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In her guest lecture and in the workshop on Monday, Kelly Dobson talked extensively about objects (such as tools) that we use so often that in many respects they become part of ourselves. As someone who been fascinated with the tactility and physicality of physical objects, I was intrigued by her work. In particular, I enjoyed the Omo, an ovoid blob that subtly ‘breathes’ both physically and audibly in sync with whoever (or whatever) is holding it. As a device for machine therapy, it can then subtly change its own breathing patterns in order to influence those of its user. On a very visceral level, the device becomes more than just a cool object, but in that moment becomes almost part of the user. In the workshop after class, she drew comparisons to the generalized concept of a “transitional object” in child psychology, which Donald Winnicott identified as facilitating a child’s development of their own conception of self as distinct from the outside world by acting as a bridge between the two worlds. Part of the key to that in Dobson’s work seems to me to be the fact that these objects each somehow physically represent part of the user, whether it’s the Omo’s synchronization of their breathing or personalized vehicles she described that attempt to reproduce a person’s subjective experience of the world in a vehicle that manipulates their experience of travel to conform to their preferences.

But these connections don’t always have to be physically manifested, or even good. The Fitbit, for example seems to occupy this role to some extent, by capturing one’s physical data and presenting the user with that data in a way that reframes their experience of self through a process of qualculation and gamification, to the point that the self can be stored and transmitted through an API. The inclusion of a premium membership reinforces that creepiness, by linking the user’s understanding of themselves to a monthly subscription (as well as capturing and commodifying celebrity trainers). The experience of using a Fitbit is supposed to be totalizing, something they are actually proud of:

Every moment matters and every bit makes a big impact. Because fitness is the sum of your life. That’s the idea Fitbit was built on—that fitness is not just about gym time. It’s all the time…

Fitbit tracks every part of your day—including activity,exercise, food, weight and sleep—to help you find your fit, stay motivated, and see how small steps make a big impact.

The concept of “finding your fit” is key to this framing (it’s in the name!), because it reconfigures the limiting process of capture as something that is intended to ultimately grant the user more understanding of and agency over their own life. By promising to track and analyze our fitness, Fitbit allows us the luxury to not pay attention to those things, an extension of the privilege of forgetting described in “Out of File, Out of Mind”. Just as the hard drive has become an extension of our memory, wearable technology promises to become an extension of our self-awareness.

To be continued…

  • Also extends to virtual (social media, online finance)
    • Facebook keeps track of our friends so we don’t have to
    • transhumanist ideology?
    • Our data is being used to build global models
  • But who controls it?
    • Is it possible to control what we are shown (hypertrophy?)
    • Gaming social media/online algorithms
    • Constant updates create an interplay
    • Do transitional objects need to be under our control?
  • Trained models as an amalgam of all incorporated users?
    • algorithms that facilitate this?
  • Capture and control of pieces of ourselves as facilitating neoliberal exploitation/control?
    • Attempting the opposite process of grafting on new parts of self, instead of outsourcing them.
    • Work as play (weisure, playbor) attempts to make work part of construction of self-identity
    • Also has implications for “autonomous work”


A note on The Sims:

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  1. […] from a few weeks ago. Our visibility is never completely under our control, and with every wave of greater technological penetration into our daily lives, that control threatens to disappear […]

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