Released in 2011 before Google Glass had even commenced product testing, the video dramatises a day in the life of a family whose every waking moment is facilitated through the power of the omnipresent glass touch-screen. It’s a slick, superbly produced commercial that quickly received more than 17 million views on Youtube.
On the face of it, this is bewildering. However well produced a commercial it is, it is still – unashamedly – a commercial, advertising a product that at that point didn’t exist, garnering 17 million views? There is clearly something more to it.
Of course what Corning’s video is promoting is not Google Glass, nor any of the powers it confers upon the family in the video, but a vision of the future. A lush, lavishly produced vision, and with it the implicit promise that this might even turn out to be real.
Lush and lavishly produced it may be, but Corning’s future is also painfully flimsy. It does not take much prodding to see that the future Corning describes is no future at all – it’s the present day, scrubbed clean and with a rash of touch-screens infesting every surface.
Strategic foresight consultant Noah Raford points out how narrowly consumer-oriented design fiction such as Corning’s video engage with the future: ‘These kinds of videos take no consideration of the social, political and economic changes going on around us; changes so profound and fundamental that they make touch-screen glass look like a 2-bit side act to the real drama of the coming decade. Widespread unemployment, a climate crisis, resource shortages, political re-allignment, labor unrest, and both more outrageous and more mundane scientific advances such as anti-biotic immunity, cheap cell phones and the end of privacy will have far more industry-shattering impact than anything so simple and narrow-minded as ubiquitous information displays.’
Virtually identical in structure to ‘A Day Made of Glass’, Superflux’s short film Song of the Machine also follows a day in the life of a person using a piece of speculative technology. In almost every other respect, the films are vastly different.
Superflux Studios is a design futures consultancy based in London. In 2011, they were commissioned by the Dublin Science Gallery to produce a new film for the Human+ exhibition.
Created in collaboration with scientists, the film explored the potential for the emerging field of optogenetics, which combines genetic engineering and electronics to manipulate individual nerve cells with light to allow a totally blind person to see, using a retinal prosthesis which can detect infrafred, ultraviolet and visible light.
The filming of ‘Song of the Machine’ became an opportunity for Superflux and the scientists to explore the speculative, technical, practical and ethical consequences of this hypothetical technology.
The resulting film is a simple but extremely effective evocation of the future, while remaining both simple and unpretentious.