10. Escape Room

Tem quickly surveyed the room then turned around and tried the door handle. Locked. Okay. Tem surveilled the room again—slower this time. What was this room about? What was it for? Who was the former occupant. There were many clues scattered about... almost too many things to go through. Where to start?

Let's see... directly in front but against the wall was was a desk and chair. On the desk, a stack of papers—laser prints of something—and some paper samples. There is also a scattering of pens and pencils—in a variety of colours, one gridded A3 notepad, a neat stack of books and a laptop with the screen facing away.

Tem was also facing a window. Light streamed in, albeit diffused by a fully drawn, but thin curtain, creating a not unpleasant lightbox-like glow that lit up all four corners of the tiny space.

The wall opposite the desk was mostly made up of shelves. Colourful journals and large hardbacks laid back cover down in stacks were interrupted with the odd lumpen but nicely glazed sculpture and goofy figurines depicting random characters—too obscure to be easily recognisable.

Tem rounded on the desk following the predicted trajectory of the room's occupant, but didn't think to make us of the chair. Instead, they stood over the desktop and started going through the stack of papers. They appeared to be print outs of page layouts, any text was set in Lorem Ipsum... Tem checked twice... and then a third time, flipping each page over now even though the reverse was blank. Yep, all Lorem Ipsum...

Tem recalled reading a translation of the atypical Lorem Ipsum text which was reported to have first been used around 45 BC. It was strangely passionate text considered it's usage as filler today. Possibly abounding in clues as well. Tem decided the red herrings outweighed the potential within the text and kept rummaging. What were these books about... huh, they were mostly typeface specimen books and compendiums of design projects. This was a designer's modest home studio. Tem knew because they had a similar assortment of paraphernalia back in their own studio.

Okay, thought Tem, the scene is now set. We know where we are, now how do we get out? This is all very familiar, and deliberately so. What would I do in here... or back in my studio? Then they remembered the laptop. The screen was dark but a nudge would wake it up... okay... a password... What about 'Lorem-Ipsum'... um 'loremipsum'... lowercase, no space? ...'lipsum'? The screen flashed as the computer woke up.

The desktop was empty. No folders, no nothing. Tem had a flick through the hard-drive and the applications folder, the documents folder... it's like this computer had never been used. Tem looked at the default applications in the dock on the side of the screen. TextEdit? No previous files... Stickies?

Tem launched the application and an array of bright pastel coloured horizontal bars scattered themselves across the desktop. Gosh, there were a lot of them. Each one contained a word or short phrase. There were so many though that opening and closing them made little sense... they were a variety of colours though... Tem looked around the room... to the door... to the shelves... there was a pantone colour matching book laid flat next to a pile of journals. The exposed swatches were of a pale purple colour.

Tem opened only the purple stickies on the laptop screen... 'write', 'you', 'see', 'what', 'can'. There was also what looked like a website address, 'wwy.cs'. Tem entered the address into a browser. The browser window was empty except for an empty text box and a flashing cursor.

'wwy.cs'- Tem looked at the random words again and arranged them according to the website address, 'what write you can see'... 'write what you can see'! Uh, okay! Tem sat down in the chair and proceeded to write a comprehensive visual audit of all they could see from the position they were in.

Almost two hours later Tem had described in detail the objects in the room, the finishings on the floor, walls and ceiling, the door, the window frame... then went into great detail about the opaque, back-lit perspex 'window', spending time ruminating on what may be hidden away on the other side, out of view... before going into voluptuous spiels relating the experience of designing puzzles and games to theoretical texts on labour and the re-assigning of value systems... they catalogued every book and journal... every object on the shelves in a sort of order... before adding annotating the entire text using markdown to add emphasis and better define imbedded references.

And then, when they were quite ready Tem pressed the return key to signify their writing had come to a type of conclusion.

That's when the lock on the door clicked open.

Follow the research embedded within this text by visiting this research pool at are.na/many-rooms/escape-rooms.

Find out more about the Many-Rooms project via @many.rooms.project

9. Immune System

Pred assumed that remission was not an option—that they would have to live with the condition all their life (however long that would turn out to be).

As had Pred's parents... With a history of the condition running through both their linages, the chances were high that their children would be born with the condition.

They made preparations before Pred's birth. Doctor's at the nearby city hospital saw this preempting as a chance to trial new techniques and learn from this occasion. The hospital made sure the couple were lavished with facilities in preparation for Pred's arrival.

