Hyperconnected Bodies, the rising cloud of self-aware data

by Tyger A.C. on May 14, 2012

Of course it is natural to augment reality, we do it with our eyes and brains ever since perception got, in a poetic sense, hijacked by our imagination.

A plethora of new apps are here to help us keep track of everything. Sharing and benchmarking are becoming the casual reality applications of our lives, making the quantified-self the game changer that the concept claims to be. Designing the life you love and architecting your reality, seen as a design problem and not part of a psychological or philosophical quest, is where the crux of our times lies silently.

The sweet spot of interaction between people and technology resides in a very special place, maybe the new aesthetic but probably a self-aware map of tools and humans, making reality a new kind of platform. Does it make the story of our life an extraordinary experience, or will it make us instruments of our own demise?

Exploring this question is, I believe, the most salient point of our current civilization, for though we might be obsessed about the news of the moment, be it the economy or the political scene, it is the actual pixelated deconstruction of our moment by moment immediate reality that may or may not bring about that cherished idea of a life well lived.

It used to be that a life well lived was the subject matter of philosophy and then of psychology; perhaps now it is a matter of design. Not design as in ‘design the life you love,’ as some may desire to portray it, but design in the literal sense of the objects and apps we use.

The design of objects and applications used daily by millions of people all over the world, submitting the benchmarks they attain (or do not attain) to a mostly anonymous crowd, invents, a reality that is fundamentally augmented and shared to such an extent that it is no longer ‘ours,’ but a shared prototype of consciousness, or a consensual hallucination.

The implications are vast, serious, and probably under-emphasized. Acts of self tracking and self monitoring are not only acts of extensibility of our minds into objects, but also acts of inflicting data upon our own subjectified self. In this process we may unwittingly, and to some extent unknowingly, provide our minds with an alternative to self-reflection. I am uncertain whether the apparent cohesion and externalization of what used to be an introspective process of self-knowing via the application of monitoring and self-tracking devices improves our lives, or destroys a sense of fullness in which not everything is known.

Some examples of modern tracking devices

*“Breathe2Relax is a portable stress management tool. Built on the iPhone mobile app platform, Breathe2Relax is a hands-on diaphragmatic breathing exercise. Breathing exercises have been documented to decrease the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ (stress) response, and help with mood stabilization, anger control, and anxiety management. Breathe2Relax can be used as a stand-alone stress reduction tool, or can be used in tandem with clinical care directed by a healthcare worker.

Capitalizing on touch-screen technology, a user can record their stress level on a ‘visual analogue scale’ by simply swiping a small bar to the left or to the right. Breathe2Relax uses state-of-the-art graphics, animation, narration, and videos to deliver a sophisticated, immersive experience for the user.”  (Breath Relax )

*RunKeeper makes tracking your workouts fun, social, and easy to understand so that you can improve the quality of your fitness. (http://runkeeper.com/ )

*Lift your mood.

Clean your teeth, wash your face, measure your mood. A daily must-do.

Track your ups and downs on a graph to understand what gets to you.

Share your scores with trusted friends so they can support you. Everybody needs a buddy.

Over at TedxSilkroad: “Patrice Slupowski, director of innovation at Orange France Telecom, quotes Ericsson’s CEO who predicts 50 billion connected devices by 2015. With 3 billion expected Internet users, this means we will have 17 devices per connected person. By 2015, 3 years from now, we will all be carrying sensors and other devices that produce data. “

His presentation, “The connected body,” (below), is well worth watching. In a poetic and French manner, Slupowski entices us to understand and accept the connected state of affairs through which he gets more sleep, loses weight, records the amount of steps he walks and shares the resulting data with his social networks.

The point, as most of us already know, is that tracking – self-tracking in particular – allows a new kind of self-awareness, especially as relates to our health and fitness.

Put all this data in the cloud (privacy not included), and personal medicine becomes a reality, tracking our mood and skin temperatures. The analysis of correlated data becomes a new picture we have of ourselves, and a new image we can project unto the world.

These devices were implanted in a cadaver during the study. Plastic bags around devices prevented contact with tissue fluid (credit: Autodesk Research)

Of course, that is only the beginning. New under the skin implant devices are coming our way faster than the speed of the click: “Scientists at Toronto-based Autodesk Research and their colleagues tested a dozen or so different user interface implants. Input devices included microphones for audio; buttons, pressure sensors and tap sensors for input via direct touching of the skin; and brightness sensors and capacitive sensors — the kind now often found in mobile device touchscreens — for input through motions above the skin. Output devices they examined included audio speakers, LEDs, and vibration motors. Wireless communications were enabled using Bluetooth, and wireless recharging was tested with inductive chargers, the kind seen with cordless power tools.” (Via the Txchnologist)

What about memory recall? Add to the above the SenseCam from Microsoft: “SenseCam is a wearable camera that takes photos automatically. Originally conceived as a personal ‘Black Box’ accident recorder, it soon became evident that looking through images previously recorded tends to elicit quite vivid remembering of the original event.”

Some are already using this huge amount of data to create what might be called the personal information stock exchange,

“In a paper posted online last week, Huberman and coauthor Christina Aperjis propose something akin to a New York Stock Exchange for personal data. A trusted market operator could take a small cut of each transaction and help arrive at a realistic price for a sale.” ( A stock exchange for your personal data- technology review)

All your mind extensions will talk to each other

“They’re really external extensions of our mind,” said Joseph Tranquillo, associate professor of biomedical and electrical engineering at Bucknell University. (referring to all our networked devices- CNN)

So, vast amounts of data, self-tracking, personal information stock exchange, our own memories in the cloud, implants under our skins transmitting the data continuously.

What happens then?

I believe we’re creating a cloud of self-aware data. Immense data willingly offered, talking, transmitting, and exchanging bits and bytes with each context re-conceptualizing itself, re-describing itself as a new form of realism.

Hyperconnected bodies, transformed, metamorphosed, dynamically rewiring, our very yogic memory oscillations, playing the stock exchange of personal information, mutating, resuming, deconstructing and restructuring our thoughts, our moods, saying hello to each other and maybe waving to us on our way to a life well lived.

Are we part of this self aware-data cloud? To some extent yes, though the connection will eventually become tenuous. As such it is my view that the self-aware cloud of information may be seen as the precursor to a global brain.

Such a global brain connecting bodies, objects, animals and extending all over the biosphere is a probability that bears an interesting account of our times.

(shortly to be continued)

Meanwhile, take a peek at this art installation, maybe a hint into a possible future self

“As two dancers moved around the perimeter of the installation, 3D cameras recorded the shapes made by their bodies and replayed them on a brass grid of over 10,000 LED lights. The image created by the lights always resembles a single figure, no matter how many people approach it at once, but it can combine the movements of more than one body. All information recorded by the device passes through a computer, so it can also be played back with a time delay or saved to replay later.

(Cross posted at Space Collective)

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