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Movies tend to portray our future as clean and minimalistic. In addition to Lucas’s THX 1138 and Kubrik’s Space Oddyssey, BBC’s Black Mirror, Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E, J.J. Abram’s Star Trek, and a bunch of other films give us the idealized future with perfectly clean steel tables, sterile white walls, and spotless shiny touchscreens. That seems to be our idea of future convenience – clean and untarnished as well as impersonal and cold.
Taking the example of Wall-E, WallE’s very existence is the representation of clutter:
he is build of rough mechanical components, his parts protrude and have a complex messy geometry, he is covered in rust and dirt.
In comparison to him, Eve, representing the future of robots, is a perfectly clean, seamless “egg” with only moving parts attached invisibly with a magnetic field.
From looking at this, the advantages of the minimalist design become clear – more efficient design allows for better functionality, more convenience, less need for maintenance and cleaning. We can see these benefits all around us, the iPhone came in as the first phone to utilize a touchscreen for nearly every function. What that means is that when the keypad on a nokia wears out because of constant mechanical operation, the iphone’s screen (having endured no physical strain) will keep working. the screen also lets you utilize any interface, display full screen images, play movies, and do just about anything that a non-touchscreen phone would struggle to do as well. Similarly, if your table had some function which eliminated the need for a clutter of various tools on top of it, it would have the same benefits of being easier to operate, easier to maintain/clean, and having more functionality.
Convenient. Clean. Efficient.
But, impersonal, cold, and boring. That is the other side of that coin. When we get a climpse inside WallE’s “house,” we see that he has collected an impressive and interesting mass of scrap for himself (as apposed to compacting and disposing of it as he was designed to do) in a surprising revelation of a personality.
The main theme is actually centered around efficiency vs humanity – humanity being defined loosely in the context of robotic protagonists – and is about WallE’s quest to show Eve that some things, including her, matter to him more because he develops a personal attachment to them.
The “clutter” is often associated with creativity. Artists, scientists, engineers are often thought of as the type to use an “organized chaos” as a system of organization. But that is just a polite way of saying our living and work spaces always look like a hurricane’s hit them. The reasons for that are not so much creative as personal, we (and I am speaking of everyone, not just artists) feel more comfortable in spaces that have our personality extended onto them. That is the reason cubicles are decorated, new homes are furnished, phones get bedazzled, skinned, and wallpaper’d <– these do not improve efficiency, comfort, or functionality. These changes personalize our space – be it your own room, or your PlayStation®Home, or your PC’s desktop, and that personalization is so inherently human that it makes us sympathize with WallE (a garbage collecting machine) instantly.
Because of this, I am not afraid of the depersonalized, cold, minimalist future – it is never going to come. That is another extreme design element, put in the movie to make a point, but it is not accurate to our nature or to our future. We care so much for our clutter that we even carry into our virtual environments.
P.S. even prison cells are personalized by the inmates.