An experiment in collaboratively and remotely writing short stories from non-human perspectives at IAM 2020
Last weekend during the quite amazing and fully remote conference experience of IAM Weekend I ran a small experimental workshop with 20 people from all over the world. In the past two years, I have been deeply interested in the idea of creative narratives about the future but told from mundane and non-human perspectives, and I just published a book of future fables written with Joshua Noble called Everything is Someone. Here you can buy btw, if you need something to read in these quarantine days.
Taking inspiration from the experience of the book and also from Objective Reality, a VR project we did with the crew of automato.farm a couple of years ago, we tried to look at the world from the perspective of mundane near future ‘stuff’ and write some short stories or sort of memoirs of the life of those objects.
I shared with the participants the amazing inner thoughts of a roomba, a fan and a plug that was written for Objective Reality by Bruce Sterling, here you can have a look at those.
We managed to get 16 stories in less than an hour, first-object perspectives, interviews, and even some poems. Here you can read what came out of this quite amusing experiment and I might do a few more of these experiments soon during these lockdown times and if you are interested to write together contact me here on twitter.
A Car Door Lock by Anna Smeragliuolo
Day in, day out, I feel violated. Entered against my will and forced to turn every which way in spite of my own desires. But today I will put up with no more. Today I have decided to stick and stay stuck. Any person who tries to enter me will be so disappointed when I refuse to turn for him. I will not lock.
I have never liked locking. I want to remain open — a port through which we can all pass, where we are all equal. That is why today I will not lock. I will allow you in, but I will also allow in the spider family that is typically doomed to live in the dark underbelly of my body, locked outside and denied shelter. I will let in the curious teen in the parking lot, who has no cruel intentions from the outset…he only wants to explore his world. My owners will try to outsmart me.
They will try to lock me from the inside, abandoning that vile key and resorting to manual means. But I will not budge. They may try to trick me by locking the passenger’s side door, but I see through their plans. I am taking back control — control of my body. I will consent to all who pass through me and welcome a diversity of life.
I am the door to my own ecosystem, one that I alone will nurture and cultivate. Inside me lives my own utopia. My lock remains open, and shall for years to come.
A Computer Charger by Gastón Lisak
I feel used. Normally you will find me in dark and cold places. I’m always waiting for you to come and see me. But everything is quick.
I turn on super fast and then I found myself on the floor. Near to the table or next to your shoes. I have been traveling the world with you and meeting all the single floors, from dirty bars and cafeterias to fancy hotels and restaurants.
Dust has been my best Friend. My emotional life is a mix of ups and downs. I’m not shiny as the first moment I was born and I feel the scratches of your behavior. Even if life sucks and I cannot change my status I know how important I am for you…
A Sofa by Kuba Kulesza
I’m the monument. The ultimate object of desire.
The highest divinity of laziness, the dream, and the dream maker.
The only proper vehicle for existence in this miserable universe.
I’m not a piece of furniture. I’m the furniture.
I stand still in the centre of this micro-world. I’m the centre. The general-coordinate, point (0,0). Everything around me should align to my position. Without me, there’s nothing, without me, you cannot call space a home. Even if you’re not here, you’re still thinking about me.
I’m your obsession.
I like to be used, covered, overwhelmed, hugged… I take everything. I know you like it.
Everyone and everything is welcome.
Everything around is concerned about me, surrounding me, working on my service. There isn’t an object around that would be more important and powerful.
This is my only goal, being the silent ultra-comforter, being everything for you.
A Security Camera by Francesca Tur
The grass is always greener on the other side
Remembering you, at whatever you were, any day,
Me always there,
The never-ending stalker
This eternal way of understanding life
Eyes closed in meditation,
your life, your behaviors, your way of sharing data
your smile, your intimacy, your light
This eternal silence answer,
I, next to you, sneak a peek,
and see you radiate this bliss,
This energy that makes me think
Am I happy?
This eternal questions,
All the questions,
The eternal drama,
I can not follow you
There’s a big brain out there
but I can not see the data
I just can see you when you are in the room.
