Unread Messages, an exhibition situated in Convent Garden aims to provide the public a way of exploring their relationship with technology and products with the potential of improving it. Answering questions posed by the public that revolve around three themes; Empowered but Dependant, The Curated Self and Compulsive Behaviours. These themes have sparked a creative flame within the minds of ten designers from around the globe.

The exhibition held at the Aram Gallery, features works that stimulate thought and reflection, on one’s own approach to technology. Daniel Armengol Altayo’s piece #artificialselfie comments on individual’s compulsive and predictable behaviour, through the analysis of the ‘selfie phenomenon.’

With a mirror propped against a wall and in front of it a plinth with a mounted iPhone and a mechanical finger taking shots of passers-by and of the exhibition itself repeatedly, Altayo’s piece is a simple yet clever approach to rethinking individual’s need to always capture the moment. Although the human in this scenario has been replaced by a machine, the actions are the same; the finger takes the photo, names it and then uploads it onto Instagram – a platform which not only welcomes but needs these uploads in order to keep its pulse. This successfully blurs the line between man and machine, calling attention to user’s predictable and compulsive behaviour.

Another piece that calls for one’s attention is Window by Zanellato/Bortotto. Mounted on the far wall of the space is a one way mirror attached to flashing LED lights. Regardless of its placement, this work propels the viewer across the space with curiosity. Window is an intriguing design and an innovative execution that succeeds in its attempt to raise awareness on how users spend their time on their devices.

Window works by connecting to the user’s devices and monitoring their online activity. If the activity is productive the lights do not flash and the user’s reflection is visible through the one-way mirror. However, once the user falls into the timeless rabbit hole of wasteful browsing, the lights begin to flash and the reflection becomes distorted, via the obstruction of the flashing lights. The lights grow in intensity the longer the user remains on un-productive sites, and once too much time has passed, the user’s reflection is lost and the mirror becomes a window into one’s online behaviour.

Window gives an unwavering, pointing finger towards the issue of technologies influence on our day to day lives. As we scroll through aimlessly on sites like Facebook and YouTube, our sense of time is lost and our awareness falls by the wayside. Window is an effective piece on this issue that leaves a lingering thought on one’s own personal dependence on technology.

The same issue of online awareness is taken on with a very different approach by designer Paul Macgregor and his piece I/O. I/O is a browser plugin that gives users the opportunity of tracking the time spent on each site visited. The plugin is shown via a tablet with a user-friendly demo open to the public to try out and a monitor mounted onto the wall that plays a video promoting the plugin by showing how it’d work in a real-world scenario.

As the user opens tab after tab the plugin pops up momentarily to remind the user how much time was spent on the previous tab. The pop up screen involves a round cartoon face that changes colour the more un-productive the user becomes. The colours follow the traffic lights system; green is good, amber is worrying and red means it’s time to stop. The plugin is user-friendly and it’s simple and practical approach provides the user the opportunity to become more disciplined on the web.

Although our internet browsers provide us with a history of the websites we’ve visited on what date and at what time, what they don’t provide is the duration we were on those websites. This seems of much more importance as it would open our eyes to how we fail to prioritize our time. I/O is a plugin that could potentially reach workplaces and homes. Macgregor provides a plugin that’ll benefit people of all ages, help us maintain a healthier relationship with our devices and stay productive.
Wall to wall, piece to piece, there are designers making bold statements that do not just tell us what we already know of the world today, but encourage us to detach ourselves from our devices, enabling us to see what has quickly become the norm. In support, other designers give us products with a practical approach in dealing with the issues raised by the public.

Unread Messages is an exhibition of importance when it comes to the well-being of individuals, it’s simple yet inventive works give strong opposition to the fast paced, starved and swirling technological world we live in today.

By Adil F Hussain

Freelance Writer and UCA graduate. Interested in all things creative and fresh.