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Tech Adventures Behind Remote Miami

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It starts out with a bang.

As any proper Miamian will say, literally. Thunder rolls ominously from beyond the horizon. In many ways, it is the ideal backdrop to the afternoon’s setting: almost twilight at the Miami City Cemetery. The horde huddles in thin yellow ponchos provided by Remote Miami. We wait for the storm to pass and bless us once more with our livelihood: thee, blessed sun.

As any proper Miamian can testify, it is only a matter of minutes before the temperamental weather leaves or comes back again. Heather, our artificial intelligence guide, waits, too.

The concept behind Remote Miami is a different one. An “interactive, pedestrian-based live art play experience” is how it is described. Essentially it is a walking tour of the city with a theatrical and technological twist. About 50 participants comprise each group. Galiya, our human guide, is another participant like the rest of the group. Heather, who speaks to us through headphones, leads the adventure.

Heather is the conductor of the orchestra. While the adventure is a shared experience, it is also a personal one, as others who have participated in the experience throughout the world may agree. Berlin, Milano, São Paulo, Moscow, Paris are just a few examples. Miami is their latest venue. By “their” I mean the creative forces behind Remote Miami: Rimini Protokoll (Kaegi/Karrenbauer) and Questalive Productions.

Earlier when I wrote “Heather waits patiently” is of course a personification. She is, after all, just a voice. She matter-of-factly explains that she has no mouth, no lips, no tongue and no body. Still, she implores, she needs us to trust her. And we do, at least I do, because I am smart enough to know that her words echo the words of the creators of the spectacle (I use the word spectacle purposely; you will later find out why).

And if the creators want Remote Miami to take off, killing off your participants is bad business.

Heather asks us to take in our surroundings at the cemetery and pay close attention to nature. Trees, bushes, shrubbery, grass, birds perched on tree branches, weeds growing all over, roots breaking ground, cracking tombstones. She tells us that all this “nature” is there by design, and by that, she means human design. There is nothing natural about it, she says.

  • She says. I catch myself. Uncanny valley?
  • Is it that deeply embedded fear and repulsion toward that which pretends to be human, and isn’t, nor will ever be?

I think about the dust that was once bones that once comprised a human body that once housed a soul. I think about the ritual around death. We do not simply throw the dead out on the river, to rot, not first without ceremony. We dress them our dead, lay them on silken sheets in their best attire and choose a spot for eternal solitude. There are various ways, of course, but there is always something sacred about the ritual.

Does it matter if human hands place trees, shrubberies, and bushes over them, if not to honor them, and offer a bit of shade as the mourner mourns?

Remote Miami is a human experience. It is a metaphor for some important truth, perhaps that technology has permeated our society so thoroughly, the next stage of human interaction simply has to happen via technology. Movie theaters are scarcely packed as they once were. Moving from our couches when we have the delight of streaming media makes the task monumental at times. It is apparent everywhere: people with earphones tucked safely in, watching a woman with a Chewbacca mask laugh infectiously.

The sky can rip above us, Zeus himself can poke his head out from Mt. Olympus, cafecito cubano can drip from the heavens and our first reaction is to take our camera phone out and capture it via a lens. Instead of experiencing it ourselves.

The ancient Grecian actors have been long dead. The silence is astounding.

As our group snakes through Miami’s underbelly, we perform activities whereby the laymen regard us with trepidation. Apprehensive at first, then amused, then effectively over it. They watch us bop our heads to the beat of a lifting song, and sigh as we jump out of the MetroMover onto the platform. Our eyes scan the heavy Miami sky. Heather stays QUIET. Our hearts burn for our smartphones.

We are not allowed to touch them.

The significance behind Remote Miami is to re-focus humanity on what is substantial. There, in front of us, each other, passing the other wordlessly. There, in front of us, the sidewalk. Did you notice the way weed grows defiantly in the concrete? There, in front of us, life.

We walk across a field of grass, which no one has ever traversed probably, and stop at a house covered top to bottom in black and white photographs of people with an index finger over their lips. They seem familiar.

Which one would you like to be friends with? Heather inquires. I wonder. The question I would ask is, “Why ask us to remain in silence?”

I am sometimes awed by Heather, at other times frustrated by her, and yet other times, I appreciate her. Miami is quite the city to explore. I would say there was a lot more that could be done to make Remote Miami stand out even more. It seemed too safe to walk on the sidewalk, after all, since that is what it is made for. What about having us perform a song in front of everyone? What about taking us to a café and ordering a latte for someone else? What about something truly, well, crazy?

I hoped for more in Remote Miami. It could have been the limited script. Miami is fun, and its people tend to be fun, too. But this is a start and a step in the right direction to have us open our eyes to the live action happening right in front of us.

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