In a gallery in downtown Manhattan, people are huddling around four laptops, taking turns to control the apartments of 14 complete strangers. They watch via live video feeds, and respond whenever the residents ask "Someone" to help them. They switch the lights on and off, boil the kettle, put some music on – whatever they can do to oblige. The project, called Someone, is the latest in a series exploring our ever more complicated relationship with technology. It's by the American artist Lauren McCarthy and is a sort of outsourcing of Lauren, an earlier work in which she acted as a real-life Alexa, remotely watching over a home 24 hours a day, responding to its occupants' questions and needs like a flesh and blood version of Amazon's voice-operated virtual assistant.
For the next seven weeks, anyone who's inclined can go to 205 Hudson Street in New York City and take over someone else's apartment. Smart devices like the kettles, lighting and speakers of four homes connect directly to laptops in the corner of an art gallery. Cameras are trained on bathrooms, kitchens and living areas. Visitors can sit down and become a human Alexa, playing music, eavesdropping on conversations through microphones and communicating with the inhabitants via text-to-speech. Each home -- three in Brooklyn, one in San Francisco -- will be "live" for two hours a day.
"I had this everyday feeling – stress about not properly articulating my emotions in my emails to people," artist and writer Joanne McNeil tells me over the phone from Boston. "I was feeling as though I had to over-do it with enthusiasm or I would sound too sarcastic or bleak or disinterested." It's a common anxiety of modern day life: in an age where we increasingly communicate via email, text messages, and social media posts instead of face-to-face, it can be hard to judge whether we are getting the tone right. Are we being too formal? Are we being too familiar?