I am currently working on a series of "Tools for Improved Social Interacting", which consists of various wearable devices that use simple technologies to condition the behavior of the wearer to fit better with expected social behaviors. I will then wear the devices over an extended period of time, documenting my change in behavior over that period. One intent of this project is to explore the potential for feedback and technologies to shape how we think, feel, and act. Another is to question our social expectations, trying to better understand the function and worth of them. Are there alternatives ways of interacting that leave more space for individual expression, thought, and connection?
I have finished one device, a hat that trains the wearer to smile more. ( http://www.lauren-mccarthy.com/happinesshat/) While the video on this page illustrates a more humorous take on this idea, my intent is to alter the algorithm to provide more of a periodic reminder to smile than to require constant grinning, and then wear it for a while, observing the effect it has on my daily behavior and emotional state.
I have two other wearables I would like to make. The first is a shirt that requires the wearer to maintain frequent body contact with another person in order to hear the world around her. If the wearer stops touching someone for too long, all the surrounding sound fades to silence. The purpose of this device is to explore the effect touch has on conversation and interactions. Linking skin contact with sound forces the wearer to make an explicit choice between heightened isolation and heightened connection.
The other device is an anti-daydreaming scarf. The scarf contains an IR proximity sensor that detects if the wearer is engaged in conversation with another person. If she is, periodic reminders to pay attention and stop daydreaming play quietly from the part of the scarf that wraps around the ears. This device investigates the use of technology to shape our thoughts. The wearer's daydreams are interrupted as her attention is returned to the conversation at hand.
I am currently a grad student in the UCLA Design | Media Arts program. As a student, resources are always limited and all project expenses must come out of pocket. The Awesome Foundation grant would be used to help offset the cost of materials, production and testing these devices. Though I am not currently living in Boston, if awarded the grant, I would love to find a way to share the finished work with the Boston BetaHouse community (perhaps arranging some kind of mini-show or talk about it).
This is a primarily an art project, but I think it will ask some important questions that technologists, scientists, students, and everyone should be considering as we design for the future. More information about me, including a portfolio, bio, and resume can be found at www.lauren-mccarthy.com. Thank you for taking the time to read this proposal.
Funded by Boston, MA (December 2009)