Yet without its physical dimension, its glazed walls, structural honesty and openness of space, these principles are hollowed out reduced to a digitally manifest vanity, voyeurism and vacuity. If the 19th Century house piqued and invited curiosity, the Modernist house eliminated it by its transparency. Today, the house and its physical properties are usurped by technology.
Imagine Goldilocks didn’t pass through the forests of 19th Century England, but instead Mid-century Connecticut. Imagine, lost hungry and alone, she stumbled across Philip Johnson’s Glass House. Would she bother to walk closer and peer in the window? Would she peek through the keyhole to check if anyone was in? Would she be at all curious of what was going on in this fully glazed and transparent house? Probably not.
The downfall of Goldilocks was not her greed (she was hungry, lost and alone and the bears were careless enough to go out with the door unlocked), but her excessive curiosity. The house, the original 19th Century bears house, piqued this curiosity, its design invited it. The small heavily sashed and framed windows betrayed little of what was inside; the domesticity and familiarity of its appearance (a dual pitched roof and square windows by all accounts) disarmed Goldilocks, displaying an inviting familiarity like the house of an elderly relative. Thirdly, it had multiple levels, therefore it must be a house. Ground floor for living and eating, upstairs for sleeping. The 19th Century forest dwelling invited Goldilocks curiosity through its insularity, benignity and familiarity.
Not only would Goldilocks have been invited by the house design to enter… but its small windows (obscuring her from the returning bears), its familiar layout (she would know where to hide), and its dual level (she could sleep as well as eat) would provide a more suitable and secretive environment for her intended activities, once she had entered.
Imagine these three elements of the house design were absent. Imagine the house not only didn’t have any solid opaque walls, but was all window. Completely clear and transparent. She would see from a distance that no-one was in and so would not attempt to knock the door or peek in the window to check if anyone was. Even if she was feeling particularly bold to in fact break in, even Goldilocks would have the sense to know that she herself would be seen in the act of consuming the porridge or sitting in baby bears’ chair. In a glass walled home the question is: who is the surveillant, and who is surveilled? The distinction is ambiguous, the role mutual.
Secondly, the single storey aspect of the design would have disorientated Goldilocks. Where do the inhabitants sleep? Is this really a house? There may be porridge on a table, but is it a kitchen? Where do I sleep in a single storey glasshouse? She would likely have thought it was some sort of outbuilding, not a warm inviting home.
Perhaps most fundamentally of all Goldilocks would not have gone near the glasshouse out of suspiciousness of its potential inhabitants. What kind of pervert lives in a glass house? Constantly watching, and willingly being watched, to and from all angles. All in all the tale, would have gone like this: “Goldilocks was walking in the woods one day and became lost. Tired and hungry she came across a house in a clearing in the woods. She thought, ‘Nah, fuck that, I’ll go to the next house… what kind of pervert lives in a Glass House?’”
What about the bears? What kind of bears would live in a glass house? They may have been paranoid bears, surrounding themselves in glass so that they could watch out for any potential attackers or porridge thieves. They may have been voyeur bears – binoculars at the ready to spy on their neighbours through the trees. They may have been exhibitionist bears flaunting their possessions and bodies to anyone who cares to watch. Yet these bears would have nothing on our society today. Today we all willingly live in a metaphorical glass house, if not a physical one.
Today our homes are sites of paranoia, voyeurism and exhibitionism. Their appearance irrelevant, they may be 19th century cottage or mid-century Modern, but with the function of a digital glass house. Spaces to see and be seen.
The domestic realm, once a haven from public scrutiny, is now the site of a new type of surveillance, in the form of shared personal data. The data that we share both advertently and inadvertently (pictures, diaries, comments, our location, thoughts) are harvested and turned into what author Shoshana Zuboff calls ‘prediction products’. These are calculations based on the aggregated data that will predict what one will do now, soon and later. These are then sold in what Zuboff calls ‘behavioural futures markets’ (a stock exchange of human data), at an exorbitant profit. Our activities, thoughts and emotions are harvested and then sold for multi-billion dollar profit. This ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ uses our own personal experiences, willingly provided for free through social media, apps, home devices, laptops and smart phones, as commodities to generate huge amounts of income. We have let Goldilocks in and shown her our secrets – she is now part of the furniture. For the first time in history those who are being spied on, are willingly and freely giving themselves up.
We tell them when we go to sleep and when we wake, we log a food diary telling them what we ate for breakfast lunch and dinner, we google an embarrassing ailment we may have – automatically letting them into the secret, through photo sharing, we tell them what clothes our kids wore to their friends birthday party today, through online discussions we express our passionate political beliefs, and even allow home devices to listen and record our most intimate conversations and sexual experiences. All of this information is gathered and sold, never to be unseen or deleted. This violation is sold to us as progress, a way of simplifying our lives. This may be true, but it is not the primary purpose. In the words of tech advisor and author Mitch Joel ‘The culmination of our highly personalized searches, connections and commentary is the product. In fact, if media used to sell access to an audience that had a combined interest in a piece of media, then media today is selling access to highly personalized information that their consumers are generating to third parties to better target them. These companies don’t really sell content or advertising. They do really sell the surveillance of their consumers.’
The invention of the X-Ray and the development of glazed open, Modernist architecture in the early 20th century once created a new type of physical surveillance for the elite, eroding physical boundaries of public and private through the use of transparency. This Modernist mind set has trickled down and adapted to become a contemporary behavioural trait, now manifest digitally if not through our physical environments. Why? So we can all express the same beliefs that the pioneering Modernists expressed – ‘health, honesty and transparency’. Nothing hidden, everything exposed. Yet without its physical dimension, its glazed walls, structural honesty and openness of space, these principles are hollowed out reduced to a digitally manifest vanity, voyeurism and vacuity. If the 19th Century house piqued and invited curiosity, the Modernist house eliminated it by its transparency. Today, the house and its physical properties are usurped by technology.
If Goldilocks was set today, the story would be short, if unworthy of telling – “Goldilocks was walking in the woods one day and became lost. Tired and hungry she came across a house in a clearing in the woods. She checked her smart phone and saw that the inhabitants (3 bears she follows on Instagram), had posted that they had just nipped out for a 5 minute walk while their breakfast cooled; their previously tweeted that they had recently bought three chairs, one small and two big; as well as three new bespoke mattresses. Thinking there would be no point in going in as they were coming back in 5 minutes she thought: ‘Nah, fuck that. I’ll just call an Uber and get some grub and a kip at my Grans’ house.”
Technology now satiates curiosity such that the physical design of the 21st century home is irrelevant to it – the architecture breeds indifference because the curiosity has already been digitally satiated.