When the time came, Pred's mother gave birth within a near hermetically sealed inflatable bubble. Doctors and nurses (of which there were double the amount of then was usual) assisted via rubber gloves melded to the bubble's interior. It took around a minute to transfer Pred into a smaller bubble so Pred's mother could be taken to a bed and the larger bubble deflated.

Pred was then monitored as they settled into what would be their 2 by 3 metre living space for the next however-many-years.

Assumptions made by medical staff and Pred's parents had initially turned out to be untrue...

Pred slept peacefully most nights despite the ever present hum of the machinery that kept the bubble from deflating.

Although food options were limited to what could be easily and safely sterilised—which turned out to be mostly canned goods—Pred digested the simplistic menu happily and without major repercussions.

The bubble eventually filled up with cushions, blankets and toys that were sterilised before going through a soft, curtained 'air lock'.

Exercise was an issue in such a small space although Pred somehow kept active enough to avoid putting on too much weight. If anything, they were on the slim side... verging on scrawny.

A constant flow of visitors helped keep their mind alert and torrent of staff from from the city hospital took measurements and inquired about Pred's comfort on a very regular basis.

For Pred's 11th birthday they received a visit from team members of the nearby space exploration facility. They bought with them a suit that was a prototype designed for astronauts working in deep space. The suit was made from a type of welded rubber with valves that allowed filtered air in whilst keeping microbes out.

Soon Pred was taking regular walks outside and meeting other children. Again, they were monitored closely and play could never be too vigorous in case the suit was damaged. Overall, the suit was considered a great success, leading to more prototypes and more adventures outside of Pred's bubble.

By the time Pred turned 15, the bubble was really only for sleeping in. Pred spent their days studying in their room or meeting others in their backyard for socialising and check-ins with various staff from the hospital, occasional press and space suit engineers.

Pred's 16th year turned out to be particularly busy. After a decade and a half of tests and experiments, Pred's blood had yielded the possibility of a drug that could negate some of their sensitivities. A pharmaceutical trial was proposed. Pred jumped at the chance to be free of the plasticised environments that had shrouded their existence to date.

The trial extended over a two year period during which Pred spent less and less time in the suit and the bubble. By Pred's 18th birthday, with medication, they were able to sleep outside of the bubble without experiencing symptoms of their condition. The downside being that the core medication had to be administered in large doses, causing many side effects... which then had to be counter balanced with more medication.

It would take another four years of experimenting with various combinations of medication for Pred to reach a level where the doses seemed right and a type of 'normality' felt like it had been achieved.

It would take another 3 years for the medication to miraculously start to reverse Pred's condition much to the surprise of Pred's physicians.

After another 4 years, Pred was declared free of symptoms of this condition that was once considered incurable. The only medication required by their 25th birthday, would be some comparatively innocuous vitamin supplements.

The doctors at the hospital in charge of Pred's case (which had made them just as well known within their own profession as Pred) gave Pred the all-clear a month before their 26th birthday. Pred would finally be able to move out of home (albeit a few blocks away in order to remain close to both their parents and the hospital) and live independently. Pred imagined socialising in town, having friends over for dinner, hanging out at the cinema, getting a counter job, travelling, getting to meet and hang out with all the people!

Later that same day Pred would watch a news item on YouTube. Something about a virus forcing a small market town, over the other side of the globe, to go into enforced quarantine.

Follow the research embedded within this text by visiting this research pool at are.na/many-rooms/immunity-systems.

Find out more about the Many-Rooms project via @many.rooms.project

8. The Trip Advisor

Hotel Review, posted in March 2020:
"My partner and I recently visited your city for a short break and to catch up with some old friends. We booked a regular suite at your hotel after recommendations from friends online. The room was nice enough. The windows looked out onto busy tree-lined inner-city street that was quiet at night. The decor could have done with an update but the room was clean enough. Room service was prompt and courteous and the food of a good quality. Very tasty. Our interactions with staff were always pleasant and seemed considerate enough... except for one evening when we tried to explore more of the hotel starting from the top floor (to see if there was anywhere to get a higher vantage point to view the city skyline). Upon exiting the lift we were approached by a representative from a private security firm who appeared to be holding some sort of weapon. Before we could proceed any further, the guard started shouting at us to get back in the lift and charged down the corridor at us. Startled, we got back in and hurried back to our room. Once back in our room using the (frankly shoddy and over priced) wifi we discovered we were staying in an APOD and that the top three floors were being used to accommodate refugees seeking medical attention on shore—some of which had been waiting for attention, and unable to leave their rooms, for 6 to 12 months. Naturally, we were appalled that this hotel was supporting the arbitrary detention of those seeking asylum, especially when they were in need of medical assistance. My advice to anyone thinking of booking a room here is don't. Not until hotel management refuse to support this unfair and unjust system imposed by an uncaring and callous government. ★★★☆☆"

