After weeks for emails and group skypes (which are challenging at the best of times with 2 people, let alone 6-8 people) the Wearables Collective kicked off its first critical research lab on 29th June 2015 at UAL’s central London campus.
We asked participants to bring some materials they were happy to donate to the hacking part of the day and they responded very enthusiastically. The tables soon filled with eclectic materials as people arrived.
The event started with a welcome by Lynne Murray (Director Digital Anthropology Institute LCF) and intro to the day by Dan McQuillan (Computing, Goldsmiths).
Five Firestarter speakers helped to set the scene for the day.
These consisted of short, sharp, provocative pieces by key people in the field of wearables.
Maneesh Juneja – Digital Health Futurist
Steve Legg – IBM
Camille Baker – Media Artist/ Researcher and Curator
Richard Tynan – Privacy International
Samantha Clark – Happiness Consultant
I then introduced the methodology for the afternoon hacking session making enquiry machines.
I didn’t get a picture of me so I’ve borrowed Marina’s tweet.
People quickly self organised into groups and started to talk….
…and think materially straight away
It was pretty exciting to see such a big group of people enthusiastically get into the project
The infrastructure of the room was not safe from the hackers
For 2 and a bit hours the groups worked together, over lunch, to make a machine, articulate a presentation/perfomrance and complete an Enquiry Machine postcard. They had to give the machine a name and outline some of the concepts or issues that it was enquiring into.
GROUP: The Data Huggers
This group thought about the compelling attraction of various tech devices and services – the digital carrot – and also about the less attractive disadvantages of these services such as the loss of control over data privacy – ie. the stick in the scenario. They started to think about this by building a machine that represented this seductive contradiction. They then started to think about it in terms of a social mundane situation – the hug. The hug is nice but when it lingers for longer than is expected or comfortable it transforms into something else.
The Long Hug became a really interesting metaphor for thinking about this socio-technical relationship. At what point does this symbiotic relationship start to make us uneasy?
GROUP: The Tracker Hackers
ENQUIRY MACHINE – Serious Data Bounce
This group took a gaming approach to data privacy. It started with the question – where does our data go? The materialised the subsequent discussion via a pin-ball game. Players had to work with others to manoeuvre the ball through the course, negotiating dead ends, traps and blockages. It also raised the question of how we might work together to manage our data.
GROUP: Janet, Marina, Katja, Giulio and Maddy
ENQUIRY MACHINE – Otherwear
This group performed a series of scenarios for a new business venture – a start-up that provided ways to avoid being tracked. They pitched two ideas to the audience – ‘Digital doppelgänger’ and ‘Empathy Machine’. The former emerged in recognition that it is increasingly hard to avoid being tracked in everyday urban life. It proposes a unique response in the form of the doppelgänger. The user of the service/device temporarily sends out someone else in their place, with their identity. This enables the user to do whatever they would like without being tracked. You would ‘hand over your movements’.
This project catalysed the second one – If you could temporarily take on someone else’s identity might this provide a way of developing empathy for others? The ‘Empathy Machine’ is therefore a way of very practically offering people a chance to ‘spend a day in someone else’s shoes’.
GROUP: Nanda, Pollie, Becky, Astrid, Sandy, Mouhaumad, Liz, Katrin
ENQUIRY MACHINE – Collaboration machine
This device emerged from discussions about the networks of data we are all embedded within. When we become aware of the problems of social media platforms we might wish to remove ourselves from these systems but our social network often keeps us there. They draw us back in, much like the elastic nature of the rubber bands the group used to connect each person together. The notion of having an impact and influence on each other was also central to the machine. The group played with this idea in a number of ways – they discussed through doing the connections they felt from holding onto different edges of the device, how they had to work together to undertake tasks – such as walk together, negotiate obstacles and also to keep a ball in the system.
GROUP: Digital Weavers
ENQUIRY MACHINE – Consent by Design
“Our machine was designed as a [very] primitive loom, with each warp a different coloured wire representing the data flow from a single person’s wearable devices. The various weft threads and strips represented the extraction of data by organisations orthogonally to the flow of the individuals’ lives. Some weft threads placed significant tension on the individual warps, and some caused groups of the warp threads to bunch together in an emergent grouping before separating later along their timeline. We read this as the data from the wearables creating opportunities for emergent social cohesion. Trying to tame the dozens of warp wires and get them to cooperate in the weaving process while maintaining their individual identities was a pretty good allegory for the collaborative process of building the loom…”