I gave the Internet a Wooden Heart
Chuan Khoo, RMIT University
If we have a wooden heart for communicating data – and if the Internet is given said heart – what might we read of the rhythms expressed through it? I gave the Internet a Wooden Heart is a semiotic experiment into data-driven haptics. It is a heartbeat generator of online data streams, manifesting familiar palpitations that are felt by clasping one’s hands around it, its heartrate changing in step with the datasets being expressed. The underlying mechanics of the project blend two key aspects for prototyping affect: working with tangible interactions as a semiotic device and using a custom software platform IoTa (the Internet of Things Affective) to analyse online data.
Affirmative design-oriented practices in product design offer efficient solutions to identified challenges. However, inefficient speculations relating to affect and the ever-present pursuit of socially redeeming technologies grant us curious lenses to help scrutinise the way we understand the world and design opportunities for dialogue and engagement. The Wooden Heart is built on a flexible technological framework that affords the crafting of wonder and reflection, a pivot towards prototyping poetic engagements using the same technologies adopted by the Internet of Things.
Ironically, this is both a finished and incomplete prototype. In its exhibited form, it comes pre-set with selected datasets through which it draws an electronic pulse. Just as the title suggests a material artificiality to an otherwise genuine expression, performing data mapping configurations manufacture aspirations of hope and wonder towards the data being translated. For example, it can switch between the sombre pulse of suicide rates in Melbourne, or binge on asinine narratives such as a sentiment analysis of Reddit comments on r/oddlysatisfying.
The intimate experience of the wooden heart suggests an extended period of co-existence. The Wooden Heart is incomplete insofar as what the Near Future Laboratory suggests as a theory object, an open work (Eco & Cancogni, 1989), an artefact of critical making (Ratto, 2011), a speculative design (Dunne & Raby, 2013), and a manifestation of performative research (Haseman, 2006) that acknowledges the agency of the ‘end-user’ in shaping the ‘use’ of the artefact. This extension takes critical reflection and knowing beyond design practice into the hands of the end-users, and rewards nurturing, autoethnographic dispositions when experiencing the wooden hearts. They underscore the importance of prototypes affording a degree of conscious criticality, reflection and creative iteration.
Eco, U., & Cancogni, A. (1989). The Open Work. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2013). Speculative everything: design, fiction, and social dreaming. MIT Press.
Ratto, M. (2011). Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life. The Information Society, 27(4), 252-260.
Haseman, B. (2006). A Manifesto for Performative Research. Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy, 118, 98-106.
Chuan Khoo_ (MFA RISD) is an artist, designer and educator, practicing across interaction design, electronics and digital media. He is a PhD candidate at RMIT. www.chuank.com
Image: I gave the Internet a Wooden Heart.