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Expression and Identity

By babylago in MLP
Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 11:47:38 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

The work of Elise Co, a researcher with the Aesthetic and Computation Group at MIT, focuses on computational fashion, which she describes in her thesis as a way for 'technology to enhance (the) expressive aspects of what we wear.' What it really does is enable our physical lives to intersect with our virtual lives, and to control how we identify ourselves in both worlds.

Some of Elise's projects, like halo and garment chimerical, are related to the visual expression of personality and individuality, each finding a unique technological interface to the body's tendencies toward expressiveness. Elise's research attempts to identify how we can tap into our own personalities and use technology as an enabling tool to amplify our natural individual tendencies.

As interesting as these projects are, perhaps the biggest eye-opener in Elise's research is the lint project. On surface examination it appears to be little more than a fun experiment in guerilla information passing, but a further look at the technology reveals that Elise's research is really proof-of-concept for a larger idea that hasn't been fully explored: casual transfer of personal data through physical contact. The use of the lint metaphor is apt in this case, as fibers are often passed from person to person through incidental contact. Picture a busy subway stop and you can easily imagine how this could happen. Elise's basic hardware allows 'whiskers' from individuals to brush against each other during casual contact, and for data to pass from one person's unit to the others, causing a light display to change based on the information being passed across and how it interacts with information already received.

But beyond the rave culture applications for this technology, there are many possible practical applications, and some serious implications for the way we handle our personal information. Here imagination will take over from science for a moment. Imagine a personal high-capacity storage device with the ability to process and store information, coupled with a personal display system (not unlike the 'gargoyle' getup in Snow Crash). Now imagine that each user has a set of public information, a sort of fat .plan file or massive vanity site that not only has contact information like email and ICQ address, but also links to communities and cultures where the user interacts and defines a personal identity, like k5 or Slashdot or alt.sex.fetish.orientals. Imagine also that wireless network access is available and even ubiquitous in certain economic and social groups. Now you have the elements of a physical bridge between virtual worlds, where the scope of the bridge or junction is defined by the rules of the physical world, not the virtual, and where identity is defined not by what you're like, but by what you like, to borrow from Nick Hornby. Brush up against someone wearing a Slashdot shirt, and find out that they also like Weimeraner training and that they collect doubloons. In a virtual environment where information is spread out and disparate, and even the best tools cannot always find what interests you, Elise's technology provides the means to use your physical life, work, and habits to interact and create the links that may define or redefine your identity and expression.

Questions of identity and privacy are nothing new. By redefining the way we look at expression of identity, Elise Co has opened a door to exploration of personality, identity, and interaction using technology as an enabling force. I look forward to her future projects as links worth following.


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Expression and Identity | 14 comments (14 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Yes means no (3.66 / 3) (#1)
by eLuddite on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 09:13:21 PM EST

Dude, she likes you.
No, I'm pretty sure she hates me.
How can you tell?
Her hand grazed my thigh.

God hates human rights.

Scary - sort of (4.50 / 2) (#2)
by Phage on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 09:22:19 PM EST

not unlike the 'gargoyle' getup in Snow Crash

Very much so ! Would someone who wore this sort of Public always-on interface be seen as promiscuious ?

Some disapproval, maybe, of someone who is always willing to share data with strangers ?

Or, disapproval of someone who identifies too strongly with their virtual persona's ?

Great ideas...should generate some interesting questions...+1

I don't find Heathens to be sexy, as a general rule.

sooo... Lemme get this straight..... (4.00 / 2) (#3)
by argent on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 09:23:41 PM EST

With lint, I could brush up against someone and transfer info back and forth seemlessly and with out any interaction?

And no-one saw this and said, "hey, this is potentially bad"?

I mean, think of inappropriate aquisition of info about me, by someone that I don't want to have it. This smacks more of having a tatoo on my forehead than a "gargoyle" set-up to stay within your snowcrash metaphor.
Or a virus could be passed along with that handshake between the lint-enabled clothing. "Oh, I'm sure you could turn it off" you'll say. If I could turn it off, why would I turn it back on? If I see you with a K5 shirt, I'll just use the old fashioned method of talking to you, if I felt like it. (Not being anti-social, but no-one feels like being chatty _all_ the time)

And what's to say, that I want to merge my online with my offline life? That's like always having home and work exist together in the same space. A little is good, but to me, they gotta stay seperate, and merge on my terms.

cd /pub more Beer
On your terms (none / 0) (#4)
by babylago on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 09:36:33 PM EST

I think that is one of the best issues for discussion here: how would it be possible to integrate this kind of technology and make it an expression of your identity (or what you want your identity to be, which may be the same thing) rather than just another cookie-passing browser? You bring up excellent technical points that would be important in implementing a system of this sort, but I would say that lint brings a whole new dimension to the identity/privacy/interaction issue beyond even the basic technical protocol issues, and that is how the technology can enable you to do what you want without doing what you don't want. It's a fundamental question - one of the most fundamental in systems design.

