Plume (2013)

Performance, Print, Web & Social Media-Based

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Plume by Chase is a fake app. Plume–The project–was an exercise in creating and introducing a dystopian cultural artifact to a small population. A collaborative performance piece, Plume was an attempt to create a technology that is at once familiar, but upon closer examination reveals something sinister. This framework manifested as an “official” app for Chase Bank that by all accounts appeared as the next logical step for banking in our instant-gratification society. At its core, Plume is gameified consumerism: the app sends users on “quests” (e.g., go spend $10 at that trendy new fusion restaurant down the block!) that reward users with a bump in their “Plume Score.” The more quests you complete (i.e. the more you consume), the higher your Plume Score, and with a high enough PlumeScore, you gain access to banking benefits like zero-interest rate loans or obscenely high interest rates on your savings account.

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We didn’t actually create the app; we created evidence to make the app seem real. We completely fleshed out the design and functionality of the app, and publicized it through a fake Facebook page and website. The project culminated in a public stunt where I and a collaborator impersonated Chase employees and set up a Plume information booth 15 feet from the Chase branch inside our bustling student center. For an hour, we engaged passersby with promises of zero-interest loans and high-interest savings accounts, where all they had to do was complete “quests” on some new app. People we talked to were quite enthusiastic about the product. The piece explores our tendency to blindly accept systems that use game-ic language like “Points” and “Quests” to remove the tangibility of real-world actions, and to obfuscate functionality like invasive personal data mining. These systems have far-reaching economic and psychological implications; in Plume’s case, this game-ic reframing obscures a darker nature of the app: an explication of consumption as a means to accrue wealth that actively encourages increased income inequality.

Video: Advertising Plume in UCSD’s Price Center, the bustling commercial hub of the campus:

March 2013