Kate Pullinger and Babel’s “Inanimate Alice: Episode One: China” acts as both a database and a narrative of an eight year old girl’s journey through life in the twenty-first century. This project functions as a database in that it is a collection of a young girl’s life through a compilation of images and text. Additionally, this creative work acts as a narrative due to the fact that there is a main character whose story is being relayed to an audience. The purpose of this piece is to expose the potential dangers of living in a digital era where communication, interactivity, and recreation take place solely in digital form or through technology. Pullinger and Babel utilize various rhetorical techniques of incorporating discordant sounds, fast-moving pictures, and disruption of the text in order to disclose the impending problems of using technology as the only source of interaction, communication, and pleasure.
The story begins with text revealing that the girl’s father is missing and the family—the girl and her mother and brother—set out to look for him. A cacophony of sounds emerges from the background as the audience attempts to read the text provided; sounds of yelling, beeping, and Asian music are dissonantly played together while the reader attempts to make meaning of the story, illustrating the various distractions provided by technology. In addition to the distraction of sound, the text begins to disappear and reappear on the screen as if there is a technological interruption or malfunction. The narration is influenced by the technology through which the text is displayed as well as by the author’s use of purposeful technological distractions to illustrate the various problems that arise with a reliance on technology. Images move quickly across the screen and even pile up on top of one another throughout the story, symbolizing the fast-moving pace of society and the resulting inability of technological users to focus on one task at a time.
Throughout the narration, the text shifts from real life problems—trying to find the father—and the girl’s use of technology—as if the two worlds cannot peacefully coexist together. The young girl is constantly interacting with her cell phone—which the users can also interact with as well—throughout the drive. Pullinger and Babel slowly reveal that the girl is reliant on technology when her mother instructs her to turn off her phone, yet she constantly thinks about how she would rather be using her phone than looking out the window where she believes nothing exciting will happen—as if entertainment can only be provided through the technological world and not the real world. As the girl uses her cell phone, internet dial up sounds and other various noises permeate the space and make the users feel as if they are interacting with the technology. The authors succeed in creating rhetoric through cacophonous and distracting sounds, fast-moving pictures, and other various interruptions to make the audience feel slightly frustrated by the many distractions, further demonstrating the meaning that technology often provides disruptions that hinder users from connecting with the outside world. However, it is ironic that the authors chose to demonstrate this principle—that the digital world imposes upon the real world—through a form of digital and participatory media with which the audience must interact to grasp the meaning. Although the irony is clearly presented, the significance of this piece would not be as effective in print or other mediums as the dissonant sounds, pictures, and distractions clearly exemplify the potential harm caused by technology.