At the moment of your death there’s a magic button: do you press it and delete your entire online legacy, or do you keep it – and leave the choice for someone else?
User Not Found, created by the Dante or Die company, poses a very modern question – what happens to our digital identities after we die?
Following a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, the show has been on the road, playing intimate dates in cafes across the country. A story of contemporary grief unfolds through this intimate, funny performance that gently interrogates our need for connection.
Audience members receive a smartphone and a pair of headphones and are immersed in one man’s story as he’s faced with keeping or deleting his partner’s online existence.
Co-creator and director Daphna Attias explains the idea behind the show: ‘It actually came from reading an article in The Guardian about a woman who lost her husband and didn’t take into consideration his digital legacy. It became like another box of his stuff to pack, and it kept creeping up on her and coming back to her. We found that really inspiring and started digging into it.’
Dante or Die specialises in putting on its shows in unusual spaces, and as they started working on the show they realised that people could be engaging in intensely private reveries in the most public of places.
‘At the time we were also working a lot in cafes before we moved into our lovely office, so this was a sort of continuation of our previous work, whether that be in hotel rooms, leisure centres or storage units. But we realised most people’s work space is a screen, and we were sat in cafes looking at people around us and wondering what they might be doing that we don’t know about in these communal places where everybody comes to be alone.’
To the casual observer, no-one would know that User Not Found is even taking place.
‘Everyone comes to the cafe and can order their drinks or food as usual. You don’t know who the performers are at the top of the show, so it slowly gets revealed. Everyone gets given their handset and headphones – we were quite clear on that early on, we didn’t want to exclude anyone who didn’t want to delete their children’s photos from their phones, we wanted to make sure everyone could experience it.
‘Then at some point you get a signal to put your headphones on and you slowly transition into the sound of the imagined cafe from the real cafe and you hear [actor] Terry’s voice in your head and you go on a journey with him.
‘It’s a very detailed sound design done by Yaniv Fridel who really worked on pulling us in and out of reality, all the time, all of the elements do that really well together.’
The show uncovers the tricky ethical dilemma at the heart of our digital footprints – even if we think we don’t leave one.
‘We all have that, even people who think they don’t have a digital archive, like I’m not on Facebook, but there are all of those emails, and all of those photos, the access to my bank account and my Uber and where I’ve travelled to.
‘On the first day of devising the show, I wanted to do a task where we all swapped phones so we could write down everything we could learn about that person from their phone, and nobody agreed to do it! They’re all quite intimate devices and we touch on that intimacy - we touch these devices all day long and we look at that versus human touch, our need for actual connection.
‘From the beginning we didn’t want to make a [TV satire] Black Mirror kind of show, like it’s a dark future, it’s not about that at all. It’s more about how people use social media as a platform to connect and to remember and to share. Managed properly it can be a great tool to remember someone.’
Due to the nature of the show, Dante or Die needed some hi-tech help – underpinned by good old-fashioned quality writing.
‘It was about putting the team together, so we found Marmelo Digital, the amazing tech company who designed this app - they did hundreds and hundreds of drafts of it before we got to where we are now, and we invited Chris Goode to be involved as a writer and add his beautiful words to it.
‘There was a lot of experimentation in all of it.’
And with the show playing in cafes which are not used to putting on theatrical performances, there have been a few challenges for the team – from lighting to noisy fridges.
‘Everything is wireless, nothing needs plugging in, so we’re not in the way of someone trying to run the cafe. People can come in and buy their food and drinks right up until the show begins.
‘But we’ve found lots of challenges like really loud fridges that the mics pick up, or we couldn’t have the air conditioning on because again it was too loud so during the heatwave that wasn’t fun. And in the different spaces it takes time to figure out the most intimate layout that allows everyone the same engagement with the show.
‘The more we do the show, the better we know what we need for the technical elements.’
USER NOT FOUND
Canvas Coffee, Portsmouth & Southsea Rail Station
Saturday, October, 27