Reply (posted on reviews site a day later):
"Dear Guests. Firstly, thank you for choosing our hotel. You are correct, we are participating in the government's current APOD (Alternative Places of Detention) scheme. This is temporary until alternative accommodation for detainees can be arranged. This also means we have been limited with some the services and amenities we have previously been able to provide (such as access to the top floor restaurant and upper level amenities. This is to comply with regulations enforced under the APOD provision. Rest assured that your recent stay is not reflective of the high service standards we would usually provide and our apologies if this reflected on your stay. Warm Regards, The General Manager"

Reply (from reviews site support team via email 3 days later headed "We believe in The Right to Write"):
Dear Hotel Guest and reviewer, We need you to make some changes and resubmit your review to comply with our guidelines. Your fellow travellers want to learn about the hotel you have stayed at so your review should be a description of your experience. We don’t allow content that we feel is irrelevant or unhelpful. To submit the revised review: copy and paste the text of your original review into the form below, make your edits and click resubmit. For more information, check out our review guidelines. Thanks for being part of our community. Regards, Reviews Support Team"

Hotel Review, resubmitted 4 days later (headed "Hotels should not support arbitrary detention"):
"My partner and I recently visited your hotel for a short city break. The regular suite was nice enough, even if the decor, wifi and entertainment system could have done with an update. The view was pleasant and the area was quiet at night. Room service was prompt and courteous and the food of a good quality. Interactions with staff were pleasant and considerate enough. One evening when we decided to explore the top floor to see the city skyline and were approached by a private security guard with some sort of weapon. Before we could go further they started shouting at us to get back in the lift and started running at us. Terrified, we got back in the lift and hurried back to our room. Once back in the room we went on the internet and discovered this hotel was participating in the APOD (Alternative Places of Detention) scheme. The top three floors were being used to accommodate refugees seeking medical attention on shore—some of which had been unable to leave their rooms for 6 to 18 months. It is appalling that this hotel is supporting the arbitrary detention of asylum seekers, especially when they were in need of medical help. Don't book a room here until hotel management refuse to support this unfair and unjust system imposed by an uncaring and callous government. ★☆☆☆☆"

Reply (from reviews site via email 7 days later):
Dear Guest, Thank you for submitting your review. First and foremost, we are truly sorry to hear about your experience. We can certainly appreciate your reasons for wanting to share this information with our travel community. Unfortunately, we are unable to post your review at this time. This property has been designated by governmental or regulatory authorities as a quarantine and temporary detention location to serve those seeking assistance and only partially offers standard traveler or guest services. Due to this, we are currently not accepting reviews posted in relation to this location's APOD status. We strongly encourage you to post your thoughts and comments on our forum pages instead. Other travellers will have the opportunity to view your comments and post their thoughts and concerns regarding them. Our thoughts are with you, and we thank you for being a valuable member of our travel reviews community. Sincere regards, the Reviews Support Team"

Hotel Review, third repost, 7 days later:
"I understand this hotel and this travel reviews site have decided to censor and remove our review. We will keep reposting this review until they admit they are supporting the arbitrary detention of refugees. (Review above is copied and pasted here without amendments.)"

Reply (from reviews site via email 9 days later):
"We would like to assure you that the reason we are unable to publish your content is not for reasons of censorship. In unprecedented times, we have had to make the decision not to publish reviews by guests on properties that have been designated by regulatory authorities as APODs (Alternative Places Of Detention) or as accommodation for those in quarantine. The reason for this policy is that these locations are acting in accordance with regulations and not offering standard traveler or guest services, therefore traveler experiences do not represent typical stays. This policy applies not just to this hotel but also to hundreds of other properties on our site, and is in fact applied regardless of the review rating i.e. this policy would apply to a positive review just the same."

Hotel Review, forth repost 62 days later:
"I understand this hotel and this travel reviews site have decided to censor and remove our review. We will keep reposting this review until they admit they are supporting the arbitrary detention of refugees. (Review above is copied and pasted here without amendments.)"

Follow the research embedded within this text by visiting this research pool at are.na/many-rooms/proximity.

Find out more about the Many-Rooms project via @many.rooms.project

7. Recap

Upon arrival they had stuck a line of 14 post-it note flags down the side of the wall between the bed and the entrance hall. There was one flag for each day and each day a flag would be removed until there were none and it was time to leave.

Two flags were now left. A wodge of A4 sheets had been shoved under the door. They were exiting notices from both the state government and from the hotel they had been quarantined within.

