Pathfinders: Felt Experience versus Embodied Statistics

This is a summary of my (Gaspard Bos’) work done at the Unstable Design Lab  in the month of July 2018 as a practice-based researcher and residence. I sought to do a project abroad in an inspiring space, with inspiring people, where I could work with interactive, connected and intelligent tech on social/societal issues that are my drive as a designer. I was happy to have been given the opportunity to work with smart textiles on the topic of parenthood at the lab and build on the research and work that has already been done there.

The project I developed is called Pathfinders: Felt Experience versus Embodied Statistics. Pathfinders invites participants to experience and play with anxieties that our present day risk society projects upon prospective parents. Conceptualized as a designerly form of autobiographical storytelling, the experience is intended to prompt reflection and conversation on gender stereotypes, societal expectations that are reflected within and reinforced by statistics on health and parenthood. The piece is part of a broader collection of design objects and technologies that tell personal stories about the felt experience of becoming parents in a world of increasingly sophisticated techniques for quantifying risk, intervention, and genetic modification. The work was completed in collaboration with the Unstable Design Lab and used the groups experience in designing smart wearable technologies to produce an experience that is not only about becoming parents, but brings the participant into an embodied and felt experience of navigating the choices facing prospective parents.

A demo of the installation.
Setup plan of the installation. The people can see themselves in the mirror. A camera sits in the wall behind them to make photos

I designed an interactive installation in which three types of connected objects are creating meaning and mediating the different risks and anxieties that come with the considering parenthood. From this I also drew from personal experience and my own relationship.

The objects in the installation: two sashes, two ties and one smart finger trap.

The Choking Tie
First of all, I designed a “chocking tie”. While participating in the installation the tie gets increasingly tighter around the person’s neck based on their reactions to the risks and statistics being projected on them. It’s safe, though. It cannot deliver enough force (torque) to actually choke you.

The chocking tie tightens the strap around your neck with a little servo motor.
In the tie is a continuous rotating servo (micro size) and a featherboard arduino from Adafruit with low energy bluetooth connectivity powered by a 3.7V 500mah LiPo battery.
The base of the tie is constructed from an origami bow tie. The servo motor is adapted by melting a bolt into the nylon attachment piece.* A wingnut is used to attach to the neck strap. * note: The servo in the picture is not the actual size. This one was not continuous rotation. I tried to hack it to make it continuous but it did not work. Continuous rotation servos do not come in this size as far as I know.

The Pathfinders’ Sash
I also created a sash with 5 different badges. The sash was initially supposed to be a baby sling while the bow tie would represent one’s career. But the sling became a sash in order to support the idea of performing as “scouts” for one’s country; having to live up to the expectation of parenting the next generation and getting bittersweet badges for it.

I took designs from the noun project  to make combinations of different signifying elements and create new meaning. I adjusted the vector graphics to suit my needs but credit must go to:

  • athanagore x
  • Mello
  • Becris
  • Yo! Baba
  • Numero Uno
  • Oksana Latysheva
  • Nada AlYafaei
  • Boggu
  • and last but not least…
  • Jakob Vogel
The sash and its badges.
I was inspired by the project Post Couture to use these little hooks to attach the patches. I drew a shape that I thought would work. It did. Could be improved still

I often hear people say: “why should I have kids? We are already suffering from overpopulation.” And then sometimes offering adoption as an alternative. Or they say “I’m worried about bringing a child on this earth with climate change and all. Will they have a good future?”. This badge thanks you for not having kids, or deplores you for destroying the environment.

Most young parents divorce after 3 years and it is said that caring for children can take a huge toll on people’s relationships. Sleepless nights and changing diapers. That doesn’t really awaken the warm feelings or sexual lust amongst partners. Who would be so crazy to voluntarily get these parasites in their lives? Because they look so cute, and look like you, I guess.

“Having kids is the most natural thing there is”, some people say. Well, I think most people have an image in their minds of women screaming and bleeding on a hospital bed to get the job done. It is HARD on women’s bodies. It’s hard on anybody, really. Thankfully, science offers us medicine to help us get through all that. 

Reproductive technologies have been a blessing, not only for couples to avoid making “mistakes” and women not having to bear an unwanted burden, but also avoiding STDS. Technology is letting us increasingly control unwanted side effects of our urges, going as far as controlling how our children will turn out. We are also very uncomfortable with letting go of the control we have now.

Research shows that women are especially adversely affected by having children in terms of their salary or respect at work, and the balance wasn’t equal to begin with anyway. In my experience, creative people seem to also be especially given shifty looks for having kids: “their work started to suck after they had kids”. And we kind of feel like we need to prove ourselves and achieve things before we start having kids; because it’s all downhill from there anyway, right? It’s kind of like throwing the towel in the ring.

Heating pads are used to activate the color changes in the patches.

The Finger Trap
The last part, the third and unique object in the interaction, is a finger trap. This object represents the commitment that two people have made to each other. It is a give and take, a push and pull, as is any relationship, where the more you pull the more you get stretched. The finger trap contains a strip of conductive carbon paper that changes resistance when stretched. The two people can therefore activate the taking of a photograph, when they feel like one of the graphs is the cause of their anxiety, by either one pulling on the trap.

In this version of the smart finger trap, it is necessary to wear nitrile gloves to prevent the fingers from creating a short circuit.

The objects are held together in conversation with statistics, projected atop the participants in the installation, that quantify and represent the risks and tradeoffs facing those considering becoming parents today. 

Another demo of the installation, related to the career-parenthood dynamic.