// FMP & Thesis – #3
Having finished the thesis (for now), the practice side of things could finally be developed. With basic grounding taken from the thesis research, a few initial concepts were formulated:
A Design Fiction about a man’s transformation into his childhood superhero through technological augmentations.
Having grown up on Tokusatsu superhero shows, he decides to realise his childhood dream by slowly transforming himself into a technological cyborg. The narrative focuses not on his vigilantism, but the process of his physical/psychological transformation into another being. Exploring themes of technoculture, Donna Harraway’s theories of the Cyborg and identity.
Diegetic Prototype exhibits a full scale model of his superhero alter ego, with portions of displaying cut ins into his cyborg body, showing the modifications he has gone through. These cut ins are annotated and tells of the man’s decisions, thoughts, process of each and every modification.
The subject of transhumanism/cyborg theories and the presentation of a scaled model showing modification cut ins were inspired heavily by Tokusatsu, where the anatomy of the superhero alter egos are often shown outside of the show and in magazines for children. The particular industrial design aesthetic seemed appealing, and the prospect of creating a giant, science museum-esque human model for the graduation show sounded like quite a sight.
However, feedback on this concept indicated that it was taking the subject of the thesis to literally, performing it word by word. I was reminded again that the practice side of things need not to directly relate to the thesis, but can be inspired by it. Rereading the thesis again, I took the concluding points of the thesis and developed further, focusing on particular items and their enchantment.
Series of ordinary objects designed with the usage of Henshin Enchantment identified within tokusatsu. These objects feature themselves in an ordinary, recognisable mode and a transformed mode, which includes additional affordances and changes the user’s perception of the ordinary object.
Objects include a pen that makes you have better hand writing, pair of glasses that transforms your vision into something more comfortable through coloured filters.
This however also seemed like a literal take on the thesis’ conclusion, rather than inspired from it. Furthermore, despite this being a brief that can be defined by ourselves, I did need to consider my audience who will be coming to the grad show as well. Who did I wanted to impress? How do I want people to see me as a designer? Perhaps I needed to link the FMP with topics and issues that are contemporary, and consider how the research I’ve undertaken in my thesis could inform my practice as a designer.
As I further considered my audience and my own practice, I felt compelled to look back upon our participation in the Interface Politics conference in Barcelona. There was a particular point within the Interface Manifesto that I wanted to explore, and felt it made some links with the observations I’ve made regarding Tokusatsu.
10) The interface uses metaphors that create illusions: I am free, I can go back, I have unlimited memory, I am anonymous, I am popular, I am creative, it’s free, it’s neutral, it is simple, it is universal. Beware of illusions!
Throughout the few days within the conference, a lot of the participating designers and speakers had tackled this particular point – that the contemporary technological field is filled with metaphors, often deceptive rather than informing. Does Cloud Storage really imply your files being sent to the sky, into a server that is ephemeral and floats high above? How does it hide the fact that your files are being saved in the physical domain under the control of someone else? What does it mean when you call a device “smart”, and how “smart” can a device actually be? These metaphors and vocabulary almost acts as a form of placebo, implying certain nonexistent qualities or function to the piece of technology. This somehow reminded me of another piece of text – The Wizard of Oz.
In the Wizard of Oz narrative, the character Tin Woodman seeks for a heart to fulfill himself, as he deems himself unable to love without one. At the end of the story he is given a placebo heart and becomes pleased with it. The heart however functionally does nothing, as Tin Woodman has always been one of the most gentle and compassionate of Dorothy’s companions. This is similar to the enchantment of Henshin that I wrote about in the thesis, where the placebo toy version of the transformation device empowers the user psychologically and does not actually transform him physically, but mentally he assumes there is change and continues forward. Taking this idea forward, I generated a new concept to develop from:
“If I only had a Heart”
Creating a series of transhuman technologies based upon technological metaphors, exploring whether it is the placebo effect from the metaphors that empower the user or the actual technologies themselves.
Technological metaphors help us to understand technology, but they can also be used as rhetoric to conceal ideologies and produce illusions: I can quantify everything about you, I provide anonymity, I have no physical form etc.
We encounter these metaphors in our everyday lives – how much do they influence our perception of technology? Are they just sinister lies? Can we use them for good?