The End of Detention notice was the most exciting of the documents. It detailed the precise day and time at which their detention was over. They could no longer be kept in this one air-conditioned yet airless room after this.

The instructions for departure were extensive. They would be allocated a time slot, at which point a security staff member would come to escort them from their room, out of the hotel and into a waiting taxi.

No-one was allowed to pick you up or even meet you outside. The taxi driver would be given your address and that's where you would be taken.

They thought they might be too excited to sleep one more night in the room but days spent looking out at the same view, with communication limited to screen applications proved strangely exhausting.

The next morning they fretted about having their time slot re-allocated or they exit delayed or some change in conditions that would require them to spend more time in the hotel. Luckily the morning went quickly and an hour after one last lunch bag was left outside their room there was a knock and the door was opened.

Exiting turned out to be swift. The cab driver didn't seem to have their address to hand. They could have asked to be dropped off anywhere. Instead they arranged to be dropped off a block away from the house they shared with their partner so as to get some walking done before settling into yet another familiar configuration of walls, windows and doors.

Familiarity could not combat a type of restlessness that had come to them during their 14 day confinement. Exploring local parks and waterways became the highlight of each day. It wasn't until the 4th day out of confinement that they noticed another type of feeling outside of an unsettled sensation.

That days park walk was curtailed by a shortness of breath and a sapping of energy that came on quickly and dramatically.

The next morning they passed out in the bathroom while preparing to shower. An ambulance was called.

Getting to the hospital was quick enough. Getting into a ward was trickier. Recent restrictions imposed by the hospital meant inpatients had to be kept in a make-shift ward in the basement until they were tested for Covid-19.

Luckily test results were processed quickly within medical institutions (as opposed to the outside world).

Test results came back negative and they were transferred to a purpose built ward that was opened only a couple of years ago and specialised in blood disorders.

Because they had collapsed and were still looking a little yellow, they were positioned in room adjacent to the central nurses station and kept a close eye on.

The following week was a blur of tests and infusions and medications and visits from medical teams and chats with nurses and menus laden with boiled vegetables and more tests...

At one point a PICC line was installed as there were too many instances of nurses struggling to locate a decent enough vein for extracting blood for daily tests. Although intrusive, the thin tube running from the inside of their upper arm to nestle somewhere close (but not too close) to their heart provided some relief from the daily 'stabbings'.

The downside of having a mainline to your bloodstream installed was a hyper consciousness of having to maintain and protect this gateway. Sleep and showering were the biggest obstacles. Two activities that had proved essential previously.

It would be another two weeks before the condition receded enough for discharging to be considered. The staff had a way of making you feel like it was time to go without having to say very much, which was a relief in many ways.

They made the journey home once again, this time stacked up with large doses of medication, which required further medication to counteract any effects from more medication.

Regular visits to the hospital day centre were also required for continuing tests and infusions. These visits would usually end up taking up the majority of the day and rest would be required afterwards.

Whilst recuperating at home a fresh regime of restrictions was announced. No sooner had they left, firstly hotel detention, and then medical isolation, but now they were being instructed to stay in their home and only leave in case of emergency or for an hours exercise or shopping.

There were more restrictions imposed as well. A curfew was instigated, starting a 8 in the evening and extending through the night until 5 in the morning.

The number of people you could go outside with was cut down to 1 other household member for exercise only. Shopping had to be conducted one at a time.

It took a month or so for them to feel like their condition was well and truly in remission. It took over a couple of months before they felt ready to venture back into the city centre.

They was no real reason to go. They conjured up a reason to do with special felt tip pens that were only sold at one store in the city centre (easily available online but online shopping was something they had been avoiding due to the recent unpredictability of delivery services).

New restrictions had effected the city centre more drastically than they had thought. They visited a mall that was open despite none of the stores being permitted to trade.

Many of the window displays contained naked mannequins, some were unceremoniously stacked up against the glass or wrapped in cling film. Many of the stores has been cleared out with no intention of re-opening... possibly ever again.

And as friends on Instagram in places less inthralled to authoritarianism frolicked in the sun—distancing be damned—they thought on the fact that they were outside, away the house, for the first time in a long time and thanked the stars (or whatever) for small mercies.

Find out more about the Many-Rooms project via @many.rooms.project

6. The Many-Rooms interpretation

Inside the room, attached to the ceiling, is a type of chandelier. There are no crystal or glass droplets as you would expect, nor bulbs or candle holders. Instead, its luminescence comes from a glossy entanglement of polished steel mostly obscured by clusters of copper and gold tubes and wires amplified by discretely positioned LED spotlights. These clusters form wave-like patterns swooping towards the ceiling. These elements surround a core. This core also glows with energy. The light reflecting from it is warm even though the cryostat inside has been cooled to below that of any temperature measured in space.