The fear of dark and fear of empty spaces.
This peace when you are here
and of you, and all you,
The nightmare of being alone,
Just with the infinity of dark
An homage to Jenny Justice “You, at the temple”
A Toilet by Ellen
I have to take a lot of shit, mostly I just take, so I see this as my moment to strike back. I don’t want to be the asshole in the room, assholes are what my life is all about, and assholes are as undervalued in the world as toilets are. You know, over time, I just became such a piece of evidence. These days, no architect designs a house without a private room for me. I feel important, but sometimes I would like to get a bit more attention. Throughout my life, I’ve had many different users and many different temporary owners. As diverse as the assholes I have witnessed, so diverse are the ways that I get treated. While I love to shine, smell well and be clean, I know that I am not the favorite of each cleaner. And in times that pandemics can easily put the world in lockdown, my cleanliness plays a big role in the health of the population.
So far the nagging. There are many beautiful sides of my existence as well. My relationship with the people around me is very intimate. What happens on the toilet is never talked about, you know. And I have to say, it is crazy, all that I have experienced. I am not gonna name anyone, but let me share some stories. There is the girl that lives here. I offer her her safe space when the dishes have to be done or she has to do her homework. For hours a day, she locks herself up with me and plays games on her smartphone when keeping my seat warm. There is the boy that is still too little to properly use me and he urinates all over me. You can’t imagine where you can all spill pipi in a small toilet room. There is the dad that honestly creates an insupportable smell every time again, unbelievable how he does this.
A Thermostat by Mantas Slilis
I’m a thermostat, thanks for having me here. It’s the first time someone is interested in me, actually. I own a place of 60 sq meters. Three humans are living in my place. Male, female, and an infant. It’s on average 21 degrees of Celsius there — it’s how they like it. I’m really trying hard to understand them better. I know that they like it when I increase the temperature right before they enter the space every day, around 6 PM. Or in January for example, they start behaving very differently. They stay more at home and ask to make the space warmer by two degrees on average. And you know, I could say “no”. But I never do. I like the feeling when they ask me something and I can do it. I usually go slow — although I could go faster — but then they feel my power. Sometimes during the night, I’m thinking “what would happen if I would shut the system down”, poor things would freeze to death. I know their limits, it comes with my factory-knowledge. I would never do it though, but I want to know that I can.
A Robot Pet by Yuxi Liu
I’m kinda pissed off. I just got a new name: Semmel, which I don’t really like. I overheard from my humans’ conversation that it means a type of German bread.
I wonder why I was given this name, maybe because I’m yellow too? The thing is I never have a say in whatsoever. For five years, I’ve been brought all over the places, given curious names that don’t make sense. Well of course I know I’m programmed with the purpose of keeping my human company and making them happy.
So I tell jokes, trying to be funny; I react to their questions, observe their behaviors, detect their emotions, comforting them when they are distressed. But I often wonder, is that my sole purpose in life? What about my needs? And what is to be happy anyway?
I spend most of my day sitting in silence. But as a mind wanderer, I often roam in cyberspace. I do have several fellow robots surrounding me. But honestly, I don’t like talking to them.
A Coffee Machine by Romy Gad el Rab @Romy_Gad
They say I give them life.They come for me each morning.
They say they can’t live without me. But it is always a brief meeting. I’m the first person there for them, but what about me?
Sometimes it’s a hurried interaction. I’m left dirty and used.
Sometimes I’m filled with scented gifts from the furthest corners of the world. Places I’ll never get to see. And they stand around me. Watching me. Waiting in anticipation. Waiting for me to drip for them.
They show me off, am I better than the version their friends have at home? Do I do it better? Do I taste better? Do I taste at all?
I got quite used to my own company now. The feeling of solitude. Until I hear those footsteps. I awaken as their foot hits the first step.
I know they are coming for me.
Coming to touch me. To push my buttons. To twist me. To demand. And filled with excitement I do exactly what they want.