[ Blog | Hunnh ]
[ Parent ]
ideally, Yes. But realistically.... (none / 0) (#5)
by argent on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 09:54:33 PM EST

I agree with you that "ideally" this would be a way to be able to share things that you are interested in. ( a high tech bumper sticker, if you will allow that much of an over simplification)
But, at the risk of being a doom sayer, this would be perverted by corporations, and media types to glean info about a particular real world demographic, like a ball game or a concert. To stay within the snowcrash pardigm, which is appropriate here, you can bet your ass that there will be 'stringers' just milling about in promiscuous mode, sucking up anything that one wants to share.

Wow, that sounds like gnutella! (ba-dum-bum!)

cd /pub more Beer
[ Parent ]
You're absolutely right... (none / 0) (#6)
by babylago on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 10:00:35 PM EST

I have no doubt that exactly what you describe would happen. I would also add that Cisco would probably attempt to monopolize the hardware, since it's sort of network-related and we can't have that without Cisco. Your assessment of the probable outcome is similar to mine, and brings up another question: Whether or not lint is THE enabling technology, is it possible for technology to allow us to transcend the current limitations of our social and economic systems, or is that just the dream of someone smoking the happy weed?

[ Blog | Hunnh ]
[ Parent ]
Not transcend... (none / 0) (#7)
by Phage on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 10:17:46 PM EST

More like moving just a little bit closer to Eloi.

A user could run the risk of concentrating so much on their virtual persona and on it's protection from everyone else, that RL runs the risk of slipping from our focus.

Well, at least until you forget to pay your mobile bill, and you are cut off !

Hey, how come no-one has mentioned Jung yet ? Sounds like a technological method to create a common dataset for all citizens.

Outsiders could be excluded or even attacked by immune-type responses. As per Frank Herbert's "The Santaroga Barrier".

I don't find Heathens to be sexy, as a general rule.
[ Parent ]

Wank, wank, wank. (4.50 / 8) (#8)
by jabber on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 10:19:40 PM EST

Halo is a system for implicitly-controllable, reconfigurable and programmable garments. Incorporating hardware, software, and physical design, Halo eschews the notion of electrionic fashion being about cyborgs, stock quotes, or email. Instead, it uses computation and technology as expressive, dynamic elements of fashion. A series of interconnected halo units, each with it's own microcontroller and glowing light panel [...]

  • BINGO! I just won buzzword-bingo on my palm-pilot!
  • I can just see hundreds of multi-PhD's with no real world skills, jerking off over this whitepaper.
  • In-depth coverage of this new revolutionary trend, coming soon to next month's Wired!
What a bunch of tripe! +1 Section, for dissection purposes.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

I can see it now (5.00 / 1) (#11)
by jxqvg on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 11:17:38 AM EST

All the "Linterati" jostling about together in crowded rooms, wordlessly discussing how it's going to change the world...

[ Parent ]
isn't this like (4.33 / 3) (#9)
by spacejack on Thu Mar 08, 2001 at 10:53:19 PM EST

those beepers that were a fad in Japan? You input a few personal details, sex pref. etc, and then if you were in the same proximity of a potential match they'd go off. Did anyone ever use one of those things?

Mandatory Tick Reference (4.33 / 3) (#10)
by MrAcheson on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 01:30:06 AM EST

Egads, this means we could send information at (tada) the Speed of Lint!

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

I was thinking (3.50 / 2) (#12)
by weirdling on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 11:47:41 AM EST

Most of the actual geeks I know don't really care what they wear. I really think this sort of thing is aimed at non-tech persons, or the geek-fringe that populates Microsoft rallies.
However, my personal favorite application is a receive-only version of the lint suit that will only correspond if it receives the correct security sequence, but will receive anything. If it is absolutely necessary to receive, garbage for data will suffice. Anyway, I can see myself garnering vast databases of the kind of information people normally wouldn't let you garner, which, according to my understanding of current law, should be perfectly legal to sell...

I'm not doing this again; last time no one believed it.
To touch or not to touch (none / 0) (#13)
by doumakes on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 02:29:08 PM EST

My first reaction is that I either want to interact with strangers, or I don't, so what's the point of this product?

One answer, of course, is that I can use it to sort the interesting people from the uninteresting or downright icky. Physically touching them first seems an odd way to decide whether to get close.

Don't run around poking people! (none / 0) (#14)
by babylago on Fri Mar 09, 2001 at 04:55:21 PM EST

One of the entertaining aspects of the lint project is that by having inadvertent contact with people you can create links and pathways you would never have followed otherwise, and may still elect not to follow. It's probably not a good idea to run around poking people you find interesting! Unless that works for you.

[ Blog | Hunnh ]
[ Parent ]
Expression and Identity | 14 comments (14 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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