Just Cos

Once again, we're back at the Gu launch 15 years ago, picking up where we left off. The Colonel's question has kicked off a flurry of hands and point-to-point hails, both of which you are ignoring.

"I will take further questions in a moment, gentlemen, ladies. I'd like to just draw your attention to some possibilities we have thought of, which I'm sure will trigger further ideas in your own minds. It may even answer some of your questions.

"There's not much to carry any more. Think about all the junk we used to carry round just a few years ago. Keys, wallet, watch, phone, computer, GPS, camera - it's all inside your head now. Apart from your outerware, there's nothing to carry. Convenient - but also, not many visible gadgets to show off.

"If you are carrying Gu, it's better than a Swiss army knife. A piece of Gu the size of the largest tool you want to use can be most tools you would want to carry, and it can fit around your wrist or your waist when you're not using it. You just need a portable hologram projector like the little 3D-Man Marbles Sony are putting out - half the kids have them on their outerware already." (Sony's stock, already high, hardly moves.)

"Once the price drops a little, you can carry more Gu, enough to make a seat if you feel like sitting down anywhere, say. And within five to seven years, we think we can bring it out at a price point that would allow a Gu servant to follow you around, morphing into anything you like, carrying your luggage - or rather, being your luggage; carrying you, if you want it to. Mechanical robots are very useful, but they're always the same shape, more or less. Gu can be anything.

"That's the point I want to make, people. Gu can be anything. This isn't just an advance in materials science. It's an advance in technological civilization. For the past twenty years, more and more things have been vanishing out of the quote "real world" into virtuality. If you can afford a full grayware mesh, you can immerse yourself in a completely convincing illusion of anything you like. But with Gu, all that creativity, all that adaptive power, reemerges back into the world that you can touch - without full mesh. Without any mesh at all.

"Ladies and gentlemen, Gu is holodeck for the masses. Gu is the new art medium. Gu is every piece of conceivable gear for the tradesperson, the spaceperson, the adventure traveler - but also, eventually, the householder. Gu is furniture and servants and transport in one. And the history of technology tells us: Gu is things we haven't even thought of yet, because when you put a new technology in people's hands, they will think of things that have never been done before - because they never could be done before.

"Gu, ladies and gentlemen, is the future. Our future. And it's in your hands."

Fade out on applause, and fade in the contemporary Caribbean setting. Halwaz's viewpoint.

"Your remarks were very prescient," you comment. "You had obviously given a lot of thought to the potential uses of your new technology. Adventure travel, you mentioned that. You're probably aware that my first documentary was of a trip the length of the two American continents with no equipment apart from a hundred kilos of Gu per person."

"Yes - and I enjoyed it, by the way." (You feel gratified.) "But as Jayden Todman pointed out recently, definitely my most prescient comment was the last one - that we didn't know what we had here until people started using it. Gu-pets, for example. Never crossed my mind that someone would take their Gu with them in the form of some sort of creature or companion animal, but in retrospect it was totally obvious. I mean, the Japanese have had robot pets for years - they don't eat, they don't crap, they don't shed, and they can talk to you. Or Gu-coses - you walk down the street these days, it looks like Carnival, everyone's wearing a costume. It's a new semiotic, there's some fascinating stuff coming out on it - people like Digby Duke over at Harvard have elaborate theories."

Stock footage of a street in a middle-American small town, present day. A small boy in a bearcos is riding a cartoonish Great Dane behind his mother, who is covered in what look like roses. A teenage couple pass by; their Gu-coses are morphing, abstract shapes occasionally resolving into the faces of pop-culture figures, with unrelated color patches appearing and disappearing in a different rhythm. A nine-year-old girl cycles up costumed as a knight in shimmering metallic rainbow colors. Her bicycle morphs into a small dragon as she dismounts, and follows her into a shop.

Cut to Digby Duke, a Harvard sociologist who specializes in cosplay, sitting in front of a wall-sized screen displaying this scene. He spins his chair to face your/Halwaz's viewpoint and reveals that he is gu-masked and –cosed as a Gley from Nomads of the Universe.

"Yes, did you notice, a very ordinary small town, but wide adoption, wide adoption of the Gu-cos. It's not even edgy any more, it's like tattoos when I was growing up - a tattoo was something your grandmother got. If you want to be edgy you make it ugly or horrifying, or if you're a teenager you have it morphing all the time, like that young couple were doing, so that anyone over the age of 20 is nauseated. But conservative businessmen wear Gu-coses now. I walk into my lecture room like this, nobody blinks an eye."