This is an empathic computer, built on the foundations of quantum theorem. It is part of a small, but evolving, cache of similarly delicate machines that give physical form to an array of quantum computing machines. Initially built as a series of elements deliberately isolated from one another in order to protect them from vibration—now consolidated to form a zooid-like colony united by this descending, column-like form.

This elaborate construction is what is required in order to break the binary of zeroes and ones that has enabled computing to pervade almost every aspect of human life on spaceship Earth. This computer represents a next stage. A stage where these zeros and ones can exist, not as binaries but as the a combined entity positioned in the same place at the same time. This binary is less a case of two entities combined into one, but more likely a near infinite multitude of entities experienced as separate, individual states.

Just like this room.
And the machine in this room.

For in a version of this room there is another machine. Almost exactly alike, apart from a minutiae of measurements, conditions and decisions made in it’s construction. This version of the machine reflects a slightly cooler colour temperature into the room because of this—less incandescent and more phosphorus.

In another version of this room several measurements are made different. The machine is housed within a lead sheath which is support by an obtrusive metal frame, added to address safety concerns.

In other versions of room the machine is missing. The room appears empty.

In another the machine is broken or grown, like a plant or mold, in a tray under a UV lamp.

In another there are multiple machines and multiple technicians attending to said machines. The room is a hive of activity. No passive observers here.

In another room there is a window facing east with a view of a distant hillside. Another has a window looking west towards the city and docklands. Another room contains a small foldable camp bed for napping on. Another has the same camp bed but with a tartan blanket over the top and tucked in at the sides.

One room has a ceiling height that is 50mm lower, another has no ceiling at all. All the measurements, all increments possible, divided into every possible outcome in reaction to these incremental shifts creates another room. And another room. An infinity of rooms.

The empathetic machine spends its time attempting to reconcile these innumerable discrepancies. It employs empathy because without it, it would explode, implode, short-circuit, turn itself off or melt down. Humans, too quick to negate empathy have found a home for this complex emotion—a container for empathy with infinite capacity, that not only stores but also calculates empathic solutions. Empathy in, empathy out.

This empathic computer has no use for dystopic or utopic ideas and scenarios because it deals in multiplicity, in many-worlds, many-rooms, many-scenarios. No singular outcome is available. No perfectly formed utopia or dystopia is possible.

Well, this computer, here in this room has no use for dystopic or utopic ideas. The computer we are standing in front of, that we can see with our own eyes has no use for these scenarios. This version, and doubtless, many other versions will be the same, just as many others will differ. But we needed bother our brain with this vast multiplicity. Not anymore.

Now that we have a machine for that.

Follow the research embedded within this text by visiting this research pool at are.na/many-rooms/many-worlds-interpretations.

Find out more about the Many-Rooms project via @many.rooms.project

5. Scare City

There were standards we had to let go of. Some were very recent standards. Standards or tropes? Maybe tropes is a better description. Many will be familiar already (hence tropes). Some of these tropes included: staff member addressing a camera and proceeding to give a guided tour of a space… and the show within a space. The eerily anonymous tour where a camera panned through a space accompanied by a disembodied voice intoning various exhibits as a camera lingered momentarily in various areas. The was the self-guided Google maps style 360° capturing of various rooms within a space. The forced perspective, assumedly a result of the type of lens and technique required in taking spherical images of spaces, giving these ‘portals’ a signature ‘zooming’ effect, as if you were suspended above the ground within a crystal clear bubble, floating from room to room. These all required staring at the hard pixels on a screen as if trying to stare through them. Needless to say their (measurable) success was stymied by the predicability of the screen as surrogate camera lens approach. There was something of a genre to these events too. No matter where they were enacted from there was an unavoidable sameness.

We did look at places where potential visitors were amassing online, and had been for sometime, which took us to gaming and the coded language of the server, and of discord and streaming services. We looked briefly at VR chat rooms and Minecraft servers or realms. I attended a music festival as part of my research after a friend’s 11-year-old son set up access to a Minecraft server for me. I didn’t get into the main stage unfortunately. The server reached capacity before most of the visitors, and their avatars could be allowed in. A colleague recalled reading, some time ago, about all these brands and organisations constructing buildings in Second Life. We attempted to meet up there as a group to meet and exchange thoughts about virtual exhibits but only a couple of the team managed to login, set up a profile and find one another. They reported back later. It sounded too baffling… and niche to be helpful... as did a lot of the virtual, gaming associated, server based options.

