Erin Mitchell: The Future of Virtual Nature
TEDx52°27’53.424”N, 13°19’51.815”E, loosely hosted in conjunction with TEDx and the TED organization, is a brief talk presented by artist Erin Mitchell at a virtual location specified only by its geographic coordinates.
Working in conjunction with TEDxGeo, an anonymous, online-based network of future-looking artists, creatives, and innovators at the intersection of art, culture, and technology, speaker Erin Mitchell discusses the future biological and environmental possibilities of virtual nature and shares the research behind her development of fully immersive, natural virtual environments.
Reflecting on the privileged origins of the TED organization and the compellingly presented, feel-good pop-science that has become a hallmark of the widely-recognized TED Talk, conceptual artist and highly amateur performer Erin Mitchell turns the tables on TED by hosting her own satirical talk on the commodified natural virtual environments she examines in her work. Co-opting the presumed authority of a TED speaker, she uses confident assertions and persuasive language to inspire viewers to leave behind the limitations of the natural environments around them for a more enticing future product experience that will be “as easy as updating your current operating system and as affordable as the latest iPhone X.” Portraying an alternative version of herself, Mitchell makes intentionally bold claims and sweeping generalizations with conviction and gusto while providing little or no evidence to support her statements. Aligning herself with Silicon Valley iconoclasts like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg, Mitchell also questions the boundaries between real life and online persona, as well as the “truthiness” of the post-Internet age. By elevating herself to a position of perceived authority as a TED speaker, Mitchell encourages us to look more closely at the individuals and institutions in which we invest our trust online. In an age in which assumed authority is still coupled with great inequalities in distribution of wealth and power, Mitchell takes matters into her own hands to demonstrate the fluidity of contemporary authority, the naïve savior complex of Silicon Valley, and the hypocrisy of futurism as thinly-veiled marketing ploy of technocapitalism.
In the talk itself, Mitchell takes a unique approach to her subject matter: virtual nature. Instead of speaking authentically about her experience and insight on this topic, she adopts the polished yet approachable tone of leading Silicon Valley corporations like Apple and Facebook, using the repetition of key phrases and buzzwords to mimic their authority. Speaking enthusiastically about the ‘techtopian’ future to come, Mitchell packages nature as just another product for human consumption—now, finally, able to be optimized for its ultimate future potential. In this way, Mitchell addresses the innocuous, everyday ideologies that fuel the problematic mindset of our current Anthropocene era, in which human activity has become the dominant influence shaping our planet and its ecology. At a time in which our world becomes increasingly globalized and we, as a society, migrate more of our data and experiences into the intangible realms of the Internet and virtual realities, how do we address the very tangible consequences of climate change and future ecology without viewing nature as purely a resource, commodity, or source of profit?
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All contents of and recordings of this talk are property of the artist and TEDxGeo © 2018