Fantastic Smartphones – ECAL MID

From 5 to 10 September 2021 at the Milan Design Week, ECAL presents a series of projects and installations developed by Bachelor Media & Interaction Design students, that address our relationship with smartphones and the way they influence our daily behaviour.

Fantastic Smartphones, alternative accessories, interactive installations and machine performances highlight the excesses relating to our use of these devices. By imagining innovative ways of interacting with our smartphones or by delegating our repetitive actions to machines, this exhibition takes a critical look at a society that has become addicted to an object that seems to have become indispensable : the “smart” phone.

Is this object, which was initially perceived as an extension, still a source of pleasure or has it become a source of alienation? The students provide answers to this question through a series of installations that address different aspects of this issue.

A Screentime Connaisseurs Lexicon

The arrival of smartphones has radically changed our daily lives to such an extent that the very use of this device has led to the emergence of a good number of new behaviours. New attitudes are manifold, daily and for the most part unconscious. In a digital world where behaviour changes at a faster pace than new words can be created to describe them, this project offers a sociological look at some of these various attitudes, and mockingly forces us to face their absurdity and excessiveness. In the form of a lexicon, A Screentime Connaisseurs Lexicon studies some of this behaviour through a series of neologisms that enable us to better understand certain addictions, means of resistance and social biases.

Project by ECAL/Antony Demierre, Basil Dénéréaz, Nora Fatehi, Paul Fritz, Sébastien Galera Larios, Rayane Jemaa, Dorian Jovanovic, Valentine Leimgruber, Valerio Meschi, Ignacio Pérez, Michael Pica, Jorge Reis, Malik Sobgoui
Image by ECAL/Jimmy Rachez

Video

Adam & Eve

Adam & Eve is a recorded performance that revisits part of the famous story of the creation of Man and Woman according to biblical sources. A triptych of vertical screens stages the discussions that God, Eve and the Serpent might have had at the time of the birth of original sin. Transposed to our time, the three protagonists dialogue through an instant chat application. Each screen represents the smartphone view of one of the protagonists, enabling us to follow their ongoing discussions. This multi-view installation provides an omniscient view of the plot that links the three protagonists, the main issue of which is the temptation for Eve to transgress the rule of the Garden of Eden by tasting the forbidden fruit. This tableau drives us to reflect on the ways current communication systems are used and the drifts that may result from them.

Project by ECAL/Nora Fatehi, Michael Pica, Jorge Reis
Images by ECAL/Jimmy Rachez

Video

Automač

The digital world is omnipresent and has inserted itself into our most intimate relationships. The democratisation of dating applications such as Tinder has radically changed our social interactions. Built around a simple mechanism, Tinder reduces the act of dating to a single swipe. This slide of the finger to the right or the left is enough to show our interest or disinterest in a profile that comes up. Although high-stakes, even when performed repeatedly, this movement can become purely mechanical and lose its meaning. As its name indicates, Automač is a device that enables us to automatically match with a maximum number of potential partners on Tinder. The automaton consists of a smartphone holder, a camera that observes the screen and a rotating mechanism to swipe on the smartphone screen. Via a screen interface, the user has the possibility to choose selection criteria. By automating this process and delegating it to a machine, Automač positions itself as an optimal machine to have a maximum amount of matches in a minimum amount of time. This bias also highlights the excesses induced by this type of application. Catalogued and standardised in the form of a profile, individuals are reduced to the status of consumer products that are judged only by their formal attributes.

