The space is sparse, decorated only by tables full of gadgets for you to play with. Employees wear all white. And in the back? A a few "ingeniouses" are ready to answer any questions you might have at the "bar."
This new Nolita popup shop, which opened on Cyber Monday, isn’t Apple’s latest store. It’s actually an art installation called the Glass Room. Curated by Tactical Tech Collective (TTC) and Mozilla—yes, the same Mozilla behind the Firefox browser—the Glass Room is a collection of 54 pieces of art and technology, all of which feature a dark, humorous twist. The intent is not to sell you anything, but to get you to question your relationship with tech as a mindless consumer.
"We’re hoping there will be a moment of confusion for people who just walk in off the street," says Stephanie Hankey, executive director at TTC. "There’s a brief moment of, ‘Am in a tech store or not?’ and we want to play with that brief moment of intrigue or confusion."
The space may look beautiful, but its objects are meant make your stomach churn. An Unfitbit is a play on fitness tracking. It’s a Fitbit, attached to a metronome, that allows you to reach your fitness goals automatically. Funny! Yet it’s also an unsettling reminder that you can falsify your own data, and also that in some cases, insurance companies are tracking you with that information.
The Glass Room also features a mockup of the Fertility Chip—a project that’s sponsored through a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In development for a 2018 release, it’s an embeddable chip that can effectively turn on and off a woman’s fertility with a radio-signal-activated switch. Handy! And yet, it prompts the question, who is holding that fertility remote?
What might be my personal favorite project, the Online Shopping Center by Sam Levigne reads your mind to order you stuff online—a play on Amazon’s patent for a "predictive shopping" algorithm that ships you goods before you even order them.
Indeed, the Glass Room has a certain Black Mirror sensibility, putting a twist on consumer technologies we know and love, and in doing so, revealing the darker side of self-quantification and over-sharing.
Why is Mozilla getting involved? As Mark Surman, executive director of the Mozilla Foundation explains, this sort of activism is part of Mozilla's mission. "Mozilla was started 15 years ago to guard the open nature of the internet and keep it as a public resource that belongs to all of us. Firefox and open source software was one part of that—to make sure there were different options for different browsers," says Surman. "But what we’ve also realized is there’s an increasing need, as the internet grows and we move into the world of the Internet of Things...that people are more conscious of the choices they’re making. We’ve started to invest in this whole idea of educating and mobilizing people on internet health, digital literacy, and [understanding] structures of the internet."
The Glass Room is just one way Mozilla hopes to illustrate the importance of safeguarding personal data in a world that’s more and more connected. And in case you do attend the free exhibit, and find yourself moved to action? The "Digital Detox Bar" is there to help. Just like Apple’s Genius Bar, staff is on-hand to answer any questions you may have. But in this case? That staff will explain how to get you disconnected from all of these products and services that track you.
"The problem with exhibitions normally is that you can see the content, and you don’t have a way to act on it," says Hankey. "We wanted to introduce an element that allows you to walk up to learn how can you find alternatives? How can you see more about how the internet works? They give you practical advice."
The Glass Room is open through December 14, 2016 at 201 Mulberry Street in New York.