only vaguely aware of her as a robot by the end. 
VALENCE:
The oldest child Anne reacts very negatively to "Grandma" at first, but later treats her with love and affection just like her younger brother and sister do. 
SPECIFIC RESPONSES:
At first, Anne calls "Grandma" an old pile of junk, an old machine, and says she hates her. After "Grandma" saves Anne's life, and reassures her she'll never go away or die like the girl's mother did, she calls her "Grandma" for the first time and is affectionate toward her. 
 
ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES OF PRESENCE
LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES:
It is implied that the children learn a great deal from "Grandma" through their formative years. When they're grown and ready to go off to college, "Grandma" says she intends to return to the factory, share what she has learned with the other robots, and go on to live with and care for another family. She suggests that she looks forward to the chance to someday be truly alive. The children respond, "You don't need to wait. You've always been alive to us." There are no tearful good-byes; they hug her and bid her farewell as if she's going on a long trip. 
 
AND FINALLY...
OTHER INFORMATION:
 
CODER NAME:
Tina Peterson 
CODER E-MAIL:
tina.peterson@temple.edu 
CODER AFFILIATION:
Temple University 
DATE CODED:
2/24/2007 

 


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