Project by ECAL/Antoine Barras, Guillaume Giraud
Images by ECAL/Jimmy Rachez

Video

Biobots

Biobots criticises the policy of large multinationals that collect and trade personal data through smartphones, relating to their customers’ health. Selling this information to certain institutions would have serious consequences. For example, a health insurance company could deny a claim to a person who, based on his or her personal data, might be deemed not to be working on their fitness sufficiently. By simulating the activity of a perfectly healthy individual, Biobots presents itself as a collection of objects of resistance to this collection of personal information, a scrambler that helps people keep control over their personal data. Podobot is a motorised swing for smartphones. With this swinging movement, the automaton mimics the movement of a device in a person’s pocket while walking. The smartphone’s pedometer then captures a long walk at a steady pace and records this walking data in the application, simulating that the user is in good physical shape. Cardiobot is a device designed to fool a mobile application into studying your heart rate. Normally designed to process the video stream from a camera on the skin, the application analyses the frequency of shades of red seen by the camera as the blood passes through. Cardiobot reproduces this red sequence by spinning a disc covered with flat patches of different shades of red. The smartphone’s camera, which is then placed against the rotating disc, perceives subtle changes in the red tones. Since the speed of rotation of the disc is regular, the application deduces that the heart rate is very stable and healthy and records this data as that of the user. Sleepbot is designed to house a smartphone under its glass cover to isolate it from ambient noise. Placed next to a speaker broadcasting white noise, it is immersed in a sound environment similar to that of a bedroom in which a person would be sleeping. At regular intervals the speaker emits noises that simulate the movements of a sleeping person during a shallow sleep phase. In such a context, the sounds captured by the smartphone are those of a perfect, restful sleep and make the user appear to have very good sleep patterns.

Projects by ECAL/Bastien Claessens, Evan Kelly, Aurélien Pellegrini
Images by ECAL/Jimmy Rachez

Video

In the Cloud

All the messages we send and all the digital communication we have, go through remote servers. Since we do not really know where they are physically located, they appear invisible and immaterial. This is why these servers are often called a “cloud”. Just like a cloud, an object known to all, although inaccessible and intangible, this particular “cloud” is an abstract object-place of which we know very little. Since our smartphone itself is the interface that enables us to interact with it, it actually becomes the central element in this communication. We need it to send and receive information. Based on this observation, the installation In the Cloud offers discovery of what happens in this virtual place by physically sending your a phone to it. Attached to a robotic arm, the smartphone is transported to an artificial cloud in which it will discover a visual allegory of what might lie within it.

Project by ECAL/Nora Fatehi, Souhaïb Ghanmi, Dorian Jovanovic, Michael Pica, Malik Sobgoui
Image 1 by ECAL/Jimmy Rachez
Image 2 by ECAL/Gianni Camporota

Video


Kinetic Scroll

The Kinetic Scroll installation is a matrix of smartphones equipped with mechanisms that enable them to scroll endlessly. This wall echoes the social networks pages through which we sometimes scroll for hours. This set of moving screens represents, in the form of metaphorical choreography, contemporary crowds scrolling all together, but scrolling each for themselves. Scrolling endlessly, but what for? Scrolling for fear of missing an image that must be seen, but which will not be remembered ten images later. What do we hope to reach or what do we hope to escape from? This timeless kinetic installation with its regular rhythm seeks to hypnotise and capture attention like the continuous flow of images so emblematic of today’s interfaces.

Project by ECAL/Pablo Bellon, Kylan Luginbühl, Yaël Sidler
Image 1 by ECAL/Jimmy Rachez
Image 2 by ECAL/Gianni Camporota

Video

Meanwhile

Since the smartphone has become ubiquitous in our lives, our relationship with time is no longer the same and has become distorted. Our smartphones give us access to a huge amount of content designed to occupy our time. Once we are glued to the screen, time seems to pass so quickly. Conversely, parting with our smartphone sometimes feels like exposing ourselves to extreme boredom. This deep fear of emptiness creates a dependency, sometimes causing us to spend several hours a day staring at our screen in order to escape boredom. Meanwhile invites us to consider our relationship with time by inciting us to separate ourselves from our smartphone for a short while. While on stand-by, the screen of the automaton displays the words “insert your phone”, inviting visitors to slide their phone into the slot at the front. When a smartphone is inserted, it is sucked into the machine. From then on, a ticket indicating the time spent without the smartphone is printed out every second. Every now and then, it adds a sentence relating to the time that has past and the activities of the global digital networks. Finally, after a certain amount of time, the phone is released, and the machine’s screen displays “take your time”, inviting visitors to take the ticket and thus symbolically recover the time spent waiting. With ticket in hand, this accumulation of phrases with exorbitant figures puts into perspective the use we make of our smartphone: insignificant on a personal scale but frightening on a global scale.

