An infant sits strapped into an egg-like booster seat, a virtual reality visor over its eyes, and earbuds plugged into its ears. It's calm and quiet. The NurturePod helps manage circadian rhythm, keeps the baby entertained with age-appropriate puzzles and music from Bach to Beyoncé. It's motionless and seems pacified. The sole sign of life is in the infant's flushed cheeks.
Welcome to a future where parenting is delegated to all-in-one devices. Or, rather, welcome to an art installation by experiential futurist Stuart Candy, who will join Carnegie Mellon's School of Design this year. "NuturePod is a tangible 'what if,'" Candy tells Creators. "It's a hypothesis or a fragment of a possible future."
On display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, Belgium, as a part of the ongoing exhibit, A Temporary Futures Institute, NuturePod is presented as a product for parents to buy. For a seemingly reasonable €789 (about $920), the device purportedly helps manage a child's sleep cycles, while engaging its creativity, body awareness, cultural orientation, emotional regulation, and social skills. It's not clear if these claims have been independently verified.
As an artist and experiential futurist, Candy invites people to see possibilities for how the future may look and challenges them to consider whether or not that's the type of future they want to welcome. Rather than offering readers a thought experiment via text, he gives them a physical artifact from the future and asks them to engage with it.
NurturePod may seem far-fetched at first but it's closer to reality than it appears. For the most part, its technology already exists. "I don't think it represents a vast technical leap," Candy says. "The possibility that NurturePod presents is technically possible now. The main gap between where we are and [NuturePod] is a slight shift of values. It would really only required people to be prepared to entrust some portion of their child-rearing to a well-crafted technological container for this to appear on the market."
But NurturePod doesn't need a drastic shift in values. Even today, the parental directive "go play outside" has often changed to "go play online."
Case in point: toy unboxing channels, which have churned out some of YouTube's most popular videos over the past few years. A video about a Play-Doh ice cream play set has been watched more than 848 million views and some channels have amassed more than 9 million subscribers. Meanwhile an episode of a Russian animation called Masha and the Bear has earned a top-ten spot in the coveted "Billion View Club." With 2.345 billion views it's currently the sixth most watched video on YouTube, just ahead of Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off."
"NuturePod just brings the screen closer," Candy says. "It's an extension of certain trends and tendencies that we can see clearly in the 'march of screens' into every corner of our lives. It doesn't take a great deal of suspension of disbelief to imagine exhausted parents outsourcing a little bit of their daily duties to a gadget that can make them feel OK about giving themselves a break."
Candy points out that some people—perhaps unsurprisingly—take offense to NurturePod, particularly when they see images of it online and don't realize it's a fake product designed as an art installation. More surprising to us are those who see nothing wrong with the device.
Follow Stuart Candy on his blog. A Temporary Futures Institute runs until September 17.
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