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Critical making workshop with DoIIIT lab*

*Repost from tech.culture.matters site. Originally posted October 27, 2016

The Designers of Interactive, Intelligent, Internet of Things (DoIIIT) is a group of faculty and students at the University of Michigan who are “passionate about interactive, intelligent and Internet of things (IoT)”. Two members of the tcm research collective are founding members of this group (Silvia Lindnter is one of the faculty sponsors, Cindy Lin is on the programing board of PhD students).

Last week (Oct 17 -18) they hosted a two-day workshop on critical making and body politics, with participation from largely MSI and Phd students in UMSI and a panel including Leah Buechley (creator of the LilyPad Arduino and former MIT professor), Sophia Brueckner (Assistant professor at the Stamps school of art & design and also previously at MIT), Erik Hofer (UMSI’s CIO and a clinical assistant professor) as well as Nick Tobier (Professor at Stamps and founder of a Detroit makerspace).

The workshop began with an introduction of key concepts in critical making and the theme of body politics to participants. Jasmine Jones did a great job of underscoring how objects made from a critical making perspective are often speculative and meant to provoke reflection on a key idea. This was emphasized during the segment of the workshop in which teams came up with a project. Prior to these teams being formed, there were discussions (zip.crit) about provocative techs (mostly wearables eg. digitsole, Samsung gear S2, etc). breakout discussions were on body politics and 1) health 2) culture 3) bio-hacking and 4) personal informatics.

This sort of active group engagement went on throughout the workshop. Group projects were decided by people teaming up projects they had co-signed during a brainstorming session. My group, made up of 2 MSI students and 2 postdocs, created a wearable that is to share emotion at a distance. One of the assumptions we were taking aim at is the ubiquity and constant nature of communication notifications. We also wanted to question the idea whether emotion can be communicated effectively through technologies. Our prototype used a laser cut wood pendant with a pressure sensor that sends a signal to trigger some activity over the internet to a device elsewhere with a tactile component. We also made a heart shaped brooch with paper and an led light based on the same idea. We wanted a wearable that the user could decide when to use and hence store information about the user instead of constantly tracking. On the output end, the options include a bubble blower, lava lamp or anything else that could give show that whoever it was connected to on the wearable end had thought about them and wanted to share an emotion.

We deliberately left it ambiguous to get people thinking about what kind of emotion was being communicated. So for example, if I saw a cute puppy that I think my nephew would love, I can push the pendant and a bubble blower in his parent’s living room would send out bubbles that he can run around the room chasing after. We wanted a fixed output to again counter the constant notification and communication we have come to expect with mobile phones and other wearables.

Other groups had similar emotion sharing projects. One signaled by LED lights on sunglasses if a person was open to talking to someone. One really cool one wanted to push the idea that death is a finality and created a gizmo that essentially allows the living to visit the places a recently passed person had visited. The device is carried on the living, vibrates when they get to where the dead had been and they get to see through a small screen videos/pictures of the person.

Overall, this was a fun workshop with a range of designers and techies quite open to the possibilities of critical making. I’m joining the DoIIIT studio to get my hands dirty with making and hacking, something I think will be useful for my next round of fieldwork.

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