Project by ECAL/Léonard Guyot, Maya Bellier, Paul Lëon
Image 1 by ECAL/Jimmy Rachez
Image 2 by ECAL/Gianni Camporota

Video

Selfie Robot

Since the appearance of cameras on the front of smartphones, the selfie seems to have become a commonplace act. Both a narcissistic gesture and an artistic act, the selfie questions the notion of representation and reinvents the tradition of the self-portrait. In recent years, the practice of the selfie has been amplified by the democratisation of the selfie stick, an object that was unknown ten years ago, but the use of which is now part of popular culture. In any given tourist spot, it is sometimes interesting to watch people trying at length to find the perfect position and angle for the perfect photo. But what if a robot grabbed hold of a selfie stick? Selfie Robot is a machine performance featuring a robotic arm equipped with a smartphone and a selfie stick taking pictures of itself with different face filters. As amusing as it is disturbing to see this robot contorting itself in search of the perfect selfie, it turns us into viewers of the incongruity of our own behaviour.

Project by ECAL/Basil Dénéréaz, Sébastien Galera Larios, Rayane Jemaa, Ignacio Pérez
Image 1 by ECAL/Jimmy Rachez
Image 2 by ECAL/Basil Dénéréaz

Video

Smartphone Symbiosis

This project tackles how we interact with the data flows to which smartphones give us access. This research through design aims at imagining objects and interfaces allowing a detachment from the smartphone or stimulating a more balanced and focused interaction with some of its functionalities in desired situations. Interfaces are the dominant cultural form of our time. So much of contemporary culture and interactions is taking place through interfaces; interfaces are part of cultural expression and participation. Therefore, questioning the impact of the mechanisms underlying current smartphone interfaces is also a societal interest. By imagining, designing and prototyping new objects or apparatuses, this project aims to offer proposals for re-appropriation or re-extraction of certain features locked in the smartphone, thereby allowing a different, more customisable access to data or functions, and in turn fostering a shift from the glowing rectangle to a more detached and focused interaction, away from the screen.

Project by ECAL/Antoine Barras, Maya Bellier, Pablo Bellon, Ivan Chestopaloff, Bastien Classens, Guillaume Giraud, Léonard Guyot, Evan Kelly, Lisa Kishtoo, Paul Lëon, Kylan Luginbühl, Aurélien Pellegrini, Yaël Sidler, Diane Thouvenin
Image by ECAL/Jimmy Rachez

Video

Taptaptap

Predictive text is a feature that aims to simplify text input on smartphones. Based on an analysis of our writing habits, our devices suggest a sequence of words that are supposed to match our writing style. Taptaptap exploits this feature to enable two machines to chat using only predictive text input. The device consists of a smartphone and mechanical fingers that select suggested words to form sentences. The principle is duplicated and used in a messaging application to enable two twin modules to converse. What kind of discussions can emerge from a dialogue whose sentences and lexicon are formatted and standardised by algorithms? Although devoid of communicative intent, this machine dialogue does not appear devoid of meaning, and sometimes even takes poetic turns.

Project by ECAL/Lisa Kishtoo, Bastien Mouthon, Diane Thouvenin
Images by ECAL/Jimmy Rachez

Video

Wall of Fame

Wall of Fame is an installation that engraves on a plaque the Instagram @tag of all the people who post an image with the hashtag #fantasticsmartphones. The aim of this approach is to encourage visitors to communicate on the hashtag. Engraving their names as one would on a stone tablet gives a whole new status to the act of publishing an image, and also to the data it produces. What should have been a few lines of data among the vast amount of data produced by the platform is now physically displayed in a museum. Engraving the names of all the people who will have published during the exhibition turns a commonplace digital act into a memorable event. Between historical monuments and sub-walls (walls on which Internet personalities write the pseudonyms of their sponsors), Wall of Fame questions our digital presence and the value of our actions on the networks, a value that seems to depend only on the interest we show in it.

Project by ECAL/Pablo Bellon, Kylan Luginbühl, Yaël Sidler
Image by ECAL/Gianni Camporota

Video


ECAL | Bachelor Media & Interaction Design

Press Preview: 5 September, 9am – 11am
Times: 5 – 9 September, 11am – 8pm
10 September, 11am – 4pm
Spazio Orso 16, Via dell’Orso 16, 20121 Milano

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