November 2017, Hong Kong
The mixed media installation called ‘Leisure Time Center, 2037’ raises questions on the future of work and the role that humans are going to play in an automated society. What will happen to us, if everybody has more time at free disposal? After entering the hypothetical center of the future, people had to undergo a questionnaire, which would diagnose them with a problem that was based on our research and for which they then had to get a treatment we designed.
Is there going to be a lost generation because the governments of the world fail to react adequately to a new, inhuman workforce? Which problems stay the same (human relationships?) and which will arise (envy of robots?) due to technical developments? A survey from 2013 revealed that the least likely job to be overtaken by a machine is the position of recreational therapists: The installation therefore is going to present itself as a center for activity-based interventions with an emphasis on the individual’s well-being. A therapy about what to do with your soon to be available new free time. Addressing the needs of individuals will never go out of style.
Entering the installation
The installation took place on the 25th of November 2017 in a former squash-hall on the Kai Tak campus of the Academy of Visual Arts in Hong Kong. A computer voice greeted and addressed the visitors by giving a short introduction on the context of the center: «Hello and welcome to the Leisure Time Center on this nice Saturday evening of the 25th November 2037. Life without work is time. We value your time a lot. We will diagnose your needs and improve your life together. Soon it’s your turn to enter. Please be patient. We hope you enjoy your time. Time is important.»
Once people entered the center they were greeted by a hologram of a futuristic woman in a separate diagnoses room: «Hello and Welcome. I will ask you a certain set of questions about your life, your time and your feelings. Afterwards my algorithm will determine the fitting procedure for your situation.» The hologram then went on to ask a set of questions which could be answered in hovering your hand above a sensor. After having answered all the questions the encrypted diagnoses was given to the visitor and they were lead into the main part of the center.
They were being placed in the waiting area in the middle of the center. Blue waves of light and whale songs created a soothing, hypnotic atmosphere. LED signs displayed quotes orbiting around the role societies and humankind in general would obtain once we were liberated from labour:
«Seldom has any society offered so wide a range of acceptable and readily available leisure time activities.» – Alvin Töffler
«He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.» – Aristotle
«This is the advent of automation, which in a few decades probably will empty the factories and liberate mankind from its oldest and most natural burden, the burden of laboring and the bondage to necessity.» – Hannah Arendt
After about five minutes the visitors were guided to their treatment station. Each station was based on a hypothesis from futurists or philosophers about how a life without work could look like.
«You have been diagnosed with the feeling of numbness, caused through the lack of pressure to provide for yourself. To stimulate the emotions of liveliness and adrenalin, your treatment will be the knife procedure. Please place your hand on the underlay and begin. Our therapist will advise you when your session is over. Until then, please remain seated.»
The idea behind this station was to evoke thrill and emotions and a sense of vulnerability. Our thesis was that in a world were the basic existential needs for every human would be provided by governments and corporations, humankind would lose the sense of pressure of needing to earn money and secure themselves an income in order to survive and thus, feel a sensation of numbness.
«You are suffering from a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time – in this case, the work environment. To alleviate your distress, you may choose between an experience in the manufacture industry (design or food) and the office environment. Please advise your therapist the workplace you would like to immerse in. Once your session is over, please raise your hand and remain seated.»
This station was designed for a generation which would have experienced the economy both before and after the third industrial revolution. With a VR-Headset, they would be able to immerse back in an environment which reminded them somewhat of their old workplace. Here they could reminisce and maybe get a resembling sensation of what they felt while they were working.
«The sensation of solitude and seclusion is evoked through the loss of daily conversations and social encounters, often those once enjoyed during the workplace. You will have a bilateral session with our therapist. Please lay down. Your therapist will advise you once your treatment is over.»
