An early Eureka Room visitor once told me “so many of immersive experiences don’t feel as much of an experience as they do a demonstration of technology”.
He articulated a feeling I had been having but was not able find the words for. To hear it expressed like this, the idea seems obvious. But when you are in the middle of visiting an “immersive experience” and you’re feeling “this could be better” it can be hard to identify why. You just sort of have a vague sense of wanting more from the experience. I think it’s often because you are in a demonstration-as-experience.
Having a room that can have 360 degree sound is amazing if you’ve never experienced it before. But why is it amazing? I’d say it’s amazing because you’ve never experienced it before.
But we get used to technology at an incredible speed. We see it and for a few moments it’s wow. Then we get it. Then it’s just filed away as “the way the world works”. In just a matter of seconds, the experience is over.
Smart phones are mind-blowing. Planes are mind-blowing. Indoor toilets are mind-blowing. Or at least they are the first time you learn they exist. But the wow of reconciling new information is a short-lived and usually shallow experience.
Imagine a new technology came out that allows you to create a hologram of an object. The way it works is you place an object on one half of a plate and on the other half of the plate appears the same object in hologram form.
An artist finding this new tool may think “wow”. They begin to experiment with different objects to see what looks good in duplicate. They might pick objects of different textures or colors or sizes or levels of transparency. They then set up multiple plates around a room with the different objects they found and call it an experience.
Maybe one of them has a statue of a dictator to create the visitor thought, “oh my god we wouldn’t want TWO of them!” Maybe they place some $100 bills on the plate and the visitor would think, “oh, wouldn’t that be great!” Maybe they place a small globe on the plate and the visitor would think, “oh yeah, it would be nice to have a second earth”.
In my opinion, this is a demonstration-as-experience. Also in my opinion, this is incredibly lazy and/or amateurish on the part of the artist. You took the technology and made it do what it does. At best, it’s a half-step above novelty.
(The demonstration-as-experience is also often borne of the “fun to make is fun to experience” fallacy. #post)
It would be better if the artist would assume that everyone already knows about this technology and is bored with it. That way, they can’t ride the coattails of the technology wow.
So what else could they do with it, you might ask?
Just a few easy ideas: modify the machine, break the machine, mix the machine with technology from another machine, add some dynamism to the object that is in the machine. Put something in the hologram part of the plate as well.
A better idea: Instead of making the machine the centerpiece, make the machine a part of something bigger. Have it play a role in a greater work. The context of a larger work has more power to change the meaning of the machine and it definitely will feel less of a demonstration.
The best idea: Learn the capabilities of the machine and then file them away in your mind. Resist the temptation to make a demonstration. Then go do something else. Instead, figure out what you want to change in the world. Trust that while you are in pursuit of making those changes you will run into challenges and that universe will bring to mind those tools that can help you overcome those challenges.
(If you have less trust in the universe and/or your memory, you might want to make a list of the tools to reference when you come upon obstacles).