// FMP & Thesis – #4
Following on from the developed concept, I started to explore some technological metaphors/promises purely based upon observations and topics raised in our course over the year. From the topic of Data Self Portraits I extracted phrases like “Everything is quantifiable”, “Data represents you accurately”, “You are in control of your data” etc, and from the topic of Cloud Storage, most of the phrases examined whether the technology actually exhibited the physical qualities of a cloud in the sky. Fun exercises, but it needed a bit more depth and structure to it.
Returning back to the ideas taken from Barcelona I decided to reread several of the texts that accompanied the conference. Many of them dealt with the subject of metaphors and how they are a crucial communication method when utilising technology. Below are a few extracts from texts that I found relevant and provoked some new thoughts. (For further texts from the Interface Politics conference, click here)
The space of the computer is dominated by images, visual metaphors, and representative elements that mediate between the world of humans and the world of bits of information. Metaphor is based on familiarity with a prior reference. It transfers our understanding and knowledge of something that we are familiar with to something that is new, in order to help us assimilate the new environment.
…This mental framework is inherent to human nature; it is an essential model for explaining the intuitive use of computers and making it predictable. Basing an interface on metaphor boosts the development of mental models. It helps users to remember the symbolic world that represents them. As a result, computing appears to be on the same level reality as its significance.
Interfaces are cultural tools or artificial devices that use metaphor, just like languages and communication do. When these metaphors are well designed they become naturalized and imperceptible, but they are never really transparent, even when they appear to be invisible (Scolari, 2004). These metaphors do not only influence our idea of what our computers can and cannot do, they also affect speech, discourse, and action in a broader sense. They shape and guide public debates, academic discourses, technological innovations, and the ideological positions of the individual (Boomen, 2014). They don’t just speak of their own operation, they also seep into social life and raise questions that can only be answered through a political interpretation (Galloway, 2012).
For example, the famous bitmap image editing software called Photoshop is based on the metaphor of a photo lab (hence its name), but users don’t really develop photographs, or retouch with paintbrushes, or use masks. It is all computing. But it makes sense to us. How does the photo lab metaphor affect painters who choose to use Photoshop to create their works?
…So we should bear in mind that interfaces are designed with metaphors, that design has emotional baggage, and that metaphor always reflects cultural codes. That we now live with numerous devices, and through their interfaces. These devices and their interfaces are so psychologically powerful, says Sherry Turkle, that they not only help us to do things, they also transform us.
Directed by the different points taken from the texts, I started to look at technological metaphors that could do with the physical interaction between user and interface. Some metaphors were extrapolated from different parts of the body and I began to have some quick ideas about objects/metaphors that can be extrapolated from it. Ideas such as a heart that acts as the central hub for all your IoT components, a hand that could feel data physically, a hat that is constantly recording your environment. Some ideas began to take form, but it needed more structure to it. I then decided to look at some preexisting projects based around body extensions, and came across Sputniko and her mechanical penis.
Penis Cybernétique is a process of myself, a 23 year old student, mixed Japanese/British, 173cm height, designing a prosthetic simply to fulfil my own curiosity: “What does it feel like to have an extra body part (in this case – penis) which reacts to my emotions?” During the course of 2 weeks, a ‘working’ motorised penis which moves up or down based on my heart rate was built, worn and tested. Will this new body part make myself act differently? (i.e. is Mr. Freud right?) Will I get a phantom penis afterwards? Will other people try my designs? What does it mean for an amateur to ‘open source her body?’
The concept was a simple question and answer which presented itself in an amusing way – just what would happen if I had a body part that I didn’t have? The straightforward delivery and playful visual language helped to deliver the concept and provoked further questions about the subject itself.
Sputniko’s project helped me to identify a particular structure that I’ve mentioned in my thesis, where the toy producers of the Tokusatsu shows compares the relationship between the transformation device and their toy counterparts as “…a promise and its fulfilment”. Whilst the toys themselves can never physically transform the child into a technological hero, it does what it can with simple, playful feedback that fulfils that promise in a placebo kind of way. Using this Promise & Fulfilment (& Result) structure, I began to breakdown and analyse Sputniko’s project and the transformation devices I studied in the thesis:
- I am a penis
- I make you experience an erection
- Extension of motorized penis dependent on Heart Rate
- User knows this is not a real penis
- User “experiences” an erection based on simple feedback
- Promise is fulfilled through placebo effect
- Stimulates thinking regarding the male organ through simulation
- I turn you into the hero from your Sunday morning shows
- Reenactment of sound effects from show
- User knows this is not a real transformation
- User experiences transformation based on audio feedback
- Promise is fulfilled through placebo effect
- Stimulates thinking regarding the transformed body
- Role play, make belief
Of course whilst much of the “results” section is based on speculation and guesses, it became much more clear how the metaphor and its realisation linked together in a way that was not necessarily functional, but more more based upon a placebo-effect. Perhaps I didn’t need to produce objects that were highly technical nor absolutely functional – they just needed a sense of whimsical playfulness whilst delivering its thought-provoking messages regarding their respective topics.
With this Promise & Fulfilment & Result structure, the design process became more structured as opposed to the earlier process of randomly trying out one metaphor after another. This eventually developed into quick doodles development of the Heart and Hand ideas further.