In our Culture Crossover series we pick up examples of projects that delightfully bridge the worlds of technology and culture. We’ll be reviewing exhibitions, giving you a heads up on cultural events or talks coming up in the UK and highlighting the best techy art.
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Taking its title from the semiotic concept formulated by French sociologist Jean Baudrillard, six-minute concept film HYPER-REALITY envisions a gamified future world where a mesh of digital phantasms bleed into the mundanities of everyday existence.
The film opens with a POV perspective of our narrator, Juliana Restrepo, whose vision is augmented by a garish digital layer slicked between her and reality. The film opens with a Restrepo swiping through a larger than life candy crush style game but her commute interrupted by a ‘Jobmonkey Inspiration Guru’ that informs her she is late for an appointment – and that she had better “hurry for a good rating”.
From the view of a heads-up-display we see a list of pinned reminders of tasks to complete – buying groceries for a ‘Mr D Jurado’, work as a ‘costumed retail assistant’ mascot, proof reading, ‘user testing for dogs’ and an elderly care ‘bonus job’; a tranche of piece work reminiscent of life in a totally gig-economised reality surely not too distant from our own, where daily errands take priority over the lives of the elderly and infirm. The comparisons to the likes of Deliveroo, Uber and Lyft are immediately apparent – but also to services in China such as hiring strangers to hold a table in a restaurant until they arrive.
What’s the logical conclusion to total media saturation, gig work, and aggressive, neoliberal disaster capitalism? HYPER-REALITY points to one possibility.
The cushy white-collar job is marked as ‘premium only’ and we can safely assume out of reach for most of the task-fillers. The Jobmonkey ‘guru’ reminds our protagonist that running to make her appointment would be both ‘healthy and efficient’ – the kind of feel-good mindfulness language that corporate environments weaponise to mask the neverending drive towards employee productivity.
Every aspect of human life seems to be commoditized in this late-stage capitalist vision: her achievements are listed as ‘none’, and a prompt in Restrepo’s contact list tells her she should aim to “GET MORE FRIENDS”. A virtual reality cat stalks the sky, while all objects are blanketed in commercial image, and Sims-esque markers hover above the heads of living people.
“We all become living specimens under the spectral light of ethnology,” said Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulation: where our fundamental sense of being is so informed by the images impressed upon us that human authenticity becomes impossibly more distant.
When Matsuda first started the Kickstarter for this project in the early 2010s, Google was debuting early prototypes of its glasses that overlaid reality with virtual indents. By the time the video hit YouTube in 2016, people were falling Lemming-like to their deaths or walking into traffic in pursuit of rare monsters in Niantic’s enormously popular Pokemon Go augmented reality mobile game.
The film, by journey’s end, finishes its nightmarish path into total simulation when Julia’s entire identity is glitched into erasure by an anonymous street hacker. Her only option, breathless, anxious, stripped of her loyalty cards and Jobmonkey points (“Mis puntos!”) is to stumble towards an icon of the Virgin Mary stood up on the stoop of a Church, and – drawing a cross within an augmented crucifix with her finger – she starts anew as a Level One Catholic. Her next task? Confess her sins.
Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror all too often gets the credit for re-popularising grim visions of hellish technocracy – to the point where it is satirised in Facebook groups such as What If Phones, But Too Much? – but Matsuda’s film hits a more satisfying mark, showing us a slice-of-life without a grand vision, without piety, that feels so close to the world that we already inhabit.