DIGITAL BIOSENSING TECHNOLOGIES AS SELF-POWER AND/OR POWER OVER THE SELF

 

The content of the project includes:

  1. Biosensing technologies and Health self-tracking – Jenna
  2. Normativity and Beauty standards – Tiantian
  3. Control affect – self-tracking vs. being tracked – Rose
  4. Corporate power, quantified data and private life – Jemila
  5. Binary emotions – blurring the Human-Machine line – Tongwei

Overview:

Our given theme is Biosensing/ Quantified self, our project is inspired by Dawn Nafus’s skype presentation and the critical discussions about problematic areas of the application of new technologies for self-tracking and self-calibration, measuring ourselves, therefore the creation of standards and norms.

The argument of the publication is to differentiate the relations between users’ sense of power and the corporative power in digital era of using biosensors in our daily life, the process of standardization, therefore unification and loss of our human diversity in favor of machines (as measuring feelings and emotions with numbers and translating them in data).

Health and beauty are the main aspect of contemporary biosensing technology and they are developing notions of self-knowledge though numbers. Quantified health creates normativity (what is healthy and what is not healthy as specific numbers and ranges). This is closely linked to beauty standardization (as ‘overweight’ people are not healthy, neither beautiful for example). However, these two areas often can be a reason for frustration and anxiety among users in terms of ‘fitting in’, ‘performing well and reaching goals’, as well as fear and worry of being tacked and manipulated. The power of the self becomes power over the self, or being under control of someone else is what informs the next part – the corporative aspect and the power relation of data collection. The conclusion is looking at these different areas in order to stress out the fine line between human life with biosensors and becoming machine-like.

The features include VR experience as 360⁰ video, which will include group members presenting each research part and photography + quotes + processed data in form of charts, histograms, etc. in printed version, created as ‘lampshade’.

The main idea of our project is to communicate with the audience deeper understanding about biosensing technologies today, to spark a debate about using biosensors in our everyday life, to discuss to what extend we have control over our self-tracking and how other authorities can exercise power over us collecting our data, commodifying it and using it for corporate purposes. Our ideas about biosensors and power are reflected in the output we are planning to design – hybrid installation (because the numbers, the counting is not contemporary digital problem, it was method which people used in the past to count, monitor and control). We believe that our approach in executing the project is creative in terms of engaging the audience with our theme in interesting way and critical discussions of problematic topics.

Detailed Synopsis:

Our discussion of the given theme starts with looking at it from various perspective – for example, first we acknowledge the positive aspects and ways the biosensing technology in digital era contributes to users’ life: ‘participants’ shared purpose as ‘self-knowledge through numbers’ and promote as the movement’s unofficial motto ‘know thyself’ (Wolf, 2010). Then our group have been thinking of different aspects which create problematic issues – quantified self and the use of ‘intimate body data’ as new ‘digital knowledge economy’, as well as ‘the extent of users’ knowledge of, consent to, and control over these new forms of exploitation and appropriation (Lupton, 2012, forthcoming; Moore, 2015; Till, 2014). Part of our main aims include critical exploration of different aspects such as beauty and health, researching how quantification influences these industries and also users’ understanding of normativity, as well as the arising question around power tools and possession.

Health is one of the main areas because of which biosensing technologies have been developed and incorporated in today’s modern gadgets as applications for smartphones, wearable devices, etc. (tracking moods, exercise, sleep patterns, food, weight and many more) to give the users power to control their own body, to possess the knowledge and to aim for healthier life. The self-tracking habit of users gives sense of self-knowledge and self-control. Here we ask how people understand their data, if that data can be translated in one precise way only or is it more ambiguous; the goals of users to be ‘in the right numbers’.

Ideas around normal figures, sizes, numbers; average daily patterns, etc. (for example, water goal, steps, balance diet, sleep hours) influence the way society understands both health and beauty/ also mobile applications usually suggest people to share their results on social media platforms, where others can cherish them, support them and maybe be aspired to achieve personal goals). The health aspect brings notions about beauty standardization (normalizing average weights and heights in which people are trying to fit in). Quantification measures and sets numbers for ‘normal’ of being health/beauty.

