WEBCAMART – Traps Under Ideal Pictures

Webcamart - a story about objectification.

Webcamart is a virtual chat room of reproducing and consuming face with webcams. As we interact with others, scenes deviate from reality. What are you producing? Who are you going to buy?

Last year when I was developing WEBCAMART, the project was more or less, like a funny joke and a result of meme culture. It was also a time when new terms such as Metaverse and NFT were not popular, AR and VR were peaceful wonderland, which was not overexposed yet.Today, one year later, I still get some thoughts for this project. 

Yufan Xie 2021.12.15

Everyone is an object on sale

“Everyday Fresh at Webcamart” – funny faces on webcams are chatting with each other, being duplicated, and finally into your shopping cart – as an architectural project, Webcamart looks a little bit funny and ridiculous. In fact, Webcamart is more of a story about objectified persons, than a mere interactive virtual supermarket – not just something solid, like a brick in your backyard can be a product, a living individual can be a product. The funny ads, is exactly a camouflage hiding the most dangerous part away from you, a non-serious narrative disguised the traps.

Everybody can perform in supermarket - Photo in Costco 2019

Literally, this is what we are facing today in real life – dangers are ignored, as we entertain everything. Simply, just imagine, one day you step into a virtual supermarket, sharing your face as a token, or product to be exchanged……this is probably unacceptable for many people, no matter how interactive these social interactions are in this space. Well, the truth is, and nothing fresh, this happens everyday as we use smart devices to browse the internet, everytime we scan our faces, every moment we click the button of reCAPTCHA. Unconsciouslly we give our rights to these firms, except one difference – the process is never explicit like Webcamart.

Paying extra $300 for your privacy, this is how big firms price you
Paying extra $300 for your privacy, this is how big firms price you

These problems exist, ever since the first day of internet. We know them, we talk about them, but we ignore them, as if nothing happens when candies are served – “they are so convenient and fast, how could you refuse them?””what you need to pay is just a little, a very little bit of user data……” The fast booming AI technologies, are deeply related to our selfless contributions. I would rather say, human are exploitable raw resources for machines, than saying “machines are getting smarter”. It is nobody, but us, who provide dataset for random generators of well-designed algorithms, and we applause for machines and we are easily satisified “AI Trainer”, by some unecessary candies fed by these machines. By customized contents and promotions, aren’t machines training human?  As technologies of facial recognition and spatial sensing are advancing day by day, as long as we stay in a centralized product chain and service system, we are definitely more and more objectified. The funny thing is, we always expect to rely on new technologies to build a better society for us- but I would insist, as long as we keep our habits, path dependencies and we never reflect the way we treat individuals and community, as we treat technologies in the way we’ve got used to, we are still slaved wherever people live, by an old system enforced by new techs.

Probably, nothing new in virtual world?

Our imaginations are always affected by our life experiences, the way we think about virtual technologies inherented from our trained habits. From what I’ve observed, most people imagine virtual scenes, especially those in “Metaverse” are strictly imitating the rules and life styles in the physical world. I still remember in some forums and lectures, creators are sharing ideas about ideal future life style in virtual reality, but presenting a series of scenes filled with ads and shopping lists. Should we be happy about such futures? Should we be alerted by such habitual thoughts?

Hyper Reality by Keiichi Matsuda
Hyper Reality by Keiichi Matsuda

Just like the announcement of Meta in November, it’s more of a declaration by internet behemoth, instead of a mere speculative talk. Today there’s probably nothing new about virtual world – for instance, big firms doing virtual enclosures – it seems everything is getting closer and closer, to the reality we are familiar with.Probably, there’s nothing new, there’s even no “new reality” – virtual world is born in this physical world, this old world, as it carries our beautiful futuristic pictures, it inherited disadvantages from existing society and power system in the “mother” reality.

In this world, you can......even......but......
In this world, you can......even......but......

Our exploration on this new wonderland, we have to admit, we need support from organizations in the old world, no matter it’s about hardwares or fundings. Probably an inevitable future we are heading for is, just another reinforced, replicated reality. Though new techs are providing convenience, we still need to realize the price we pay for it – which is probably going to be the value as an individual. As we choose to join this party,we need to accept some rules, just like the Webcamart: everyone is the performer, everyone is the audience, and we are all just products consumed in this party. The only question is, have you realized it?