Core77 Design Awards
- Other Years
Nowadays, there is the belief that death has always the same value, regardless of where it occurs. In reality, this is not the case.
And Micromort, through a speculative approach to design, aims to show it.Death has a social value closely linked to the nation in which it occurs and to its economic and humanitarian conditions. This leads Western countries to give a higher value to their own deaths, compared to those that occur in developing countries.This gap is highlighted by Micromort, a new (fictional) currency that converts the social value into economic value, defining a price for each death depending on where it occurs. This price is calculated through Hades 2.0, a specially designed algorithm that takes into account the number of deaths from non-natural causes in a given nation, the GDP per capita and the total population of that country. In this way, the tragic events that characterize history are no longer humanitarian catastrophes but real economic crises, and just for this reason, they are hard to forget.As a currency, Micromort is subject to annual fluctuations that are archived, recorded and visualized, to be inserted into the stock exchange of death, an interactive video installation called The Stock Exchange Experience. Consisting of 16 screens, a touch-screen monitor and 8 meters in length of LED panels, it shows more than 21.000 data concerning deaths and catastrophes in every country in the world from 2000 until the latest events that have marked our era, such as countless wars and the pandemic. Through it, the user is taken on a temporal journey that traces the history of global deaths, leading him or her to reflect on what actual value is placed on each loss. In The Stock Exchange Experience, information flows fast, prices change constantly and the wealth of data is overwhelming at times, making the stock exchange experience truly immersive.
What if every death had a price according to nationality?
Nowadays, we are used to considering humanity as a whole, in which everyone has the same value and in which everyone plays the same part. But, unfortunately, this is not always the case. This is the context in which Micromort was born: its aim is not to solve the problem of inequality, but to provoke reflection in the spectator. In a speculative vision, Micromort is a currency different from all the others we know: it converts the real value of people's deaths into euros, thus giving an economic value - for the first time explicit - to death.
The Micromort project - as a speculative design project - aims to trigger a reflection in the viewer. This happens by putting pressure on the only moment of existence in which all lives should have the same value: death.
To communicate better this concept, we concretized Micromort into The Stock Exchange Experience: an interactive installation in which the price of death is put in the viewer's face, year after year, nation after nation. This inevitably the user to create comparisons and connections between different values and different countries, immersing him completely in a whirlwind of wars and natural disasters.
The existence of the currency is inseparable from an algorithm, that always allows an accurate and timely calculation of the price of death in a given nation. This algorithm, called Hades 2.0, has been specially designed and built for this project. Given a country, it combines the deaths due to external causes, the GDP per capita and the population, defining in this way the value of the death of each person in each country.
Using past and present data, the speculation is therefore not on a possible future, rather on an alternative present, which makes the project extremely current and incredibly uncomfortable. This algorithm does not introduce future dynamics or predictions - although it has been designed to be able to do so - but stands as a converter of current and past reality. In accordance with what Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby say in their book Speculative Everything, our speculation is based on «unsettle the present rather than predict the future».
In this context, the name Micromort is not a coincidence. This term was introduced by Ronald A. Howard in 1979: composed of the words "Micro" and "Mortality", it is defined as a unit of risk indicating a probability of death in one million. It is, therefore, used to calculate the risk associated with various daily or not activities. To give some examples of the use of micromort, driving a motorcycle for 10 km is worth 1 micromort, taking COVID-19 is worth 10.000 micromorts, while climbing Everest is equivalent to 37.932 micromorts. Therefore, the term is not only related to the concept of death, but also to the concept of calculation, thus being perfect for our project.
The development of a project related to a fictitious currency led to the realization of all the components of a product-system and its communication. Starting from the concept and passing through a metaprojectual path, we realized the identity and the whole communication system. Then, the actual installation has been designed. The result is a totem consisting of 5 sides, 1.80 meters high and 0.9 meters wide, covered by screens (16 in total), one touch-screen monitor and 4 LED strips. All of this makes the installation viewable at 360° and directly recalling the world of the Stock Exchange.
The 16 monitors offer passive data fruition. They are presented in the same time frame but according to different logics, allowing and stimulating research and comparisons. The screens display 6 different types of videos that show several contents: line graphs to see the history of each nations, bar charts for an immediate comparison, classic tables with the fluctuation indexes, clocks in the aesthetic of the stock exchange, the 4 best and 4 worst nations of the year and finally the "breaking news" video dedicated to the eight case studies.
On the touch-screen monitor, the user can instead live his own experience by travelling between countries – thanks to the globe or the nations list – , by years – thanks to the timeline –, by discovering prices, fluctuations, case studies and videos. The interactive experience is available in Micromort's website.
In a field in which reflection becomes fundamental, where we feel the need to investigate the most hidden aspects of our society and denounce the most harmful ones, Micromort fits perfectly. As a project of Speculative Design, it is poised between the provocation from the artistic sphere and the methodological wit of the design project, exploiting non-traditional communication paths.
Micromort aims to provoke and stir consciences, leaning on contemporary and current historical events to communicate the concept with greater effect. Eight events that have most affected the 21st century have been selected and an extremely accurate study has been carried out on them. Among these case studies, the attack on the Twin Towers and the earthquake in Haiti stand out. These two events move in us with totally different sensations, leading us to attribute to one rather than to the other a very different value. As a matter of fact, if we analyze the fluctuation of the Micromort, the value of death in the USA changed from 61.9€ to 60.4€ due to the 2997 deaths, thus undergoing a variation of -2.42%. On the other hand, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti - which registered 220,000 deaths - led the Micromort to a fluctuation of -94.6%, going from 0.55€ to 0.03€.
The viewer, placed in front of this countless information, has the faculty to freely interpret the data. Certainly, Micromort does not aim to debase other people's deaths, on the contrary, it aims to make reality explicit: death is not worth the same as any other, but it depends on where it happens.
The pandemic event made Micromort extremely topical, opening a totally new path. An accurate analysis of the pandemic phenomenon has allowed Micromort to introduce a dynamic as unexpected as powerful. Thanks to the versatility of Hades 2.0, has been possible to predict what should have been the price of death in 2020, and how it has been altered by the pandemic. A radical change is then outlined that only thanks to Micromort is made evident: we - the "advanced" societies - are the "victims", catapulted into a reality in which we are not used to living. The pandemic has become the only problem in the world, and all the rest has passed even more in the background than it already was. We forgot once again that in countries where people suffer from hunger, thirst, war, and where counting hundreds of victims per day is more than "normal", Covid-19 was the last of the problems. Looking at Syria and Libya as an example, it becomes apparent that there was no space for covid in these countries. Fluctuation of the Micromort was so minimal that it can hardly be considered. On the other hand, in realities where the price of death is 0.30€, lower even than the price of a mask, how could it not be so.
To find out the comparisons between the value of the Micromort and the pandemic items, just visit the dedicated section of the site.
Micromort was born as a university project, but it has gone far beyond the school dynamics. As a matter of fact, in 2021 it has been selected to be exhibited at the SuperSalone in Milan, taking part in September at TheLostGraduationShow. On the occasion of this event, Micromort has been a remarkable success, attracting the attention of over 1000 people on site, and also some national and international journalists. Essential for the success of this event has been the previous implementation of in-depth user testing: 25 volunteers were called to test the interaction, and thanks to the Intercept Questioning method we were able to make changes as unexpected as interesting.
The strong point of Micromort is then not only its ability to capture the attention of even the most inattentive thanks to its scenography. Is its immortality. Once again, today, looking at the terrible and cruel events in Afghanistan and those that lately absorb the media in Ukraine, the question that arises is: how will Micromort be affected?