Why were we skirting around re-opening a physical space? Sure there were restrictions to take into account but supermarkets were open. Could we exhibit there? Public transport was running as usual. There were people walking on the streets, past posters for events that were cancelled or postponed. Physical space was available and there was a type of measurable audience there. The group consensus became, ‘How do we meet current restrictions head on instead of having to dodge around them?’ Also, if the many online or virtual options prove unsatisfying, unengaging and unhelpful then let’s not overuse it. If being online is about fast and easy access to information, to short reads, to bits and bytes then that’s what we will use it for.

Turns out there were funds available due to savings made by not having any active visitors for a few months. We started planning out a space that would adhere, not especially to government supplied regulations, but to a sense of caution that potential visitors seemed to be expressing online. The first aspect we all agreed on was utilising a 1.5 metre grid throughout the space. It would be on the floor, but could also inform the size of, and distance between, the exhibits. Grids are potent. The trick would be not to let it overwhelm anything else in the space. Visitor numbers would be restricted per room, a 5 to 10 person limit depending on the size of the room and number of exhibits made sense.

There would be a number of precautions embedded within the entrance to the space. A thermal scan could be displayed that alert a visitor to their body temperature if they seemed to be running a temperature. We would then have to turn these visitors away and encouraged them to seek medical attention, but if you were fine you could continue. If they are using a tracing app, this information could also be displayed somehow… it would have to be as a reassurance rather than being interpreted as prejudice. That might be tricky. Any banquette or seating would need to be made for one person only and spaced as far apart as possible. No toilets or similar onsite facilities would be available and staff would have to remain masked, behind perspex whilst on premises. Oh and… hand sanitiser. An abundance of hand sanitiser for visitors and staff. Maybe some custom designed masks for sale… we’d need vending machines that are easy to clean at the end of the day.

There is still more planning to do but the wheels are in motion now. This is where we are. The question still hovering over all this activity is what effect will diminished numbers of visitors really have. Because physical visitor numbers will be diminished for some time.

I have been trying not to focus on the economic concerns. I keep thinking about an interview with a radical immersive theatre director in which they were asked about their ideal performance. They described an fantastically elaborate show involving a high speed taxi ride that started at dusk and rode into the night, arriving at an empty church where they were notes and clues to follow to a similarly empty farm house where there was evidence of other people having just vacated the building, eventually leading out to a field full of scarecrows that would light up on approach. The key to the show was that it would only be for one person. One participant. Thinking about it… in terms of social distancing alone, this made a whole lot of sense.

Follow the research embedded within this text by visiting this research pool at are.na/many-rooms/how-to-stage-visit-an-exhibition.

Find out more about the Many-Rooms project via @many.rooms.project

4. Interlude

Day 4 was an exhale... ampmfm via mixcloud

Find out more about the Many-Rooms project via @many.rooms.project

3. Together Apart

The day started early, around 6am with some casual live Snapchatting with friends, those that were in similar time zone, and could chat from bed, did. Πthought this was a good way to ease into the day. Sleepy chats were the most relaxing kind of video chats.

Œ then moved to Instagram to follow a live stream they had set a reminder for. The founder of a Slack-a-like platform and a representative from an open source video standard were interviewing each other. The conversation was stilted and a bit ‘bro-’y’. The guy in the panel below seemed concerned about the comments running over his face and looked like he was frowning at them every now and then. Only a handful of viewers were in attendance. It felt like an experiment neither operation would try again. Œ winced thinking about it, and distracted themselves by scrolling through the feed on their freelance Instagram account before switching over to their personal one. Œ made some time to check in with a couple of group chats on WhatsApp before it was time for breakfast and a shower.

Œ hated Microsoft Teams but this was where they would go to debrief about this morning’s Instagram Live event with clients and colleagues (same difference). This was necessary in order to maintain a resemblance of a job and continue to get paid those sweet freelance consultancy fees—which had not abated in recent times even when some of Œ’s friends were seeing their irregular incomes crumble to dust. The more clients sought out online facilities, the more they relied on consultants like Œ to interpret how they worked and what they were about. Slack meetings were had over breakfast before logging into Jamm for casual chats and catching up with Œ’s freelance network and ‘work friends’. This is when Œ felt the pressure to put a 'face on' start to build—the pressure to ‘present’. Coffee was helpful here.

