the conspiracy of longevity
The Conspiracy of Longevity is my final year university project exploring extended human lifespans in relation to a changing future of work from a conspiratorial angle.
Human lifespans are increasing significantly due to exponential advances in science and technology, meaning we can live longer, healthier lives. But this extended lifespan comes at a price and it is no accident; we must now work to sustain ourselves until we’re very old, retirement becoming a distant, perhaps non-existent, prospect. With a fear of death having already been culturally, socially and historically constructed, where we desire a longer life to outrun death for as long as possible, we fall into the trap ourselves. In result, we are being bred like dairy cows to work like dairy cows by those who govern us, feeding and fuelling an outdated capitalist industrial system.
Through five main outcomes featuring a documentary film and interactive installation, my project aims to provide new images and stories for political discourse, using conspiracy as a tool for critical thinking in a post-truth world. By addressing these issues and raising awareness to them, I explore a future of work where post-capitalism reigns, universal basic income is widespread, automation proliferates, and “work” is reduced to finding comfort in typing on a screen - giving away data to fulfil an innate human urge to be functional or feel of some purpose. The main question thus remains: what becomes of human existence when work may no longer be the main determiner of wealth and prosperity in society?
#1 The Documentary Film
This documentary film is an experimental exploration of the themes in my project, not being a documentary trying to prove the conspiracy to be true or not. And after all, what decent conspiracy isn’t followed by a documentary about it?
It is roughly 40 minutes in length and is composed of 14 sub-sections, including: interviews, archived footage, animations, filmed models, experiments and prototypes, research footage, and a scripted and performed monologue by myself as a conspiracy theorist.
Those interviewed feature Professor of Psychology Chris French, famous mysteries and conspiracies author, speaker and researcher Andy Thomas, and Sam Knight and Callum Watts from the start-up Pollen8.
Notably, I visited Terry Prince at Beechenhill farm, who milks his cows in a more traditional way, in one big group, twice a day, almost pushing the cows where he wants them to be. But my visit to Nortons Dairy Farm and interview with the owner, Emily Norton, revealed an alternative way of milking cows, one where a voluntary robotic milking system milks the cows 24/7. The cows choose when they want to be milked and are free flow through the milking parlour, incentivised to visit the robot. This research made it clear that in a future of work, we will be less like Terry’s cows, traditionally pushed to be milked, and more like Emily’s cows, choosing when to be milked and wanting to be milked to feel of purpose and to relieve ourselves.
#2 The Booth
This futuristic office space alludes to traditional offices, cow milking parlours and hospitals, which was further developed from my dairy farm research trips. The booth acts as a space for one to be voluntarily “milked” in a future where work may no longer exist, but where humans still feel the need to work.
The booth could be seen as a space similar to passport photo booths or telephone boxes - a place in which to promptly conduct your work, donate your contribution to society, receive your reward and depart.
It has been designed to be flat-packed for easy transportation and has been constructed using melamine chipboard and steel.
#3 The Programme (The Voluntary Milking System)
Inside the booth, an interactive programme is on offer. The programme aims to “milk” users of their time and data in an arcade-game like manner - arcades being pretty much a system of willingly giving your time, money and energy for little in return; high input, little output. The purpose is for it to feel a bit pointless, to feel like you’ve wasted your time and energy but to simultaneously feel of some worth, that you have contributed something to a system.
The programme is composed of 5 randomly generated questions, those of which are extremely simple and allude to the simple things we do day to day on our computers and the internet, particularly on social media, such as double tapping a heart or entering passwords and numbers over and over again. Much like we are the willing, unpaid, employees of Facebook and Instagram, contributing with our own content day to day, our data is perhaps all we can and all we want to give in the future of work. Perhaps our data and time online will be something that’s used as currency in a “post-capitalist” world.
The programme was designed by myself and developed by Pedro Dias over the course of several months.
Visit the programme at // www.thevoluntarymilkingsystem.com
#4 The Ticket Machine
Once users finish a “work rotation” on the programme (a set of 5 questions) they receive a random number of tickets between 1-5 from the machine, those of which serve no purpose. This idea came from a discussion about how I could get users of the booth to feel like they’ve done something for such little (and pointless) reward - arcade games and tickets thus came to mind.
To make the machine, I sourced a working ticket machine mechanism from the internet, and then received help to programme an Arduino to send a message from the web programme to the machine. As for the container of the electronics, it was first prototyped in MDF and then laser cut and CNC’d on clear acrylic. The architecture of the machine was influenced by research trips to arcades and to the dairy farms.
#The Film Website
The last outcome is more of a sub-product; a website on which my documentary film will live on past the viva and degree show, using the experience I gained from the first web programme I made to aid the process. The development of this website was inspired by design studio Metahaven’s website for their documentary The Sprawl. They say;
“Nowadays, films live in a thousand and one forms on the internet. Viewing cinema on a laptop screen is only possible when remembering that such an experience has little to do with cinema itself. As a hybrid, episodic documentary, The Sprawl‘s story isn’t linear. The film lends itself to be seen as a succession of impressions—a trailer, forever unfinished.”
This concept inspired not just the website but also the construction of my own hybrid, episodic documentary film, meant to live on through the internet, reflecting the nature in which we view film today. It also echoes a message that resonates through my project, that we are looking for reasons to click on a screen every day, and that perhaps in the future that’s all that may give humanity purpose.
The website was designed by myself and developed by Pedro Dias.