“Merger” by Keiichi Matsuda – automation, work and ‘replacement’

A still from the 360-degree video "Merger" by Keiichi Matsuda
“With automation disrupting centuries-old industries, the professional must reshape and expand their service to add value. Failure is a mindset. It is those who empower themselves with technology who will thrive.
“Merger is a new film about the future of work, from cult director/designer Keiichi Matsuda (HYPER-REALITY). Set against the backdrop of AI-run corporations, a tele-operator finds herself caught between virtual and physical reality, human and machine. As she fights for her economic survival, she finds herself immersed in the cult of productivity, in search of the ultimate interface. This short film documents her last 4 minutes on earth.”

I came across the most recent film by Keichii Matsuda which concerns a possible future of work, with the protagonist embedded in an (aesthetically Microsoft-style) augmented reality of screen-surfaces, and in which the narrative denouement is a sort of trans-human ‘uploading’ moment.

I like Matsuda’s work. i think he skilfully and playfully provokes particular sorts of conversations, mostly about what we used to call ‘immersion’ and the nature of mediation. This has, predictably happened in terms of human vs. AI vs. eschatology (etc etc.) sorts of narratives in various outlets (e.g. the Verge). The first time I encountered his work was at a Passenger Films event at which Rob Kitchin talked about theorisations of mediation in relation to both Matsuda’s work and the (original) Disney film ‘Tron‘.

What is perhaps (briefly) interesting here are two things:

  1. The narrative is a provocative short story that asks us to reflect upon how our world of work and technological development get us from now (the status quo) to an apparent future state of affairs, which carries with it certain kinds of ethical, normative and political contentions. So, this is a story that piggybacks the growing narrative of ‘post-work’ or widespread automation of work by apparently ‘inhuman’ technologies (i.e. A.I) that provokes debate about the roles of ‘technology’ and ‘work’ and what it means to be ‘human’. Interestingly, this (arguably) places “Merger” in the genre of ‘fantasy’ rather than ‘science fiction’ – it is, after all, an eschatological story (I don’t see this final point as a negative). I suppose it could also be seen as a fictional suicide note but I’d rather not dwell on that…
  2. The depiction of the interface and the interaction with the technology-world of the protagonist– and indeed the depiction of these within a 360-degree video –are as important as the story to what the video is signifying. By which I mean – like the videos I called ‘vision videos’ back in 2009/10 (and (in some cases) might be called ‘design fiction’ or ‘diagetic prototypes’) – this video is also trying to show you and perhaps sell you the idea of a technology (Matsuda recently worked for Leap Motion). As I and others have argued – the more familiar audiences are with prospective/speculative technologies the more likely we are (perhaps) to sympathise with their funding/ production/ marketing and ultimately to adopt them.

GoPro as an ethnographic tool

glitches image of man with cardboard camera-shaped helmet

This article concerning using GoPro cameras is interesting and probably relevant to some of the work on video methods in geography… obviously the rationale used here differs from some work in geography but methodologically I think it’s useful. I suspect that this would also be relevant for student dissertation research too, where it seems there is an appetite for adopting more novel and experimental methods (at least amongst the work I’ve seen).

GoPro as an Ethnographic Tool: A Wayfinding Study in an Academic Library.
Kinsley, Kirsten, Schoonover, Dan, Spitler, Jasmine

In this study, researchers sought to capture students’ authentic experience of finding books in the main library using a GoPro camera and the think-aloud protocol. The GoPro provided a first-person perspective and was an effective ethnographic tool for observing a student’s individual experience, while also demonstrating what tools they use to find items. Using the think-aloud protocol, observers could hear students express their internal decisions, thoughts, and feelings about the process. Results confirmed trouble spots in the building and that directories are not typically used and need updating. GoPro footage revealed that there are certain qualities of the help-desk experience that can make a search more or less successful. No major sex differences were found in preference of wayfinding tools and behaviors, except that males appear to have used directories marginally more than females. In a debriefing survey, students still affirmed human help and online maps as the most useful wayfinding tools and advocated for better signage. Mapping of behaviors by floor also validated GoPro observations. At low cost to the library, the GoPro/think-aloud combination along with survey and mapping methodologies affirmed trouble spots in the building and provided suggestions for wayfinding improvements to library administration.