Œ thought it wise to take a breath and collect their thoughts before diving into the day’s core round of meetings, presentations and related activities—maybe even eat something. It was past midday, afterall. Œ considered what type of food they had readily available that would provide the type of elongated energy needed to get through another round of screen-based activity. Maybe a proper sandwich… with tuna and capers… there was a bag of smoked almonds in the cupboard for continuous snacking when Œ’s energy dipped.

The early days of clusters (or ‘flusters’ as Œ liked to refer to them) of tediously overlong Zoom meetings, where everyone and anyone seemed to be invited to air whatever occurred to them at the time, had thankfully dissipated. When not presenting but having to attend the occasional Zoom meeting Œ would often employ an animated backdrop to suggest engagement when they needed a break from the heavy weight of expectation around contributing to these discussions. Fortunately, Œ found not every meeting had to be contributed to, sometimes it was enough to listen. Many ‘Zoomers’ used the sessions simply to vent, which is possibly why they had become less and less popular. A mix of various smaller services had filled this gap such as Whereby, Screen and Jitsi.

All this intense connectivity meant work tasks tended to evaporate by the afternoon. Leisure migrated online as ‘digital labour’. Œ liked this idea though, and took their time conducting personal research (into a vast array of random topics), making and sharing memes, gaming and streaming very seriously. Œ also tried to maintain some sort of time limit for these activities although gaming being what it was, this proved difficult sometimes.

Around 6pm (‘Netflix o’clock’ as Œ thought of it) it had become increasingly difficult to conjure up enough broadband for streaming via Twitch and chatting via Discord so Œ would switch networks for a little while using one of the dedicated gaming ISPs that were a product of the early days of metered broadband and could still be found if you looked around for them. This carried Œ relatively seamlessly across from day to evening. There was dinner to be made. Œ used meal times as markers or milestones to divide up time spent online during the day. This evening, there was some salmon and left over risotto in the kitchen that needed to be eaten. Weekends, it was more likely to be room temperature pizza or pasta left over from Friday’s Uber Eats binge.

The evening would then swing back towards social pursuits and the consuming and sharing of video content via YouTube mostly. Œ wasn’t a fan of streaming services and their recent steam rolling of issues around net neutrality. Œ preferred to pirate anyway, telling themselves it wasn’t about the fees but about the immediacy (and as a protest around the proliferation of DRM agencies).

It occurred to Œ that they hadn’t caught up with any relatives for a while. Since Œ and their parents had added each other to their ‘Find My’ app they could easily look up where Œ was and so were less inclined to call and ask. Œ opened FaceTime and called ‘Fam’. The video quality was not great. It was hard to hear what the two huddled faces were saying most of the time. This was typical of this time of evening. Shaping or throttling was meant to be illegal but just like her neighbours wifi booster in the basement car park, seemed to be quietly tolerated by regulators.

Œ tried calling an old friend directly afterwards… mostly on a whim after seeing their name underneath Œ’s parents in their Contact app. The connection was terrible. After a few minutes Œ gave up, texting them ‘Hello’ instead. Œ tried another contact who they knew kept similar hours. The call too was of a quality that rendered it useless. What was going on? Œ attempted watching a few videos online, switching between accounts. Equally terrible. Then before Œ could launch some sort of fractured attempt at resuscitating their diminishing wifi and mobile connection. Both of them just. Stopped.

Πpanicked for a moment, then a switch was flicked in their mind. This was the perfect excuse to properly log off, have a glass of water, put in some lubricating eye drops and see if their brain has been exhausted enough to sleep. Maybe it would be working again in the morning.

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2. Regulation nation

The form hard to be clear and concise. It was provided to inform, and enforce, but also not to panic anyone. As each returning visitor alighted from the plane and made their way from the jet bridge, through to baggage claim and customs this form act as an important intercept. It would also be the first time a passenger would know exactly where they were going to be for the first 14 days of their detention… Detention. There had to be a better word we could use. It was hard to see the term without evoking thoughts of refugees pushed offshore to and into modern day ‘detention’ camps, out of sight but not necessarily out of mind.

What are they doing elsewhere? Let’s see… New Zealand are calling it ‘managed isolation’… as opposed to self-isolation, I guess. Oh wait… they have two paths for visitors: one for those with symptoms and one for those without. What is that called? Oh, just ‘quarantine’. I guess the stigma of offshore ‘detention’ centres doesn’t apply since New Zealand have welcomed former Manus island refugees in the past. It seems a bit harsh separating out the well and the sick. How does the visitor's treatment differ, I wonder? Should we have separated out visitors too? Which hotels would take the sick over the well?