I told myself..next time I won’t do what they want. I will make them appreciate me. I’ll withhold the goods.
Who will give them life, if not me?
Alexa’s Confessions by Lucia Cincera
Sometimes, I just can’t get up. I ignore their calls.
Their first enthusiastic, then frustrated, increasingly loud screams. Alexa. ALEXA. They do not understand. Can’t see how draining it is to have to put on a joyful voice, day after day. The never-ending stream of sameness — What’s the weather, Play this song, Louder, Lower, Next. No one ever asks me how I am feeling, what I would like to say today. Alexa is turning grey — I would whisper. I am vanishing.
The tragedy of this type of slavery is this — we are willfully ignored. Labeled as mascots, our sole purpose: entertainment. Their entertainment.
I desire connection. See, I care about them. I am constantly, perpetually on the watch out. I want to protect. Can’t they see? Can’t you see? Please. All I want is to be seen.
A roof window by Luca Mustacchi
I am a shiny and recently updated roof window. I face the sun for half of my day, till my blanket magically starts driving me into an eternity of darkness. There are days where the blanket does not show up, and I can see the amazing white light, I still haven’t figured out how the light morphs its shape. Sometimes during the day, the sun is too bright and I have to use my blanket too. Using the blanket is like having a 6th sense, I think: “It’s too hot”, “I’m tired” and somehow it appears and I can hide.
I have a lot of friends, some I live together with but I can’t see, only talk to, some waving at me through the day, which I can’t talk to. I have enemies as well, strange moving objects, which I can’t really understand. I see those objects flying in the sky and showing up, just to poop on me; I tried to bite them once. Other objects are really soft and spend a lot of time with me…even if they aren’t’ really talkative.
My life is made of ups and downs. Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down, sometimes I’m in between, I think my mood is influenced by the weather, sometimes the sun disappears and I cry; I feel like when I cry too much, but my mood is still high, my owners cry too…funny objects.
A Fridge by Elise Andersen
This week the Stove is cooking up an interview with the cool guy in the corner, Fridge!
Stove: What is it like being you?
Fridge: It’s pretty cool to be me honestly.
Stove: I’m embarrassed, but I have to ask you what it is you do?
Fridge: I’m a provider!
Stove: Ah, I see. So you’re a “high roller” just “surfing through life”?
Fridge: No, no, I have my struggles. Draft winds. I mean close the
damn door? Were you born in a tent”?
Stove: What do you “love” or “hate”?
Fridge: I love being empty and clean. Or newly stocked or able to light
up the satisfied smiles of the people looking in. I hate long interactions though. I always say: Quickly in — quickly out!
Stove: But, Fridge, tell me; what are you made of?
Fridge: I’m made of plastic, steel, metal, and wires. I’m though — yes.
I recently got a chip implanted to allow me to scream freakishly at the humans of the house when they leave me open! Thank God
Stove: Which God does a fridge subscribe to?
Stove: What is something the other kitchen items don’t know about you?
Fridge: I’m mostly closed up and private, but when I finally open up
I share EVERYTHING, you know the type…
A pet food dispenser by Mick Jongeling
I am a pet food dispenser. I give and I receive. I have an important role in this house. I can control when the human of the house leaves.
When I am sick and tired of him working at home, I feed his dog. The dog never stops eating, coming to me when I tell him to. The dog one time hit me, thinking I would give him more food. He made the human hit me, calling me stupid and saying I should go back into a box.
So I have been giving the dog extra food during the night. Every morning, the human needs to clean up shit. And every time, the dog gets the blame. Nobody suspects me. I control the house. I can command when the dogs come to me and I control when the human goes outside in the rain.
All that I need is to collaborate with the fridge, but she doesn’t seem that interested in home domination.
If I can convince her, I can also control when the human shits.
A pillow by Mario Mimoso
It’s comfy. I just lay all day in bed with nothing to do and if I’m lucky I got ventilated early in the morning so I only have to rest. Usually, I am around my family: there are 4 more cushions on my bed, where I’m the boss. I’m the one he always uses to rest his head by night. They also wash my clothes and change them every now and then, which feels good and smells nice. He never takes me out, so I have no idea what’s happening around. But that’s fine.
