Category: Blind Ditch

How My Cayla became Mikayla: a doll hack story

We’ve just returned from the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) annual conference on Exhibition Road in London. We’ve been working with the artist and PhD student Paula Crutchlow (and others) on a project called the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC). Our museum opened for four days in the RGS’s Pavilion Gallery, and people dropped by on their way between the Royal Albert Hall (for the Proms), Serpentine Gallery (for the Grayson Perry exhibition) and the V&A (for the plywood exhibition). What brought people in from the street was a creepy poster of MoCC’s golden child and hacked talking Guide Mikayla. We thought we’d share with you her moving life story in film – our compilation of her life story from child’s toy to banned surveillance device My Cayla – and biography – Paula’s account of how My Cayla became MoCC Guide Mikayla. There’s plenty more on the MoCC website. How and why would you hack a doll like this though? Read on… 

My Cayla: the movie

Mikayla: a hacked biography

“If you took me apart, each bit of me would be a commodity. Each of those things have been made by different people in lots of different places. That’s an awful lot of work isn’t it?” MoCC Guide Mikayla on how she values herself.

The idea of MoCC Guide Mikayla arrived with us in February 2015. A friend of mine had been given a My Friend Cayla doll at a corporate IT event she was working for. ‘I’ve got just the thing for your museum!’ she said. What could be a better face of contemporary commodity culture than an internet connected ‘smart’ doll?

We started the phone app to power her up, and then spent the best part of an hour trying to talk with her. Irritatingly glitchy and slow, we tested inappropriate phrases and talked over her head. She sang songs and offered us games to play. Eventually, with advice from her 16 year old daughter, we bent our thoughts and words to My Friend Cayla’s logic – conducting a halting conversation about clothes, looking nice, Disney Princesses and pink things.

Designed especially for 7 year old girls to access the internet ‘safely’, My Friend Cayla Doll is ostensibly a blue tooth speaker and microphone that works off an app that you download onto your smart phone or tablet. She has a quiet voice, made for intimate chats with children in their homes. There is a structured database of responses to potential questions the designers think a girl-child of around 7 might ask. If your question isn’t in her database, she can search on Wikipedia. She is also scripted to ask children questions about themselves and what they like doing, including their names, parent’s names, where they live, and go to school.

As a level 1 blue tooth device there is no pin code to pair the doll with the phone, and almost immediately after My Friend Cayla was released onto the market, people were hacking her. Like many of the current swathe of internet connected toys, the security around accessing the object is very low. Earlier this year, someone even used her as a way to open a ‘smart’ lock on their front door. The safety aspect of the marketing rhetoric of My Friend Cayla doll refers chiefly to the restricted internet access she enables. This seems to be managed through a long list of banned words that she is not allowed to search for – including ‘buddha’ and ‘gay marriage’.

The prototype, re-purposed MoCC Guide Mikayla had her first outing at our Free Market prototyping event at Furtherfield in July 2015. Technologist Gareth Foote and myself attempted a radical cut and reconfiguration of her original script. We made her self aware. She began to talk about who made her, what she was made from, and how she felt about the condition of almost ubiquitous digital connectivity we increasingly live in. I had a lot of fun dreaming new words for her. Making her differently smart. Ian did research on component parts and their provenance, but I still couldn’t help put in statements about ponies and skateboarding. It was impossible to resist the personality of the object. Her styled eyebrows, long golden locks and open expression, means that the ‘play’ of the world we enter with her is the comedy strategy well-loved by Hollywood, the good looking and intelligent blonde. After all, what could be more surprising?

Read more ->

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Our Arts & Activism Symposium @exetergeography today

Today is an exciting day in the university module that powers our website. It’s our annual Arts and Activism Symposium, funded and hosted by the Department of Geography at the University of Exeter. Here’s the line-up and some background info on the projects our speakers will be talking about. After this, our students develop their own commodity activist work.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-21-12-391) Orsola de Castro: watch this

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Artist commissions with MoCC: call for proposals

We’re in our second year of collaboration with Artist and PhD student Paula Crutchlow and whole crew of other people on the Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) project. In 2015 we had residencies at Furtherfield in London’s Finsbury Park. Watch the video below to see what this led to. Now we’re moving to Exeter, and have a couple of artist commissions to fill. The advert is below. Please consider applying if this is your thing, or pass it to others. Check out our MoCC website for more…