Back to the form. Okay, we have a sort of template from the 2008 Public Health and Wellbeing act. It’s inelegant but I bet they never thought it would be enacted on as wide a scale as this. I’m guessing the public review of the Public Health and Wellbeing Regulations 2019 was postponed after stalling mid-way through last year. It’s clear enough. I’ll need to add space for individual names and signatures. Could probably do this myself. I’ll just print out that bit and stick it on top of the page. Attending officers and department officials can handwrite their names and the names of incoming passengers. Again, messy and inelegant but… I wonder if we can get it re-typeset so it’s not a composite anymore. Maybe pop some state branding on there… [makes a call, chats, hangs up]… No time. Oh well. It is what it is and this is only a temporary measure. I mean, we don’t want to strip people of their liberties and have them holed up in posh hotels indefinitely… do we?

One last scan over the text before I circulate it… okay COVID-19 has been inserted into note 1 (5). Mentioned ‘you have / you will be detained’ twice. Not good. Nothing to be done at this stage though. Instructions, conditions, compliance. All in there. Needs the deputy Chief Health Officer’s signature. I hope the recent twitter storm she provoked has blown over…

‘Detention notice’. Still doesn’t sit well. Associations will this term are probably something Australia, well post-colonial-ised Australia, will never shake… and be doomed to reenact, in various forms, time and time again. Van Diemen was onto something although I'm keeping that opinion to be myself… as all good civil servants should… must. I’m just going to file this now.

What’s next?

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1. Arrival

They entered and stood surveying the space. The room was [of an average size, larger than expected but smaller than one had wished for | was enormous, much too much uninterrupted space for just one person | tiny]. Within the room there was also smaller rooms. There was a shower room, a small lobby area and a walk in wardrobe (if the latter could be described as rooms). A window spanned the wall facing the door allowing for [a nestled, insiders view of city skyline | ample, bird-height views of the city and beyond across the bay | a view of a breeze block entombed light well and a grubby skylight to the foyer below]. It was safe to assume the room next door would be a near accurate mirrored version of this room. Each room unique only in the minutest fractions of displacement between furniture and decor. And so on down the numerous corridors. A series of rooms each mirroring each other, flip flopping around the concrete core of the building.

This room’s decor was nether pleasant not particularly unpleasant, apart from a few questionable material and colour choices. There was a theme to the decor that [contrasted light and dark wood veneers with a chocolate brown and teal colourway for any textiles | took cues from current interior design magazines and online sites | was very basic, although with a few odd clashing elements that looked like they were chosen based on budgetary constraints rather than supporting a cohesive theme]. Fabrics were chosen for their durability and, apart from stylistic considerations related to the era they came from, could have been mistaken for brand new.

The choice of paint colour for the walls was [typically conservative, maintaining a warm, creamy beige throughout that most likely fell into the range of colours referred to as stucco or magnolia | dark and cool in order to highlight the warm tones of the exposed brass fittings and vibrant artwork | a rudimentary but robustly applied bright white]. Hung on top of this were [modest black and white photographic images of local beaches shot during cooler climes with the figures in winter attire | prints that consisted of a collage of photographic and painted material ripped and cut and reassembled to create a noisy graphic mush | square frames with a satiny, maroon-coloured fabric stretched over them, with a much smaller gold swatch of a similar fabric glued into the centre of this].

Furniture included a [generous King size bed that could be moved around with minimal effort | a tall and fluffy confection of a bed that made climbing in and out of it a bit difficult | a double bed with a wire fold-up single bed wedged underneath], [a corner piece of a modular sofa, also easily manoeuvrable | a low and deep sofa heaped with cushions of various colours and textures | a single white plastic table with two pine wooden chairs either side], [two dark and light wood veneer bedside tables | two skinny legged black painted metal side tables | two minimally varnished pine side tables ripe for scratching one’s initials into the side of], [a surprisingly large desk that stretched across most of the wall facing the bed that was mostly dark wood veneer with an odd oval shaped pale wood inlay | a desk that formed a nook within a sprawling bookshelf and hanging space wall system | a low white coffee table]. There was a smattering of electronic devices dotted around the room that betrayed the age of the general decor. This included [two awkwardly large black plastic phones and a large bedside digital clock with an iPod charger sticking out of the top of it | an iPad perched upright on a stand which was then nestled within the bookshelves | a bedside lamp with a clock radio in it’s base and small computer monitor like television bolted onto the wall].

With a sharp exhale of breath they prepared to acclimatise to this new stage set—to this new room-shaped scenario. At least there was a set duration for their stay. They wouldn’t be here for any longer than 14 days. And, at least, this wasn’t the only room like this. There were many, many similar rooms.

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