I was sitting in a hot tub wearing VR goggles and rubber gloves, making swimming strokes with my hands, when a professor walked by, laughed, and waved hello. It may have seemed like some sort of goofy art project where all interested parties were having light-hearted fun, but in actuality, we were experimenting with something quite serious: the future of healing.
I was testing CLOUD+ Labs, an immersive installation that combines the experience of VR with physical bathing rituals. Visitors to the spa put on headsets and relax in a jacuzzi hot tub in order to experience a virtual, cave-like spa-world, while a Siri-like voice gives them a guided meditation and psychic reading—based on their Google search history.
The “individualized internet guided healing sessions” are a project by Leah Wulfman, a student in the Fiction and Entertainment program at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Downtown Los Angeles. Here, architecture is not necessarily a formal endeavor, nor one that is expressed in plan, section, and models. Rather, architecture—whatever that means—is invented as a relatively small part of a flattened cultural landscape where seeing and living are projected through the creation of new worlds via filmmaking.
CLOUD+ Labs is built like a wellness center, complete with receptionist, changing area, robes, bathing suits, and treatment areas. Here, rather than drinking the latest adaptogen blends and doing pilates, the drink of choice is CLOUD+, “Water enhanced physically and spiritually by our data…highly customized and harmonized to your individual internet activity.”
This drink is a metaphor for the script Wulfman wrote, which scrapes Google search data—you have to give her your email and password (!)—and gives you a reading of your past, present, and future. The ritual is based on the Korean spa, where bathing is an indulgent and relaxing activity. In this virtualized version, the internet search history not only fills in for the human psychic, it also adds a layer of meditative reflection.
The fictional water brand and spa are slickly branded using the rhetoric of technology and wellness. From the project description:
Following this release of customized products, the CLOUD+ LABS are preparing to open a CLOUD+ enhanced water treatment center.
Assembling new purification rituals for the digital age, CLOUD+ LABS allow guests to soak, regenerate and cleanse themselves and their smart devices in data enhanced water.
Connect to reconnect. The CLOUD+ wellness guide supports improved, intentional connection to achieve holistic self awareness and restoration.
According to Wulfman, “The piece edges you towards oneness with the internet and your digital identity, while allowing you to recognize and reflect on the process through which this identity is formed in the first place.”
Custom scripts using Google’s API mine the entirety of the user’s search history, upload it, and scan it for certain patterns that might lead to conclusions about the user, albeit quite vague, like a real psychic’s musings. This ambiguity leads to more opportunity for reflection and interpretation. One user left a review on the real feedback page on cloudpluslabs.booksy.com, completing the experience of CLOUD+ Labs. It is all very “real,” even if it feels virtual. Is it the future of healing? For some, it probably actually is.