Betty Sneezes

So here’s my digital artefact! I must apologise for the poor quality of it – I’ve not only been very stretched for time this week but I’m a horribly unvisual person, and I can’t do images. Which explains why I cheated and put a voiceover on it. Sorry about that.

Just in case you can’t see the video, it’s meant to be a commercial for a product called Betty Sneezes, which I’ve totally made up. Betty is a robot who can detect airborne rhinovirus, which causes 80% of instances of the common cold. Betty can alert you to this, allowing you to make a swift exit and therefore remain healthy. The end line of the commercial is: “you’ll never miss work again”.

I’ve wanted right from the start to make a commercial for a product – I haven’t personally given much thought to the intersection between cybercultures and consumerism but I suspect it is totally inescapable. Both from a practical perspective and an ethical one, technology can’t be economically neutral. This too is raised in the final line – while a common cold detector sounds pretty magnificent to me, I wanted to temper this with a slightly more pernicious message about human productivity.

Betty is a skeuomorph, rather than a cyborg. I did consider instead ‘inventing’ a chip or something that could be inserted into humans, but it (a) didn’t work as well visually and (b) I wanted to make a point about infection. One of the themes in this cybercultures block is what makes humans human, and whether cyborgs render debates over the differences between humans and technology completely redundant. Cathy Hills did an ingenious mentimeter poll to see what we thought the difference was, and I found the split of the results really interesting. But I wondered if, ultimately, the difference is going to be how the diseases between us spread, so I was playing a little bit on the word ‘virus’.

Finally, I just wanted to make it really clear that everything I’ve used in the video is available from Pixabay or Pexels and licensed under CC-0. No copyright infringements here 🙂 And, very much a hat tip to Cathy for her excellent poll!

8 Replies to “Betty Sneezes”

  1. This is a great commentary and a stimulating visual artefact. Thank you, too, for the CC-O comment. I suspect your suspicions are right about consumerism, and I hope that comes up more as the course unfolds.

  2. Hi Helen

    I like your thoughtful commercial very much and appreciate the unnerving and threatening undertones. It made me think immediately of canaries down mines and how the “employment” of them could literally be a matter of life and death. Betty appeared to be a luxury product for the affluent, but if turned mainstream – I’m so conditioned to want to say “she” – could signal just as much danger to humankind driven by similar commercial and political enslavery. How times haven’t changed after all!

    Thanks for the shoutout to my poll which I had neglected after setting up, so it is me who thanks you for your commentary!


  3. Awesome. If you weren’t at all in ownership of any scruples you could put this up on Kickstarter and see how much money you could make !

  4. Helen, what a fantastic idea to turn your artefact into a commercial! I think it was very astute to play on people’s fear of being unwell in order to go for the hard sell. In the UK it is sometimes easy to forget that health care is big business and I suspect if you were to sell a product like this your biggest customers would not be people scared of being ill; the best customers would be the drug companies trying to keep any product affecting their profits off the market.

    Amazon did something similar by buying out the company which developed the robotic technology for use in their warehouse and thereby taking the competitive edge in online shipping.

    Thanks for providing this unique perspective.

    1. Thanks, Chenee! – I genuinely hadn’t thought of it from that (even more) insidious perspective, so I v much appreciate your comment and am off to read the link now! 🙂

  5. Would Betty be worn on a massive chain around your neck a la Flava Flav?

    So what is Betty a skeuomorph of? Nurses? Our mothers from when we were sick as a child?

    I liked this video, it was funny.

    1. It could be, Daniel! I deliberately left a few things out – like how big Betty is, and a few other things – just because it often feels like you never get the full picture when you’re being sold something. And I was thinking a skeuomorph of a human being, rather than anything in particular, because she won’t take care of you, she’ll just warn you. Maybe then a skeuomorph of a nosy neighbour!

  6. Really fantastic artefact here Helen! It was very clever to mimic an advert, and I couldn’t help but think of relations to fake news here too!

    I thought Cathy’s point about helplessly referring to Betty as a she was interesting. It made me wonder if your gender choice was intentional? There is a link here with an old fashioned or stereotypical view of nursing, but it might also say something about societal views of service. I was also reminded of ‘Gumdrop’, and how accepting we seemed to find ‘her’ – perhaps a conscious choice for a company wishing to market an A.I.

    There was also something distinctly frightening and dystopian about a robot that could signal the presence of airborne viruses – thinking here of much more deadly ones that the common cold – yet not be affected by them. Was this a comment on A.I.s ability to outlast our human weaknesses?

    I also wondered about the title ‘Betty sneezes’. In the advert it only suggests that Betty turns red? So what about the sneezing? Was that perhaps a hint that Betty might develop the ability to *catch* a cold ‘herself’? 🙂

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