In our opinion, solitude and seclusion was an obvious symptom of a automated world. Our treatment was simple, yet highly intimate: the patient would lie on a mattress, together with a therapist and just keep eye contact with her for around five minutes, while facing each other within a distance of roughly 20 cm. Our therapist was adamant about keeping a serious, gesture and facial expression, thus evoking a oddly uncomfortable, yet intimate ambiance. Our therapist would greet the patient with a brief introduction to the station: “You have been diagnosed with isolation caused by the lack of social encounters you experienced at your workplace, amongst other things. Please lay down, relax and try to keep steady eye contact with me until I indicate the session is over. There will be no body contact or exchange of words.”
«Envy occurs when one lacks another person’s superior qualities. Regarding the working environment, these superiors are robots and Artificial Intelligence. This audiovisual treatment will relieve your envy by demonstrating what makes humankind inherently different than robots and thus our lives profoundly more enjoyable. Once your session is over, please raise your hand and remain seated.»
This station was guided by the basic question of what makes humans human and therefore essentially distinguishable from robots. The conclusion was our freedom to enjoy ourselves and each other by procreating or simply enjoying the act of sexual encounters. Therefore we seated the patients in front of a flatscreen and showed him or her footage of facial expressions from humans during masturbation. The clips were eacht around 3 minutes long and had the intent to show the audience what made living as a creature more enjoyable than the seeming invincibility of robots and artificial intelligence.
«The lack of purpose and evidently the feeling of fatigue are a contemporary observation in our post-work-society. This therapy will evoke the sense of occupation and stimulate your determination. Please sort and connect the elements by colour. Our therapist will notify you once the session is over. Until then, please remain seated.»
What to do with all the free time once humankind would not have to work anymore? Another phenomenon we imagined appearing in the future would be the regression of determination, a growing detachment from a work habitus and lack of concentration. By giving our patients the simplistic, childish-like task of sorting LEGO bricks we wanted them to feel a sensation of purpose and evoke a sense of meaningful work. By doing so through LEGO bricks (which almost everyone has a sort of relation to) we wanted to create a sense of affection and thereby treating the symptoms of detachment.
«According to our diagnose you are showing signs of lethargy. Our therapist will have a brief session with you, with the intent to raise your spirits and evoke excitement and animation. Because mental health is just as important as physical health.»
Going to work and receiving a salary is one way of reward for an employee. The other one, debatably more relevant, is the esteem one experiences when an individual defines his personality through a profession. But what would happen with our self-esteem in a future where we could not define ourselves through our jobs? This station was designed for patients who felt a sense of apathy and a lack of gratification without having to work. We put together a set of motivational sentences, which our performer would read out in a very emphatic way. Although our performer would act very sensitive and understanding, the quotes he read out where very generic and the same for every patient. At the end, they would receive a small sticker on their forehead, just like Chinese children in Kindergarten after a task they would successfully solve.
«The feeling of insignificance caused by lack of self-realization through work can be anxious. Our lifestyle guide will advise you on various matters, by which you will hopefully quickly gain recognition and increase your prestige.»
Status and recognition nowadays is often defined through our profession and the appearance it projects to our peers. This station was designed for individuals who were lacking a source of meaningfulness in a life without work. Our performer was equipped with various made-up statistics of trends and tendencies throughout different activities in our everyday lives. He would talk with the patient and evaluate which activities and trends he should perceive in order to gain status and evidently, self-recognition. The statistics could variate from physical activities which where currently taking off to which beverage one should drink when in a bar or a public place.
The session was either over when a therapist advised the patient or, when a patient raised his hand when feeling uncomfortable carrying out the task he or she was ordered to.
The aim of our project was to catch a glimpse of the possibilities that arise with new technologies. Talking about the future is always a very ambivalent undertaking, since many factors come into play. We still pressure the importance of doing so despite the uncertainty. We are convinced that automation will increasingly play a bigger part in our lives and embracing the challenges and opportunities now is the only way to gain a deeper understanding of the matter and coexist rather than struggle with evolving technology. Ultimately, and also an essential drive for approaching this subject, we are in a very privileged and unique position by living in this rapidly changing era, being able to ponder about topics which will profoundly change cohabitation and existing (economical, institutional and social) structures as we know them.
Click here to read all about the process
Click here to read the full documentation of the final installation
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