Readers of a certain age will remember the tamagotchi virtual pet craze of the late nineties, though they (like me) may be surprised to know they’re still selling strongly. Furthermore, readers who follow Futurismic closely (which is all of you, AMIRITES?) may remember me mentioning tardigrades, the microscopic critters better known as “water bears”, which bear (arf!) the odd distinction of being the only animal known to be able to survive the hard vacuum of space. What’s the connection?
The connection is the Tardigotchi, a sort of po-mo mixed-media art-project-gadget-statement-commentary item that combines a real living water bear with an artificial electronic lifeform to create a hybrid cyborg pet that can (and must!) be interacted with in a variety of ways to ensure its survival. Observe:
What does it mean? I guess that’s open to interpretation… an expression of the blurring of the line between natural and artificial lifeforms, and our relationship to them? A recognition of our increasingly emotional relationship with (and dependence on) electronic devices? Or just a wacky 3am brainstorm idea that made it into production?
Part of the contract for the flat I rent states that I’m not allowed to keep pets, and there are plenty of other folk in the same situation. Plus pets are expensive – food, vet bills and so on – and demanding of your time. How might one get all the psychological benefits of pet ownership – the sense of affection and companionship, the amelioration of loneliness – without running into those obstacles?
German designer Stefan Ulrich has a solution in the form of Funktionide, a conceptual piece based around electroactive polymers acting as artificial muscles to embody a large amorphous shape-shifting object which will create the illusion of living company. [via PosthumanBlues]
The more design blogs I follow, the more I suspect I understand the motives behind conceptual projects like this… meaning that I suspect Ulrich has fully intended the Funktionide to be more than a little creepy and melancholic. Observe:
The notion of robotic pets – whether truly mimetic or otherwise – is at least as old as science fiction itself, of course. The main snagging point I have with Ulrich’s ideas is that I’m not sure loneliness will be one of the biggest problems in the near future, at least not for most people. It seems certain that our future is a predominantly urban one, which to me implies shared living spaces for the majority of people – it’s cheaper and more efficient, after all. Ulrich’s vision of this poor lonely chap in his spacious and stark white apartment doesn’t entirely match up with my own ideas about the singleton lifestyles of the next few decades…. what do you reckon?