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Want to Live Forever? There’s an App for That

What if you could outwit death by preserving your mind and memories in a way which would allow you to “live” via an advanced computer screen after your physical body perishes? Would this really “be you”–would you be alive? Two Point Oh is a compelling, thought-provoking play that delves into this very issue. The play’s author, Jeffrey Jackson, reflects on his work, the deeper questions it explores and why technology becoming increasingly prominent in our lives may not be so scary or dehumanizing after all:

The premise of Two Point Oh is fascinating.  It hits home with our current technological culture in addition to dealing with the timeless themes of seeking happiness and wanting to live on after death–or not die at all. Was there a particular inspiration behind this play?

I’m fascinated by the place where entrenched dogma collides with new ideas. It’s something that happens over and over in human history, yet we seem destined to endlessly replay the same scenario, with breakthroughs branded as heresy and innovators as outcasts — until we slowly see the light. Surgery was once considered blasphemy, and now the faithful pray for hopeful surgical outcomes.

Early on in the play, protagonist Elliot asserts how, contrary to popular belief, technology is not dehumanizing us, but instead is “a living, breathing thing” that “is us.” How much do you think Elliot’s words reflect our current culture?

The current conventional wisdom is to decry technology as dehumanizing. It’s almost fashionable. Yet who among us would willingly live without, for example, electricity? Telephony? Dentistry? Are we so naive as to think that only technologies developed pre-1940 are good while current developments are somehow “bad?” And you can bet that all of the aforementioned breakthroughs were similarly eschewed — that is, until they became indispensable. Elliot says it far better than I could: “Within each one of you lies the spark for every technology ever built.”

How deeply do you think technology has influenced various types of human relationships?

One of the most interesting current examples of this is Skype. I know many families that feel more connected because of the simple fact that they can see the face of the other person while they talk with them. I’m sure anthropologists can explain the connection better than I could. But it’s abundantly clear that texting, social media, Skype and whatever is around the corner are allowing us to connect — and disconnect — in ways we’ve never experienced before. To me, denouncing it is futile. It’s here and it’s growing and it’s not going away. Better we find a way to work with it so that it doesn’t dehumanize us.

Just for fun, if you were in possession of technology similar to Elliot’s where your mind, memories, etc could essentially live on forever after your body’s demise, do you think you would choose to use it?

In a heartbeat. If anyone says otherwise, then they should alert any paramedics in their future to forego any CPR or other life-saving measures. Different technology, but with the same aim: extending human life.

For centuries, philosophers have been debating what it is that makes us uniquely human, whether it be the ability to reason or the existence of a soul. Two Point Oh seems to touch on this question as well. What are your thoughts on this?

Of course, asking the question is far easier than offering an answer — if there is an answer. Personally, I don’t believe in the soul. Science and psychology have explained quite neatly how our sense of self is so strong that it cannot conceive of our own non-existence; hence, our concept of the “eternal soul.” Once we let go of this antiquated notion, anything is possible, and it just might be quite wonderful.

Some audiences may see “Elliot 2.0” as a monster of sorts. Similarly, you have brought one of the most iconic “monsters” to life in your other play, Frankenstein, A New Musical. Do you think either character is really a monster?

Not at all. I labored very hard with Frankenstein to clarify the noble impetus behind Victor’s quest. But both Victor Frankenstein and Elliot Leeds suffer from a common myopia that causes them to reach as high and far as they can before they have come to an understanding of the human consequences of their science. This, in my honest opinion, is the big pitfall of scientific exploration. NOT that we shouldn’t “go there.” (We WILL go there.) But rather, do we understand how we, as humans, will be affected by the ramifications?

Early in your career, you worked in advertising and graphic design. What would you say are some of the limitations and strengths of these mediums as opposed to theater and film?

I’m very grateful for my early years in advertising. For one, it furnished me with a very thick skin. Ad folks deal with harsh criticism and rejection on a daily basis. Secondly, it taught me to communicate in a very immediate way, reaching quickly for the emotional pressure points that provoke human response. Plus, it’s cool as hell.

Finally, you are someone who has “worn many hats” in the performing arts world. What would be your advice for someone who aspires to a similar career?

Personally, I have a hard time “fitting into” the conventional model of theater and film. I’m always frustrated when I’m relegated to one narrowly-defined discipline. To me, all of it — writing, designing, directing, acting, producing — are part of the grand act of storytelling. Of course, it’s impractical to wear too many hats. But I dislike the way that artists are actively discouraged to wear more than one hat, as if it’s heretical for a writer to direct his or her own work, or act in it. In the early, golden days of Broadway, such multi-talented hyphenates were the gods of the theater.

Jeffrey Jackson is an artist whose talents and achievements traverse a wide spectrum of the arts, including advertising, film and theater. He wrote, directed, and performed in the acclaimed short film, Our First Fight, and his screenplay, White Collared, won Best Screenplay at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. For the stage, his works include Frankenstein, A New Musical, a faithful adaptation of the classic novel, and Two Point Oh. Mr. Jackson is a member of both Actors Equity and the Dramatists Guild of America.

Jeffrey Jackson

 

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