Ivan Cash: In Real Life Glasses
By Brett McKenzie on Oct 12, 2018
Young Guns 10 winner's crowdfunded project creates sunglasses that block out media
Ivan Cash has come here to chew bubble gum and kick ass... and he's all out of bubble gum.
30 years after John Carpenter's cult classic "They Live", where a pair of magic sunglasses revealed a world of subliminal consumerism and alien takeovers, the Oakland-based interactive artist, film director and Young Guns 10 winner has unveiled his latest project: sunglasses that don't reveal messages, but rather block out media entirely.
Ivan's IRL (In Real Life) glasses are the latest in a series of projects where he invites people to question our increasingly digital world. Already a hit on Kickstarter, these glasses might not stop the alien invasion, but they'll certainly allow you to disconnect in a unique way.
We caught up with Ivan and chatted about this latest project.
You’ve been coming up with different activities and experiments to get people to take a critical look at technology for a number of years now, before anybody ever got spooked out by a Black Mirror episode. What is it about this subject that has made it your muse, so to speak?
What perhaps sets me apart is that I grew up in a household where cable TV and video games were completely banned. Growing up without media forced me to play outside, going fishing and building forts in the woods. It sounds idyllic, but at the time I got bullied and all I wanted was to fit in with my peers. This inspired me to start my career in the ad industry, wanting to finally be a part of and have some influence over the pop culture worlds I was deprived of as a kid. Then I got burnt out, and in 2011 I quit my day job and have been independent ever since. This push-pull tension between a desire to participate in culture and a yearning for balance fuels my work.
As an independent artist and creative studio founder, screens and social media are an unavoidable part of my work. I totally get distracted, overwhelmed, and burnt out from too much media. I think that’s why I empathize with the feeling of being inundated with too much noise and distractions. To cope with this, I actively create space between myself and media. This includes morning and evening rituals, and I don’t really watch TV, I barely use Instagram. As a mental foundation, I participate in tech-free, silent meditation retreats every year, and am constantly thinking about ways of putting up guard rails to protect my sanity. Translating my experiences and creating this work for others is second nature.
And now, you’re asking us to literally not take a look at technology. How did the idea for these sunglasses come about? What came first, the idea or the tech?
My good friend and Head of Product Scott Blew was waiting at a food truck back in May 2017 and it had a giant screen blasting a news station as people waited in line for their food. He had a stroke of inspiration based on an article he had recently read about polarizer film that blocked screens. Soon after, Scott made a rough mock-up.
Meanwhile I’d been thinking about a collective called IRL that would empower people to control tech, not the other way around. We flirted with the idea of collaborating for about 6 months before I finally decided the idea of screen-blocking glasses was sticky enough to go all in on. A year later, here we are.
" As an independent artist and creative studio founder, screens and social media are an unavoidable part of my work. I totally get distracted, overwhelmed, and burnt out from too much media."
Is this the first time you’ve made a physical product?
However it's the first time I’ve done a crowd-sourced campaign at scale and so it's certainly more involved than any of us expected it to be. Since we're new to the product design territory, we recruited industry experts in optics, manufacturing, and industrial design to advise us and be part of the design process. We couldn't have brought this bootstrapped product to reality without the generosity of many folks who plugged into the project as volunteers and advisors along the way.
We wanted to go to Kickstarter to validate the market because the user base is so engaged and diverse. We realized we’d either be bootstrapping R&D for years, or we could launch a beta pair on Kickstarter to build community. We reached our funding goal in less than three days, so I'd say we're doing pretty well!
Were there any twists or surprises along the way when developing a working prototype? Did the finished product meet or exceed expectations?
It took around six months of development and prototyping to finally double down and lean into the They Live glasses design as our main inspiration.
It’s really the perfect analogy because in 1988, billboards and outdoor ads were the main source of mental pollution and manipulation. Fast forward 30 years and screens are now the medium that get us to obey, conform, and consume. It was only a matter of time before someone started blocking them.
As of now, our beta version is compatible with most TVs (LCD/LED) and some computers (LCD/LED). They do not yet block smartphones or digital billboards (OLED). While we would have loved to launch a pair that blocks all screens, the glasses are first and foremost a concept piece. First and foremost, we want to start a conversation about what role technology plays in our lives, and we believe we can initiate that dialogue even if the glasses don't work universally on all types of screens.
I notice you have some one of a kind glasses available, and that you’ve teamed up with fellow Young Guns Mike Perry (YG6), Jessica Hische (YG7) and Leta Sobierajski (YG15). What’s it like to collaborate within the Young Guns community?
We teamed up with artist collaborators because at IRL we're not just product people, we're a collective of artists, designers and technologists. It was an honor to be named a Young Guns winner and to be in a cohort of so many other talented folks. We didn't necessarily expect the limited edition bespoke glasses to sell right away, but the three Young Guns ones have already been snatched up!
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