Imagine a couple walking down the street heading to a social event, their jackets are quiet for the most part. A is talking casually making jokes about their co-workers, whereas B is responding a little but silent for the most part. After a little while, B’s jacket starts pulsing a soft yellow and it starts turning magenta. A notices this, and knows that when A’s jacket turns magenta it is because A’s biometric data is showing that they have a higher than average heart rate. B stops their story and begins asking a few questions to A about their day and if anything important was coming up. A snaps out of their distracted state and tells B that they have a presentation coming up tomorrow. Although they are prepared for it, they’re still nervous because a competitor for a promotion is also presenting. B realizes that it probably wasn’t appropriate to be making jokes about workmates at that point and quizzes A about their presentation in hopes of getting A feeling more confident about it. A starts relaxing and smiling.
When they get to the event, they switch modes on their jackets to social mode. A goes to the bar to grab a drink, B starts talking with their friends. B’s jacket has lights that follow both the arms of their jacket and every 15 seconds, it emits a train of light. A returns from the bar with drinks and now B’s jacket starts emitting a sparkly pulse in between the light trails. This is because A’s jacket is emitting that pattern independently and whenever they are in a certain range of each other, they send each other messages and also pick up messages from each other. The lights dance back and forth between A and B in a mesmerizing dance. As the event gets a little louder and more crowded, the jackets also begin to take on a more excited mode, dancing just a little quicker than before. At one point, A walks under a spotlight, picking this up, both A and B’s jackets go into a little bit of a rainbow frenzy. A and B love wearing their jackets in crowded spaces because they find each other easy to spot across a crowded room, and are able to feel close without having to always be by each other’s side. Also they have a secret color code, so that if either one gets distressed and feel threatened, their increased heart rates will be communicated through a vibrational actuator within the jackets.
How can the development of wearable technology create new opportunities for intimacy?
Statement: Intimacy can often be hindered when a person is unable to express complex feelings such as pain or pleasure. I think with connected wearable technology, the body can become a new interface for communication, where biometric data and integration with our digital world can open up new ways of experiencing intimacy. Therefore there is a potential for technological enhancements as proxies for or extensions of the self to perform various types of communication on our behalf.
It is arguable that we can be pretty disconnected these days. Even though certain types of connectedness is stronger than anytime in history.
However, disconnection is not just a technological thing. Some issues are just full of stigma. This statement came up when I interviewed a friend who has experienced chronic pain all her life.
“Pain is a very gendered thing”
And some things are just hard to say:
"I need help"
This led me to do an intimacy study, where I surveyed 30 people about their communication styles with their significant other. Here I have outlined results about whether communication is digital or in person mostly, intimacy in public, what is considered as physical intimacy and how are sexual needs expressed. I have gone into more detail about the study in the Research section.
This in part Motivated a series of thought experiments using a pair of jackets created by Matt Pinner and myself. These jackets are hypothesized as proxies for the body and they communicate via radio frequencies and light up, sometimes in-sync under various scenarios. Both on and off the body, they are sending signals and messages to each other across the room. The process of these experiments is explained in more detail in the Prototypes section.
Upon wearing the jackets with my partner and friends in various situations, it brought up some questions I wanted to reflect upon. Two areas in particular are vulnerability and control and there are three modes that I would like to draw attention to and discuss.
This video demonstrates the the state of my heartrate. Where the lights are pulsing to my heartbeat and the colors are changing according to my skin conductance. It is theorized that better conductor of electricity when either external or internal stimuli occur that are physiologically arousing . Strong emotions can cause stimulus to your sympathetic nervous system, resulting more sweat being secreted by the sweat glands.
I wore the jacket in this state during while giving a talk. This for obvious reasons made me feel more vulnerable. But I found that more transparency of my state can give me more freedom and therefor control of the situation.
The second state is person to person communication. This is a very powerful mechanism, because verbal communication is hard. 70% of my survey expressed indirect communication when they are feeling hurt or in pain. Also, throughout history, people have dressed in sync to show solidarity, and whenever I am out, I definitely feel this connection, especially across a large space.
The final state is of the disembodied and extended self. I created a device that also communicates with the jacket on the same frequency. Therefore responses can be triggered by pressing a button on the device. During a panel, I gave the device to someone in the audience. They chose a particular moment during an applause to trigger a response in the jacket. In this situation I feel most vulnerable, because of the way that communication is separate to my body and I am giving up of control to someone or something else. In all these situations, learning to be vulnerable in a safe environment, can foster more intimacy.
Looking forward, although there will a continual disparity between biological and technological evolution, I look forward to digging deeper into these three areas.
What are the right signaling parameters?
What is the appropriate smart agent for the body?
Deeper dive into control vs vulnerability scenarios, and how this can impact intimacy