"What's the Gu-cos saying, in your opinion?" asks Halwaz.

"It's saying, I don't mind you knowing something about me, about my interests, my tribal affiliation if you like. But also, I'm a complex person, I'm not just one-dimensional." His cos shifts into medieval scholars' garb, then into the more modern academic's uniform of tweed jacket and beard, a superhero costume, and finally a Jane Austin suit with lace ruffles. "It's play, but it's social play; it identifies you to others who share your interests. I'm doing some very interesting work right now on the historical fascination communities, the ones who will immerse themselves completely in just a few key years and learn everything about them, obsessively. Tiny groups, but they often connect up in real life by wearing extremely accurate gu-coses of their chosen period. They even signal the length of their period of interest by having the cos slowly morph back and forth across it, reflecting the changing fashions over what can be a five-year period in some cases. Fascinating."

"And mainstream?"

"Yes, yes, increasingly mainstream. Sydney was the first to introduce themed months, with a different historical period each day during May of, I think it was the year before last, yes, that's right. But before they'd even finished out the month, others were joining them, and now every major city in the world does it, and it's coordinated internationally, with a large community that proposes and votes on what should come next." Footage behind him of midnight in Times Square, the previous New Year. As the ball drops, a change sweeps over the large crowd of Old Father Times and their coses morph into those of small children. "And there are designated zones, too, in some cities, particularly where the buildings are of a certain historical period or there's some association with an historical event, which encourage cosplay of the relevant period." A Georgian square in London; as people enter, their coses morph into periwigs, tailcoats and pannier dresses. "As an educator, of course, I love it that people are interested in history, although of course history is far from the only source of the cos. Entertainment, particularly pop culture, fantasy and science fiction literature, comics, TV and film, these were always well-represented in early cosplay and they still, still tend to predominate." A blend of images from all round the world of a wild variety of coses, representing dozens of entertainment franchises, all being worn on the street during daily life.

"It's like living in a carnival," smiles Duke, as his cos morphs to a vivid samba outfit complete with Carmen Miranda fruit-salad hat.

You smile back, and project a still image of Davidman. "Professor, could you identify the semiotics of this cos?"

He studies it, and his eyes flicker as he consults reference sources. He smiles suddenly and says, "Ah. A nice piece of nerdreference. Take a look in the Internet Archive for a webcomic called XKCD, early 2000s. He's referencing a couple of key advocates of open-source philosophies, Doctorow and Stallman, as they appeared in that comic."

"So, an in-joke?"

"Yes, but also a message, to those in the know, and more than that, too. Often what people are doing with a cos is identifying themselves with some desirable aspect of the original, whether it be heroism on the one hand or the ability to inspire fear on the other." Two coses appear on the screen, Andy the hero and Kon-Nol the villain from the anime Mist Voice Blood House.

"You see very similar things with masks in primal cultures. By taking on the mask, the shaman or worshiper took on characteristics of the animal or god represented."

"So you not only see who people are, you see who they would like to be?"

"Yes, that's well put, well put. People theme their lives. It used to be only children got to do that, that play about identity and themed costumes and surroundings were only permitted if you were little. But nerd culture, to which our current culture is increasingly indebted, by the way, embraced the idea of play and identification and theming continuing into adult life, and now that is being mainstreamed. There are people who theme their whole houses. It's not just for kids' parties and their bedrooms any more."

"How much of that do you think is because it's now so easy and cheap to do?"

"Well, certainly, that's going to be a factor in the widespread adoption of any trend. It needs to be simultaneously aspirational - and that aspect is covered by the identification - and also within the economic reach of people in general. But I think we were heading in this direction anyway. Gu just made it a whole lot easier."

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This entry was posted in cosplay, Digby Duke, gupets, Jayden Todman, robots. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Just Cos

  1. Mike Reeves-McMillan says:

    Apologies for the confusion if you’re a regular reader, especially if you’re following via RSS feed. Today’s post repeats (but expands) some material that was originally in the previous post before an edit.

  2. If you’ve never come across Nomads of the Universe and the Gleys, or the anime Mist Voice Blood House, that’s because I made them up.

    It annoys me when all the cultural references in a piece of fiction set in the future are to properties that already existed when the fiction was written.

    At least one of Allan Scott’s wizard costumes is from an imaginary franchise too. I’ll leave identifying it as an exercise for the reader.

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