A visual essay about digital life.

Introducing Bowling Script, a new typeface by Ale Paul.
Narrated by Tomás García and Valentín Muro.

Disponible en castellano aquí.

When was the last time you turned off your phone?

Our lives are increasingly mediated by digital technologies that we don’t understand and that we simply take for granted. We react with awe and enthusiasm rather than with critical thinking when a new technology or shiny device becomes available. We live dangerously threatened by being programmed by the very same devices that we think we program; that we think we control.

Mute is a visual essay about digital life. Largely inspired by Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or be Programmed (2010), Mute explores some of his “commands for a Digital Age” with a series of tongue-in-cheek sentences that aim to provoke reflection. These sentences are accompanied by 3D models that depict various situations loosely related to these commands.

Mute shows a series of 3D models of iPhone cases that are “useless by design” —although that same statement can be seen as an interesting discussion starter of what is useful and what is not. These iPhone cases are designed to “mute” the phone by covering its screen. They were designed as a way of voluntarily nullifying its purported use, in a playful attempt to regain some of the control that we may have lost of our daily lives.

The project sprouted from the first collaboration between Tomás García and Ale Paul in 2013 when they filmed a short profile for Author’s Bay: South and worked together on Underlight, another non-conventional way for presenting one of Ale’s typefaces, Rolling Pen. After that first project, in late 2013 they started thinking about what they could do next. After scrapping some initial ideas, Tomás got interested in exploring one of his most recent obsessions: the role digital technology plays in our lives.

In early 2014 the project was in a primitive stage, not only working with another typeface but also trying to define the best way of expressing the message. It was in May 2014 that Tomás invited me to work with him on some of his ongoing projects. I saw this invitation as a chance for finally exploring a creative side that I hardly had any chance of exploring in a work environment before with one of the professionals I admire the most.

Some early tests done by Tomás, playing with another typeface and what would later become the characters of the project.

After I started working under Tomás’ creative direction we inquired about the best way to work together, with his experience on one side and the philosophical background and technical chops that I could bring to the table on the other. From the very beginning we focused on smoothing things over the conceptual work we had to develop for the idea to take off. We re-read Rushkoff’s work, we selected our favorite passages and ideas and spent an awfully large amount of time diving into the conceptual depth of his work. We forcefully asked ourselves an insane amount of uncomfortable questions about our own relationship with technology and found an increasing number of voices that were speaking out on the subject (Evgeny Morozov’s criticism of what he calls “solutionism” comes to mind). We also browsed through all sorts of films and works of fiction to capture what we saw as sharp quotes that could eloquently stimulate critical thinking.

What we ended up with were a series of sentences that reflected on the first five commands from Program or be Programmed: Time, Place, Choice, Complexity and Scale. By the time we had most of the conceptual work done, Ale provided us with Bowling Script, one of his latest typefaces, and we finally placed our attention on the development of the pieces.

Time focused on the reappropiation of our daily lives. By stating “I miss the way you go offline” a kind of nostalgia is prompted, intending to provoke reflection on the way digital technologies often let us be in constant connection with the rest of the world —even when that’s not what we actually want. Even more so, by asking “Have you been alone before?” and showing a girl taking a picture of herself —a selfie, if you will— we tried to uncover the way that some of our ‘social’ activities actually give us a glimpse of the sort of loneliness that those practices can sometimes imply.

Place played with the idea of being ‘alone together’ —as Sherry Turkle dramatically put it— and being unnecessary distant from each other through the use of digital technology. “Let me touch your ego” is an unfulfillable desire that denounces the way in which instead of being closer to people by connecting with them digitally, we sometimes place walls that isolate us — our egos— from other people.

Choice is all about recognizing that even when digital technology forces us to decide over discrete options, such as yes or no, humans can “make [their own] options” and even choose none of the above, as Rushkoff puts it. One of those options is simply opting out.

Complexity regards the way in which digital tools can oversimplify some problems or experiences. With experiences in the digital realm that more and more force us to take sides and even delimit with laser precision what is wrong and what is right, “Let’s get it wrong” is an open invitation to live our lives to their full extent, exploring a vast amount of alternatives even when that could mean messing things up. The character depicts a kid learning by doing, taking things apart to find out the way they work.

Scale deals with abstraction. One of the most difficult concepts to work with, we dug through lots of references until we came upon the obvious: it all boils down to being genuine. So “what makes you real?”

Delving into the unconventional

What started as an exploration through illustrations of the complex relationships we nourish with digital tools quickly turned into a three dimensional adventure that involved characters and landscapes that would later involve digital fabrication tools. With Tomás we love unnecessarily complicating things up, just to keep ourselves amused.

We reached out for someone with expertise on 3D printing and came upon a close friend that had recently built his own 3D printer: Manu Goglino. Also a part of our group that promotes the culture of doing and making, Wazzabi, he was instantly thrilled about putting his latest creation up to the test of giving material existence of what was just a vague idea a few weeks before.

Some of the early tests on 3D printing, conducted by Manu Goglino.

Far from feeling accomplished, we continue to work on this project and we expect to have some final surprises before long. We also look forward to future collaborations with Ale Paul, pushing even further the boundaries of what can be expected for the unveiling of a new typeface.

“I suggest we intervene on our own behalf — and that we do it right now, in the present moment. When things begin accelerating wildly out of control, sometimes patience is the only answer. Press pause. We have time for this.”
— Douglas Rushkoff —