Next part following the health and beauty normalization explores the users’ affect created by the self-control, the constant need to check notifications and the frustration and depression which may occur if the users are not performing well (‘bathroom scales—in fact have not succeeded in “encouraging” people to lose weight, but more often simply add to the intense guilt, shame, and anxiety people already have about their bodies’). The idea of ‘fitting in’ and the physical limitation of biosensors, which can catch our bodies’ responses and not our minds’ experiences. This content also aims to make a bridge to the corporative power – users’ fear of being tracked (turning off their GPS location on the phones; being manipulated by advertisements, etc.), the intervention in private life and data collection.

Corporate power is looking at the use of information and data gathered by corporate manufactures to determine market trends, the information is commodified. Also the idea that most users are oblivious to this fact and they are not aware how their data is used. This area also highlights the possible switch in the idea of control in a sense that users purchase biosensing technologies to give sense of power by themselves; however, this information/ power can be used by corporate organizations.

The conclusion is picking up on each aspect in terms of human-machine line, standardization as normalization as robotization (for example, keeping to routines, translating feelings into numbers, the life-support systems/ plug-unplug human life as a technology). It discusses the idea of this sense of power which users usually have, but over time what actually happens is that most of us become dependent which puts us in the opposite position, where our data is used by other power authorities, and the society, to create machine-liked communities.

We believe that our international media experience in Paris will give us great opportunity to explore these objectives from different perspective and our project will also benefit from members’ different backgrounds – China, Ghana, Bulgaria. We are planning to use different approaches – for example, health and beauty will benefit from pictures of people using biosensing technologies; then for the users’ affect and the corporative power areas will use some discussions from street interviews and interviews with distributers of technologies; and finally if we manage to arrange meeting with specialist/professor, etc. it will inform the conclusion about the line between human and machine in more depth.

Post-Digitality:

The numbers, monitoring and quantification is not contemporary digital problem, it was method which people used in the past to count and control. That is the reason our group choose to incorporate in the project’s output both printed and digital content. This will include:

  • Printed data collage in oval ‘landshape’ form, containing pictures + interview quotes + process data from street quests into infographics/ histograms, pie charts, etc.
  • Digital content of our research in specified question area in 360⁰ video, uploaded in YouTube with printed QR code on the lampshade to create bridge between the one and the other.

Both parts of the installation aim to present and engage the audience in creative and interesting way with our work. Printed data is going to be shared in various ways to serve best in understanding and making sense of it (not to just put it in written article). 360⁰ video content is going to be built with our individual researches, which explore the topic from different aspects to inform in more depth.

The output is influenced by the notions of presence and participation in 360⁰ environment and the idea of being there and experiencing what we are communicating with our project (because self-tracking is not an isolated academic topic, it can be part of the life of everyone who has technology with biosensors, aka smartphone). The main idea however, is that our installation is going to be designed in a way to give sense of power – that the audience can choose how to interact with the installation and we, as researchers, do not navigate the person straight forward in linear way of exploring the information; the viewer will have the control to look around the ‘lampshade’ and explore our data collection, as well as s/he can look in different directions while watching our video in 360⁰.

Marketing and promotions:

Our main target audience are students around campus, most of them are using technologies and probably without even realizing it are self-tracking themselves. Our project could be great opportunity for every smartphone user and wearable devices fans to gain more information, to think and explore biosensing technologies from different aspect and to critically engage with our installation.

Plan for promotion:

  • We are planning to create a promo 360⁰ video, announcing our project and release it during our experience in Paris.
  • During the spring leave, we are planning to create a twitter account where we will share updates from our individual research areas.
  • When we are back in May, we are planning to create code posters/ flyers/ stickers and promote the exhibition event around the campus.

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