The work for my thesis is in part, a reaction / response to the Quantified Self movement. This movement has popularized wearables via devices that record personal metrics while placed on the body, such as FitBit, Jawbone, smartwatches, body cams etc. On one hand, they do help an individual understand aspects of their physical health on a very accessible and intimate level, but at the same time, these devices are also exploitative and erroneous, two examples being controversial uses of police body cams and monitoring of physical activity levels by businesses to determine health insurance.
One reaction to this latter issue is “UnfitBits” by Tegan Brain. Through a series of videos, she offers literal desktop solutions to meeting activity requirements set by your employer. Some examples include hooking the wearable device to a metronome or power drill to simulate movement. These subversive ways of using wearables serve as alternate ways of looking how these devices impact our lives and open up an area of critical discussion regarding their usage.
What happens when we live and interact with technology on such a frequent and intimate basis? Within the area of material studies, there has been many inquiries into how embedded electronics objects have affected our everyday experiences. Hertzian Tales, by Anthony Dunne shows speculative insight into the possibilities of the “electrosphere” and the industrial design possibilities of electronics. Hannah Perner-Wilson’s “Liberated Circuits” illustrates one iteration of this idea by toying with the concept of the black box. Electronics are often designed as a black box, a component or device that can be operated without needing to understand the inner workings. In “Liberated Circuits” a Peltier circuit is embedded in thermochromic resin so as the circuit is “in use”, the covering becomes transparent, exposing the paths connecting the various components.
Matt Ratto’s writings on critical making focuses more on the processual aspect of design and manufacturing. Critical making is a physical production of critical thinking, in which theory and reflection is explored through the act of technical activities. In an interview with artist, Garnet Hertz, he questions what counts as fully grasping a topic, blurring the line between technical and social proficiencies.
“…What counts as a deep understanding? The kind of critical making that I’ve been describing really troubles easy definitions of deep understanding – pure technical knowledge isn’t enough, it’s not just about getting close to the machine in Tracy Kidder’s sense. You also need to have an understanding of the kind of ways that the materials might impact or relate to or engage with or co-construct the kind of social reality that we live in. You need to have an understanding that includes deeply technical as well as deeply social knowledge.”
Related to this thought is Thomas Thwaite’s “Toaster Project”, in which Thwaite sets forth to reconstruct a toaster from scratch. This process involved traveling to natural resource mines across the United Kingdom and consulting with various scientists in how to extract and render raw materials into ones that could form a toaster of sorts. The final product is a semi-working toaster in the sense that it heats up when electrical current is applied, but the intriguing part of this project is his documentation and account of the experience searching for the materials and processing them to make the toaster components.
In setting out to build a toaster on his own, Thwaite was trying to complete a task as an individual that is done on an industrial scale.
The scale of environmental and societal impacts of technological production compared with textile production. Same deal