Finsbury Park 2015: MoCC Free Market

Exeter 2016 artist commisions: call for commissions

MoCC is inviting proposals for the commissioning of two dynamic public encounters that explore urgent questions related to the nexus of data-trade-place-values. We are interested in receiving applications for remote interventions as well as Exeter based working processes, and are looking for artists who can demonstrate both a critical engagement with networked processes, and experience of making in a social context. The commissions are co-hosted with Exeter Phoenix, Exeter Library and Devon Fab Lab and have been developed in partnership with Furtherfield. Final art work will be shared as part of the Exeter iteration of MoCC during May 2016, alongside a programme of film screenings, walkshops/workshops and public discussions about potential ethical futures of trade and exchange in late capitalism.

Find out more about the commissions and how to apply HERE

Our ‘Trade Justice Thinkering Day’, on 13 January.

Our latest project has been brewing throughout 2012. It starts on Friday. It’s a closed workshop with an open hour at the end. It’s being documented to disseminate the ideas that are generated. We will tweet throughout the day via @MoCCofficial. Follow us and watch out for more…

A day of collective imaginings towards new digital happenings in trade justice activism

11th January 10am-6pm, Margaret Rooms, University of Exeter

What if every shop were a museum and the objects for sale part of an ever changing exhibition on contemporary consumer culture? How would their hidden histories be revealed? How could you re-write their future lives?

The Museum of Contemporary Commodities (MoCC) is an idea developed by Dr Ian Cook (University of Exeter and followthethings.com) and Paula Crutchlow (Blind Ditch) to explore trade justice activism in relationship to ubiquitous and pervasive technologies. MoCC’s aim is to move thinking around trade justice out of the classroom, cinema and art gallery, beyond the textbook, computer and TV screen, and in to our personal experiences of everyday commodity worlds.

This ‘Thinkering’ day is the beginning of a journey to discover what kind of critical object-space-people interactions are both possible and necessary in today’s consumer environments. We’d like to open up the MoCC idea into a growing collection of co-authored events by multiple activists. We hope that MoCC will become something self sustaining, infiltrating and subversive… actively moving towards new ways of trading together.

This MoCC trade justice ‘thinkering’ is being supported by REACT, a collaboration led by the University of the West of EnglandWatershed, and the Universities of BathBristolCardiff and Exeter, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The day will be documented in various ways by ‘us’ the participants, student geographers and REACT, in order to disseminate the project and its ideas more widely in future. 

Day outline:

9.30am Arrivals

10.00am Introduction Ian Cook and Paula Crutchlow

10.30am – 11.30 am 10 minute provocations by invited guests

11.30am – 12.15pm – participant intros and set up of prototyping format

12.15pm – 5pm creating prototypes, using as prompts ‘MoCC cards’  1: smartphones / tablet computers,  2: plastic packaging3: bananas4: medicine pills & 5: cotton clothing.

5pm – 5.30pm – Open summary of the day by Jon Dovey, REACT and sharing of prototypes for an invited audience of Exeter University – staff and students – and broader local audience.

5.30pm – Drinks

Participants 

Jenny Chan – Students & Scholars against Corporate Misbehavior | Ruth Catlow – Furtherfield | Dan Harris – Blind Ditch + Fjord | Dorothea Kleine – The Fair Tracing Project + RHUL, University of London  | Ann Light – The Fair Tracing Project + Northumbria University | John Levack Drever – Blind Ditch + Goldsmiths, University of London | Kate Rich – Feral Trade | Alice Angus – Proboscis | James Richards – Chromatrope | Matt Davenport – Pervasive Media Studio + REACT Sam Kinsley – Digital Cultures Research Centre Cat Radford – Blind Ditch Tobit Emmens – Devon Partnership NHS Trust Jon Dovey – REACT + Digital Cultures Research Centre Chris Hunt – i-DAT Meredydd Jones – ROKK Media Harry Robbins – Outlandish Ideas Martin Thomas – RAMM Will Barrett – Exeter University Anka Djordjevic – Exeter University Simon Moreton – Pervasive Media Studio + REACT

Documenters: Katie Tyler, Nancy Scotford, Maddy Morgan, Joe Thorogood, Rachel Grant, Elizabeth Baillie & Eeva Kemppainen

Filmmaker: Benjamin Borley | tumblr site

Documentation

Our participants and documenters tweeted throughout the day, and we have assembled from these tweets a Storify that gives a sense of the thinkering that unfolded…