The other evening I was invited to MoMA’s latest opening “Talk to Me: Design and the Communication Between People and Objects” (July 24th through November 7th ,2011) I’ll go to any opening…even the opening of an envelope. If you can’t make it to the exhibit, visit the on-line journal at MoMA.org/talktome. Anyway, a show on “things” as in new products is just my ticket!
As with all events these days, there was an open bar, actually, five open bars, with three waiters each, which still wasn’t enough for the swarming masses of “in” crowd wannabes who lined up in disorderly rows of thirty pretentious people deep. It’s amazing what people will do for a free drink these days. (No, I was not in line too!)
Does this say something? The lines were not as deep for the show, as it was for the bar. I kept thinking who cast this party. Hundreds of cute 30-something guys, you know the look, mid-management types in their skinny Mad Men suits and Thom Brown style skinny jeans, no socks, (yuck) unshaven and nerdy black frame glasses, just like the guys on the TV commercials for Chase Banks, V-8 and Verizon, bona-fied metrosexuals and avowed guy-guys. You know men who act so straight you think they have to be gay. The kind of guy you want to do, until he tells you he presses his jeans. As for being pompous? I overheard the word “jejune” three times from different guys. For every available male there were two neurotic girls in bright summer print dresses from the DVF collection, naturally with towering chunky heels, constantly pulling the center parted hair out of their faces, sipping their vodka and cranberry juices through the mixer straws, while hiking up their bras, klass with a capitol “K”. As with all things MoMA there were the corporate membership sponsors, the well heeled and financially endowed, you know, silver haired men in Zenga double-breasted suits with their second wives. How do I know it was their second wives…? They had the five telltale signs of every second wife, one too many collagen injections in their pouty lips, they were twenty years younger, over streaked blond highlights from Louis David, black lace bra underneath their Roberto Cavalli dresses and tennis bracelets galore. A tennis bracelet at an art opening?
But what about art and technology as in things, and the retail trade….
Talk to Me explores communication between people and things, devices like cell phones and computers that are designed to provide us with access to complex computer systems and information networks, that behave as instructors, or a kind of guide or interpreter of extemporaneous information.
All objects contain information that goes well beyond their immediate use or appearance. Think about the way that “facebook” has reconstructed the idea of what constitutes “friendship”. Whether openly and actively, or in subtle, subliminal ways, things talk to us, and designers help us develop and improvise the dialogue.
Talk to Me presents a glimpse of the future, but it’s not a future I readily embrace. It’s a future of hand held devices that think for us. It’s a world of plastic, rubber, metal and tempered glass, its slick, glossy and sterile. Gone are romance, sentiment and beauty. Yes, it’s a world where your phone can say “God bless you”when you sneeze. If a phone can understand what God is? Yes, your teapot can absorb the overhead light to keep its contents warm, your teapot will even jiggles like it has Parkinson’s to keep the tea steeping, so you don’t have to re-heat. And yes, a recycled tree branch sling shot you can pre-program with a “splat”, a colorful message you project on the side of a building with light that disappears when the receiver is turned off. Sans graffiti it’s all the rage in Madrid and Sao Paulo.
There are undoubtedly great uses of technology, talking thermometers for the blind, prostatic limbs for fallen military, aps that direct our movements and help us make informed decisions, an ap that interprets “Tagging” graffiti like language, and things with multi uses, perfumes that promote healing, fibers that retrain heat or keep you cool. There are kiosks and ATM’s so if there is no strip mall you can shop for sunglasses in the Serengeti or thermal gloves at Gulag Archipelago.
Talk to Mefeatures several hundred potential new technological innovations to whet our appetite. Remember when we were satisfied with Pong and PacMan?
More to the point…Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects was motivated by a simple, yet revealing question: "What if our devices kept talking back to us after we disposed of them?” Though the exhibition offers a glimpse at where these dead devices go, there's another important story concerning our e-waste that is not addressed, the human health risks posed by the toxic pollutants that are released by discarded and recycled electronics. A 60 Minutes Report examined a "wasteland" in Guiyu, China where gadgets from the United States that are meant to be "recycled" but are disposed of, thus contaminating the air, water, and soil with toxic chemicals such as mercury and cadium. 60 Minutes likens the town to "a sort of Chernobyl of electronic waste where you can't breathe the air or drink the water, a town where the blood of the children is laced with lead."
Welcome to our future.