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Corporate Fallout Detector

The Corporate fallout Detector scans barcodes off of consumer products, and makes a clicking noise based on the environmental or ethical record (selectable via the "sensitivity" switch) of the manufacturer. It explores issues of corporate accountability and individual choice. Due to increasingly complex global supply chains, a single product we buy may contain parts made by various companies all over the world. We may agree with the business practices of some of these companies, while not with others. The complexity of the relationships between manufacturers can be so great that it becomes unclear how to translate our personal convictions into good buying decisions, and all purchasing decisions involve an unavoidable element of risk. For example, a consumer may know that one company has a good record on human rights and pollution, but that company may be owned by another company that has a poor record in these areas. When one buys from the smaller company, the parent company also benefits. In this case, what should a consumer do to reward good business ethics? One can argue either for buying or boycotting products from the smaller company.

The maze of corporate ownership makes it difficult for consumers to reward good business practices or punish bad ones by changing their buying habits. The products on the shelves in a store look more or less the same whether they were manufactured using child labor, or they increase pollution, etc. These aspects of products are invisible and difficult to understand. In this sense, these aspects are like nuclear radiation (invisible, dangerous, complex), which is part of the reason I designed the Corporate Fallout Detector to look and sound like a Geiger counter.

The performative aspect of the Corporate Fallout Detector is also important. For some people, the clicking sound it makes brings back ominous memories of Geiger counters sold to the public in the cold war era. The hope is that hearing this sound, combined with the sight of someone scrutinizing products in a store will cause people to think about their buying decisions in a different way.

Also present in the Corporate Fallout Detector are issues of trust and responsibility. By relying on the device when shopping, one places a great deal of trust in whoever is loading the ratings into it. One may not know who this group is, or what agenda they may have. As well, there is a risk in placing the responsibility for buying decisions in an inanimate object, as over time it might become one’s sole source of information related to buying decisions. To try to discourage this possible trend, the Corporate Fallout Detector reveals only a small amount of quantitative information. The goal is primarily to encourage awareness and curiosity, rather than to serve as an educated consumer’s sole source of information.

Funded (in part) by a Director's Grant from the Council for the Arts at MIT.

Corporate Fallout Detector installation at transmediale.05

Infomercial Credits:

Announcer - Rafael Siegel
Shopper - Ana-Maria Cardenez

Many thanks to:

Mariliana Arvelo
Chris Csikszentmihalyi
Ben Recht
Hayes Raffle

See the video.

Quicktime 160x120 1.9MB

Quicktime 320x240 6.2MB

Windows Media 160x120 0.9MB

Windows Media 320x240 5MB