It’s not every day that we see the developing world used as a backdrop for science fiction. With the shining exception of Alex Rivera’s 2007 indie masterpiece Sleep Dealer, most mainstream sci-fi creators haven’t taken a moment to consider how important developing countries – and Latin America in particular – will be to the future of global society. Which is just one reason why the new short Hyper-Reality, from Japanese-British designer and filmmaker Keiichi Matsuda, seems so on point.
Set in an entirely plausible near-future version of Medellín, Colombia, Hyper-Reality follows another day in the life of Juliana Restrepo: an out-of-work teacher gigging as a freelance grocery shopper to make ends meet. The catch to this otherwise realistic 2016 scenario is that Restrepo’s entire life is mediated through a Google Glass-like augmented reality.
Shot in first-person POV, Hyper-Reality presents Restrepo’s world as nightmarish three-dimensional social feed that guides her through the physical world without taking her focus off of the holographic bells and whistles that constitute her personalized reality. In the midst of an existential crisis, Restrepo’s world begins to fall apart when someone attempts to hack her account in order to syphon off her precious consumer “points.”
It’s not entirely clear what exactly these “points” are, but we can imagine it as a logical outgrowth of our heavily-manipulated online consumer experience. One early scene finds Restrepo (voiced by Catalina Villegas) wistfully inquiring to some all-knowing Google god about whether she can “start over.” When she’s offered the option of resetting her personal identity, the prospect of losing her points forces Restrepo think twice.
In terms of cultural specificity, Medellín’s Cootrasana rapid bus service figures prominently in the short’s first few minutes, while an ironic nod to Colombia’s strong Catholic faith gives the short an unsettling third-act twist. In all, it’s an appropriate location for a realistic vision of the future, especially given Medellín’s recent status as the Urban Land Institute’s Most Innovative City back in 2013.
We can only hope that in this case, innovation doesn’t refer to anything like the distressing vision of tomorrow presented in Hyper-Reality. Though it’s hard not to think that this is exactly what’s waiting for us around the technological corner.