MetamorphMobile is an interactive installation touching on several issues brought by the development of modern society and technologies, including consumer culture, capitalism, and human-machine relations. Specifically, this piece of work draws from the socioeconomic perspective of the emergent self-service technologies. The grocery self-checkout machine is one of the typical examples.
As a popular alternative to the traditional cashier-staff checkout, there are over three hundred thousand self-checkout machines over the world. Indeed, this technology brings huge benefits to people’s lives, such as the reduction of staff’s labour force, customer’s waiting time, and retailer’s cost. However, its disadvantages and limitations cannot be underestimated. The classical grocery store was based on the communication and interaction between clerk and customer. The invention of self-service technologies leads to the shift of the skills and responsibilities of the grocery workers. Hence getting groceries has become a much less social activity and has caused the increasing isolation of the shopper. The self-checkout machine has no expectation of socialization with the customer, as all of its responses are pre-programmed and only responsive to the inputs of the customer. Its voice guide indicates this non-social interaction.
Musical cot mobiles are proposed to aid babies’ visual development and to stimulate their hearing. Therefore most of them are designed with bold and contrasting colours, and the music is mostly nursery rhymes assisting to develop phonological and phonemic awareness in children. MetamorphMobile follows the colour scheme of the traditional crib mobile, yet replace the rotating figures, usually cute animals or plants, with grocery goods. The music is composed of self-checkout voices which aims to help kids get used to consumer culture and to the interaction with machines from an early stage, which further reduces the feeling of isolation when they grow up.
Furthermore, from personal experience, one of the features of consumerism is overwhelming: countless stores, numerous dazzling goods, everyone talks about “buy buy buy”. When walking in a grocery shop, instantly hear various sounds from the self-checkout machine, “thank you for shopping at…” “Please insert your card” “would you like the receipt”, and the sounds never stop. This is also the reason for making the crib mobile “too” glorious and layering multiple sounds: to emphasize the overwhelming feeling.
MetamorphMobile intends to provide a joyful yet a little bit overwhelmed experience for its audience. Remind them to rethink the consumer culture and their relations with machines when they are laughing at this piece of work. It is not only about self-service technologies, it is also about the ever-growing mobile phone, AI, robot, and computational industries.