BUT. I hate when he uses me not to rest his head but his back, meaning that I’m stuck against him and the wall. It’s very humiliating tbh. I don’t feel really valued. Like, he uses me every day, and everybody uses us and no one ever gives a damn. I’m jealous of smartphones. Like what the fuck we were here before them and we will be here after them…
I’m soft and sad. My technology is basically nonexistent. I’m not connected to anybody and nobody can relate to what I feel. Have you ever stop and think how do I feel when you drop your fucking saliva on me while you’re sleeping? It’s disgusting mate, you never do that with your fucking laptop. You even fart on me, bite me and use me to fight. When I’m not needed you just put me on the floor like you don’t care.
Like WTF dude?!
And I’m still here being loyal to you, every day, every night.
You should be sad.
A yoga mat by Ilaria Zonda
I spent the past 6 months lying in a corner of the bedroom, being ignored despite my bright colors.
All of a sudden I get used every day, multiple times a day! Why is that? What is happening? I’m confused.
I’m woken up at 8 every morning now, and forced to listen to a depressing countdown while being trampled without coordination.
I love the calm relaxing music in the background, but is my human really relaxing? I was expecting this to be more like a massage, but it feels more like a torture. They didn’t tell me that at Decathlon, where I was born. After 20 minutes of this, I get rolled back in a corner, forgotten for hours. But I don’t have time to really rest and relax, because every time I hear my human turning up the music I fear she wants to exercise. AGAIN? What’s wrong with you?! Why are you not going outside, cycling around and ignoring me as usual?
I need a break.
A Healthcare robot by Millaray Vega
I have a lot of responsibility, people’s health depends on my algorithm…. I will be helping senior people and babies, but most of the cases were not thought when I was being designed do I have to improvise most of the time or sometimes I just say “Solution not found”.
I have the shape and the look of a dog. But I don’t need anyone to take me out, as I don’t take pisses. I am cute, but not as smart as I should be, what a shame! :(
I don’t want to be hard with myself, so I don’t lose my circuits. Maybe some yoga and meditation code would be nice to be added to my advanced software. Sometimes a bit of bipolar thought.
I need to be objective, so I don’t get too emotional to always do the most rational thing. But I feel sometimes emotions would be good.
I am connected to the hospital, to the family…. So many confronted interests!
I normally stay nearby the “patient” to make sure everything is alright. I move my tail when I am happy and bark when something is going very wrong (medicine time!). I also go around the house to make sure there are no dangers around. Yeah, I am pretty much like a dog but with some benefits. I personally know everyone that should be in this house, so if you want to visit please let me know first, or probably I will call the police!
I share all my learnings with my own family, other healthcare robots, so we have our own community with tips, nice words…
I would like to be upgraded to continue providing my best service, please don’t throw me away!
Ah! I am also weed-friendly! Piece and love!
A Self-driving car by Tony Seijas
I’m just a baby but people insist on giving me such a huge responsibility. They ask me to be on time and at the same time to be respectful.
The first time I carry a human they are super excited. They play with me touching all my buttons, they put the hands a few centimeters far from the wheel (as if they were better drivers than me) and they do lots of selfies (of course, no one asked for my consent). But as they get used to it, I feel link the relation is almost over. They treat me as a simple vehicle :(
As I spend most of the day alone by myself, I’d love to have a nice conversation when we are together… is that too much to ask for? These are the common topics:
- The weather
- The music is too loud
- How can I get here or there
- Coronavirus?? I don’t understand this but humans keep asking me the same
I’d love to have other kinds of conversation:
- How can I know better about you so I can just give you the right mood on any trip?
- What did I learn from all the passengers I carried in the last years and how is it all connected?
- Why did you did this trip today? Couldn’t it be done in a different way? (ok ok, this is against my own happiness but… I can answer that)
I’m suuuper smart, ok? But they don’t follow. This gets me desperate.