It's Cyber Monday today, which to us means clicking through endless online guides to the best deals deals deals before some smaller fraction of us decides to click through endless screens of actual deals deals deals. One thing very, very few of us will be thinking about regardless is the sheer scale of the labor and infrastructure it takes to make that idle web shopping possible.
Which is one reason it's well worth watching filmmaker Pierce Myers' speculative short, set in Mumbai on a vertical server farm on Cyber Monday in the not-too-distant future, which Motherboard has the pleasure of debuting online today. The the film, which was developed in Sci Arc’s Fiction and Entertainment Studio, headed by Liam Young and Alexey Marfin, explores the spaces beyond our online shopping impulses with a distinctly (and refreshingly) non-dystopian bent.
Without further ado, here's 'Cyber Monday.' Scroll down after the film for a brief interview with the director.
Motherboard: Let's start with the basics: What inspired this film?
Pierce Myers: Bad metaphors for the internet. Words like the ‘Cloud’ make the internet seem like something immaterial. They obscure the fact that the internet is already one the most energy intensive systems on the planet. I wanted to represent the its raw physicality, to make our global information network feel synonymous with the earth system.
The vertical server farm/slum is an interesting construct I haven't seen much before—have you seen examples of buildings like that, or what led you to this idea?
In terms of urbanism, it started with research about server farms, urban edgelands, and networked computation at earth scale. Server farms are built at the confluence of cheap electricity, cheap land, proximity to clients, and geopolitical stability. They require huge amounts of cooling. I had visited the IT parks of Pune, Infosys headquarters, the Bandra Kurla Complex, and Navi Mumbai office parks, all of which are examples of the emerging urban typologies of India’s IT dominance. I pushed some of these typologies a bit further, setting the film in a densified Mumbai edgeland that supports the data needs of these zones. So there’s no real precedent here, just glimpses from the present.
Architecturally, I found that there is a huge amount of energy wasted in the hot and cold air systems of these buildings, as well as opportunities for pirating data. There are some clever ways of making use of that excess, with vertical greenhouse agriculture for example, so I imagined a context of Indian urbanism in which people make their living from those excesses in an emergent vertical community on the exterior.
The film is clearly about the ways that western consumers outsource their conveniences into environs and social systems they don't care to concern themselves with—why is that idea one you're driven to interrogate?
The online shopper is ignorant to the stack of interactions that she’s firing off by clicking. But the kids at the other end aren’t suffering for it. They’re actually gamifying these global dynamics in real-time, which is kind of hilarious. They’re just kids, being clever and having fun like kids anywhere would. The qualities of that accidental interaction were more important for me, as opposed to heavy-handed moralizing around postcolonial relations, which are certainly present, but are implicit. Anything involving Amazon automatically invokes the consequences of convenience culture, both globally and domestically.
And why feature two dueling kite-fliers as the meat of the narrative?
The film was about kids from the beginning, but kite fighting was not part of the first scripts. The film was missing an object or image that clearly registered what was happening. I landed on the kites because they show how something delicate can master something much more powerful. The kites, as well as the foliage of the tower, are the clearest image registers for all of the Cyber Monday internet traffic coming from around the earth.
What should we be thinking about this Cyber Monday?
Your loved ones! Then the mega-structural machine intelligence involved in your gift exchange. And the lives of others at different endpoints of the stack!