Spring 2022, CMAC/ISS/VMS 290-S

Seven Grams – An Example of Critical Making

The project – Seven Grams

Seven Grams is an augmented reality project by Karim Ben Khalif that visualizes the implications of extracting rare earth minerals for phones. It is called “Seven Grams” because your phone contains roughly seven grams of precious materials such as cobalt, gold, cassiterite, and wolframite. By visualizing the production chain of the iPhone, viewers recognize the human cost required in the production of consumer technology. By situating the development of smart phones with the emergence of exploitative economies, the project aims to denaturalize technological neutrality. The medium and message are in tension with each other because the augmented reality runs on phones that have already been produced, meaning that the program still relies on the very medium it criticizes to deliver its message. However, by uncovering the hidden reality behind the marketing of developing technology, people are forced to acknowledge the implications of constant smartphone consumption. In many ways, the augmented reality creates a dystopian world that is historically accurate to alienate people from their phones and technology. The augmented reality media acts as speculative design because it addressed a twofold societal issue: the vast human costs of exploitation in creating technology and consumer’s addiction to wasteful practices of updating and purchasing new technology. Once people apprehend the human cost behind their new gadgets, they will experience guilt for their consumptive lifestyle and will be less likely to be fooled by advertisements that display the benevolence of emerging technology. Although the media program does not dismantle anything, the project serves the purpose of electronic civil disobedience by creating an anti-advertisement that intends to change consumer practices away from consumption. By centering the narrative of those experiencing dehumanization through rare earth mineral extraction, the Seven Grams project flips the script surrounding smartphones to reveal the unsettling consequences of their production.

The Seven Grams project has three forms of media: augmented reality, a documentary, and solution journalism. Both the augmented reality and documentary are in 3D because Karim Ben Khelifa documented his surroundings with emerging media such as VR, AR, and 360-degree soundscapes that immerse the audience more deeply into the reality he describes. Solution journalism centers developing changes to people’s behavior and concrete measure to improve the conditions that people are subjected to within the media. Not only does the media demonstrate the human cost involved, but it “will also offer them a lever to improve the way hardware manufacturers source gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten.” The program also centers the geopolitical relationships between the US and the Democratic Republic of Congo to visualize the global imbalances within the unequal exchange of commodities in technological production. The inequality is visualized by the demonstration that “he world’s most powerful economy, the United States, has been valued at $21 000 billion in 2020, the total value of the mineral resources in the soil of the DRC is estimated at $24 000 billion.” Then the medium asks the question: how is this possible when the DRC is 175th out of 181 countries on the Human Development Index. By situating the extractive economies of smartphones within the reality of economic inequality, consumers are forced to grapple with the international and geopolitical consequences of their purchasing habits. The media is an example of critical making because it intends to disrupt the exchanges between producers and suppliers that make this ongoing inequality a reality, immersing the consumers in an augmented reality that has always been intentionally hidden from them.

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Seven Grams – An Example of Critical Making


Data Visualization as Critical Making


  1. Yoo Bin Shin

    I agree with you that Seven Grams is in line with our definition of critical making. I was intrigued by the fact that Khalif mobilized the technology that he attempts to critique as the medium. With the message challenging the medium, Khalif is successful in offering an ironic critique that is digestible to the end-users who are most likely on their smartphones, contributing to the overconsumption. AR technology immediately places the end-users in the discourse and forces them to reflect on the implications of the devices they are using. The AR technology augments reality—economic inequality and the ecological consequences of technology— that is often concealed to the end-users.

    • Alistair Simmons

      I agree that Khalif’s consumer-oriented approach intends to uncover the hidden realities that AR technologies often attempt to conceal.

  2. Zoe Superville

    I didn’t know about this project before reading your blog post and I think it’s really interesting. I think it’s smart of Khalif to use the medium he is critiquing in his message. If I were to be using the app on my phone, having the actual device being critiqued in my hands would make the message much more impactful to me as a user. This is a super cool project. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Quran Karriem

    Great project, and great write up! Much of the literature on critical making and related ideas focus on challenging the widespread notion that wireless and digital experiences and interactions are ‘immaterial’. By drawing attention to the vast chains of physical production digital lifestyles rely on, these works and writings make it more difficult to dismiss ongoing forms of labor exploitation and material extraction. As you point out, there are limits to the approach: “it does not dismantle anything”, but it can be said that the work does not attempt to look away from their (and our) own complicity with these systems.

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