The Dystopia We Want

27 08 2015

As part of my job, I watch plenty of TV spots and promotional videos, and read piles of print ads. Sometimes, I come across some curious examples. This is one of them. Corning, the company behind this YouTube short, wants everyone – tech and construction companies, even governments – to use its product. That is, glass, obviously, which might be used, in some science-fictional future, for smart televisions, smart phones, smart bathroom mirrors, smart fridges, smart kitchen tables, smart dinner tables, smart shop fronts, smart bus stops, smart traffic signs, smart billboards, even smart panels in clothing stores to browse the catalogue. This is not your grandfather’s glass, that’s for sure. This is glass in the Internet of Everything era. Connected, all the time.

The curious thing, of course, is the inevitable question: do we want this? Is this a good thing? Is this our future? The prevalence of blinding brightness – white or faintly beige or lightly grey surfaces – throughout this video would seem to suggest some sort of heaven. Certainly, all the characters look very, very happy. They’re calm, comforted. They spend the entire day enjoying the endless delights of interconnected devices. But they also spend every waking minute surrounded by surfaces reminding them of their jobs, of their appointments, of the products they do not need but will consume. And the efficiency gained from such technology has a drawback, as anyone who owns a smart phone knows. The drawback being that social expectations change as technology expands the realm of the possible. You can contact people with more speed now, sure. But they also expect you to. Unanswered messages – and by unanswered I mean not replied to within the hour – convey a message: about how much you care about a person or project or team or whatever. The meaning of our interactions has been altered.

What I found intriguing about Corning’s video, quite simply, is its assumption about the absolute, unarguable, unambiguous goodness of the ubiquitous smart technology on display, its assumption that these images – of endless screens surrounding us and bombarding us with information all the time – are attractive, that they make the underlying product (glass) desirable. But, then, maybe that’s true: certainly, tech and infrastructure seems to be moving in this direction. And Corning, here, means to woo other businesses and governments, not street-level consumers or bloggers (in ad-speak, this video is B2B, or business-to-business). Maybe we’ll end up having to get used to this future. Maybe this is the dystopia we want. We’ll doubtlessly grow used to it, whenever it comes about, but it is no more desirable because of this.

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