Digital Vulnerability

Today I’m going to talk about the ‘poetry’ I found not in objects but rather an event.

On Friday, we had our presentation of our first experiment, which I did with my group partner, Lilian. Our presentation went well despite it being a little chaotic at the beginning. But in the end, we got people to put their phones down on the campfire stand and have a conversation. Our project focuses on the idea of unplugging. 


(photo credit to Nick Puckett)

I remember being on MSN Messenger when I was in middle school. After school we would go on our computers and go ‘online’. When I was ‘online’ sometimes I would scroll down my contact to see who was ‘online’ to see if I can talk to them. But that’s just a weird thing to do these days, isn’t it? You wouldn’t scroll through your contact to see who you can talk to because they are ‘online’ because everybody is ‘online’ all the time.

It’s almost as if our communication devices have turned into an extension of our bodies. Which was discussed about in so far my favorite book of the year, “To Be A Machine” by Mark O’Connell.


The book itself is a journal about transhumanism. Transhumanism might be a concept that’s new to some people, but in one of the chapters there’s a little bit of conversation about how human are arguably unconsciously turning into transhumanists because we let our communication gadgets become extensions of ourselves.

In that sense, can we truly ever unplug from our devices?

The ‘poetry’ that I found in the event of Friday class was that since we are doing a project that requires everybody’s devices, everybody had to remove their phone’s passcode and auto-lock for the sake of efficiency for our presentations. I found this moment really interesting. In the digital era, digital privacy is a big thing. Some people find it uncomfortable for other people to have access to their phones. So to remove our passcodes entirely to a group of people we have just got to know for a month might be a little too much for some. I was talking to my classmate, Neo, and he did admit that he didn’t remove his passcode because doing so makes him feel like he’s “naked”.

I found the ‘poetry’ in the vulnerability in that moment. While I think everybody trusted everybody to have common decency to not look into our phones when they’re basically unprotected, there’s this moment of vulnerability in that action.

During our conversation, Kate mentioned about a book by Sherry Turkle, “Reclaiming Conversation”. I haven’t got the time to look into the book, but I watched her TED Talk on Youtube.


She mentioned that she did a TED Talk in the 1996 talking about chatrooms, and how technology has allowed people to communicate to each other without having to sit down in front of each other. Years later, she is still talking about the same topic but different impact the phenomenon has. By texting, emailing, or being on social media, people have curated the way they present, they don’t have flowing conversations anymore.

When I was in my undergraduate at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), I came in a little bit older than everybody else in my grade. I didn’t feel much of an age gap, however, I did with the people in the grade just below me. They were communicating in ways that I could only partially understand. They rarely have conversations and communicates mainly through their phones or social media. They communicate through memes and it affects the way they talk in real life.

Not that I don’t understand memes, I am not that old. But I think it has layers of communication that I am missing out. I find memes to be entertaining and sometimes an effective way to communicate my feelings, however, it is not my favorite mode of communication. I always prefer a sit down, face to face, heart to heart conversations without screens in between or in front of me and the people I am talking to.

I think the ‘poetry’ in that mode of conversation is that there’s also a moment of vulnerability in which Turkle mentioned in her TED Talk– There is not enough delay in the moment to curate the way you present yourself to other people, you are just being who you are. And we know when someone is listening or not, not the way it is when we post status on facebook or send a tweet, hoping that there’s someone listening to us.

That being said, I still use facebook and twitter. And then there’s this blog, and my personal blog. Writing in hopes that there is someone out there who would spend their time reading a lengthy text about niche things I am interested in.

I always make sure to create my boundaries around these expectations. Because it’s dangerous. As Turkle said in her TED Talk, people think being alone is a problem that needs to be solved by technology. But I think over the years of maturing and growing up, I’ve come to terms that being alone is not a bad thing. I write things on my blogs and tweet dumb stuffs because I want to and that I am doing it for myself.

As for the question of if we can truly unplug ourselves, I think the answer for myself is not entirely. I recently have accepted that I, too, might be a transhumanist. It’s alright, I think. I’m studying the effect of technology and emotions in digital era and try to keep myself critical to the subject.

And I think I trust my peers in my graduate program to keep myself to be self-critical at all times.

5 Senses and 5 Levels of Intimacy: Do we need all 5 stimuli to evoke emotional response?

I’ve had this thought for a while since we discussed ‘The Sympathy of Things’ in class. Ryan mentioned something about how he went to a conference a while back and hearing people talking and working on making the best, high definition, and realistic visual and audio simulation but not much about human sense of touch. I think today, it’s safe to say that people have been trying to achieve that. through full body experience virtual reality, pressure, vibration, use of gravity, wearable technologies, etc. I think those are the beginning of it.

I remember when I was a 11, I started to learn how to download music and movies illegally (since my brother never let me borrow his casettes and CDs, this condition forced me to be tech savvy) and at some point I wondered if we would ever be able to download smell and have a scent devices like mp3 players. It’s been a decade and I haven’t heard any word about a research or development. If we are able to create visual and audio simulations then what about our other senses, touch, smell, and taste?

The more I think about it, the more I think about our senses’ relationships to our memories and emotions. If I were to list down all 5 senses starting from least intimate to most intimate, it’d be like this:

  1. Sight
  2. Hearing
  3. Touch
  4. Smell
  5. Taste

And so far we have devices that could simulate what we see and what we hear. We could easily make digital copies of it and share it with whoever we want. And we are currently trying to create simulations for touch. I wonder how long it’d take, if it’s possible at all, to create simulations for smell and taste.

Both are such abstract concept and even we have trouble describing it with today’s linguistic expressions. They’re also strong triggers for emotions and memories, if one day technology could make those simulation happen, it’d be such a strong instrument. 

I’m still curious about it. but anyway, back to my project:

Is it necessary to activate all 5 of our senses to trigger emotional response? I don’t think so. While I won’t deny that some of them are stronger stimuli than the others, I believe we can use other things that are readily available in today’s technology to get emotional response from an audience.

Based on a study conducted in Berkeley, human adults can only focus and be conscious of 4 tasks at a time. If one were told to watch their breathing, be aware of their heartbeat, feel the texture on their fingertips, and listen to a voice, they would be lost in those four moments.

I can use this limit to my advantage on creating a false full immersive experience with a simple machine.