Each time a push-notification chime is heard on the screen, it is matched by an ever increasing flash of light which is processed by brightness receptors in the eye.
Through this exposure to ‘always-on’ electronic forms of communication, we are entrained to a new type of temporal system, which is tuned to the pushes instead of to our natural day/night cycle.
The film enhances synaesthetic channels in our psyche by reinforcing color cues with sound alerts, as well as force-feedback proprioceptive prompts, so that as many of our body senses as available become attuned to the flow of incoming push-notifications.
Viewers have reported ‘phantom vibration syndrome’ in which their own phones and SMS habits blur the boundary between the events in the film and their own incessant stream of cell-phone usage. This film feeds and yet also exposes the addictive phase transition that our bodies are undergoing through these forms of electronic communication and which remain masked from our conscious minds.
I asked Leonardo Moore at UCLA’s NSIDP for a ‘neuroscience’ take about the reward mechanisms that may happen when a person is in the throes of SMS obsession:
“I would say that notifications of that sort in their current context primarily stimulate centers involved in motivation, reward, and emotion. The pleasure-reinforcement component might be mediated by the nucleus accumbens, a part of the basal ganglia which is heavily implicated in reward. Also, particularly once such notifications have become customary, you might have an ongoing expectation of this reward which manifests itself in addictive behavior and at the level of the brain in a change in the way dopamine signaling encodes the appearance of each notification. In addition, you would probably recruit areas involved with affective processing and the incorporation of affective information into behavior, which probably would include areas such as the hippocampus, amygdala, orbitofrontal cortex and lateral prefrontal cortex.”
When creating a film that mirrors a reality in which we are all immersed, it is natural to think about the underlying affects and processes that we are subjected to, over and above the standard forms according to which we usually judge a film such as cinematography, narrative, and acting. This film has an arc that plays especially to the chemical systems inside our bodies.
The film was shot in the Ai Weiwei designed Caochangdi arts complex in Beijing, which offers a labyrinthine setting, somewhat reminiscent of Umberto Eco or Julio Cortazar worlds, as the kaleidoscopic space straddles both dreamscapes and reality.
Sound design: Julia Owen