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.

Dan Chen: “Robots are bound to become more intimate part of our lives”

Dan Chen is a designer I recently found out about, his views on technology and robots are similar to mine. One day I want to make as many robots, both simple and complicated, as I can, just like this guy.



Things to check and do: after consultations

After talking to Margaret on Wednesday, she recommended me to watch this talk by Youngmoo Kim, the director of Expressive and Creative Interactive Technology (EXCITE) and a professor at Drexel University. This topic is very relevant to the context of my research, I’m hoping to get in touch with him soon, I thought this video deserves to open my journal entry.

I presented my Warm Robot idea to Ryan, Annet, Margaret, and Alan on wednesday. I got so much valuable feedback and directions. I decided to compile my notes and put it up on my CPJ as well:

Ryan & Annet

Artists to check out to observe from:

After consulting with Alan, for the size of my robot, inflatable might not be the best way to create a breathing pattern, he said a simple mechanical movements and a motor might work better. OMO is a robot that replicates breathing motion after it picks up a breathing motion from its interaction with a breathing being. Studying how the breathing mechanism work in OMO might help me figure out what’s the best way to do the breathing pattern in my work.

The fluid movements of Wolfson’s animatronics that depends on gravity is what express the emotions in the work. How do I implement this in my robot? how do I make a fluid mechanical movements with such limited skill set? Annet asked me, “Does it need to move on its own? Does it need a human control?” And I think it does. I definitely can collaborate with it to create a fluid communication between my robot and the viewers. My thesis GTI also recommended me to check out Tony Oursler‘s works to study the eyes that he projects onto his sculptures to convey expressions through the LCD screens (eye parts) of the robot. what kind of eye shapes and movements will convey its expression the best?

  • John Bell, founder of Great Small Works

If the robot needs a mediator, we could work as puppeteer and the puppet. John Bell wrote Strings, Hands, ShadowsA Modern Puppet History If I’m going to perform as a part of the piece then I have work to do on learning puppetry. I think it’s also a good chance to go back and observe videos of Alexander Calder’s circus.

Collections of early science fiction short stories about the interactions between humans, robots, and morality. I read the summary and it seems to be a western fictional history of robotics, which would be interesting because my knowledge of robotics have always been fictional from the eastern point of view. I definitely needed context from a different point of view.


Aside from the great lecture she recommended me, another set of questions that I should get around is:

  • How to engage my audience, how to keep them engaged
  • Who are my audiences? Are there particular parties I want to target?
  • To be open about one’s emotion, listening to another sharing theirs is a good evoker. Does the robot need a narrative? A history or purpose to tell?


Engineering and programming reality check time!!

  • Breathing movement is difficult to mimic, keep scale in mind. it is still doable! Air pump is not practical, cross out inflatable. mechanical movement and motors would do it better. study from OMO.
  • He had generated a simple algorithm for Erin’s project from last year that might be reusable for my project. It could be used for the switch of heart rate reactions. I should talk to Erin next week about it.
  • My robots seem to have too many elements to be implemented within given deadline, prioritizing a couple would help the process of making and trouble shooting. make a spreadsheet for my timeline!
  • Solenoid would be a better component to use rather than a vibrating motor to mimic heartbeat sensation. It gives a thump rather than vibration.
  • I need to do a research about how fast human heartbeat can change. note: human likes something that’s just a little off from the accurate number. use this to my advantages
  • This whole project would be far easier if I can stick it to a computer so it’s not completely autonomous or rely on arduino much. a Rhino Grasshopper extension such as Node-RED and Firefly would make my life so much easier.
  • Get permission from Lucas (intro to robotics teacher) to make this project as a combined project for the rest of the class!!! His help would be extra extra helpful
  • do a study and try out on Arduino 1 bit DAC PWM
  • I have to work fast, talk to Paul and Alan. make sure they both understand what’s going on and what I’m trying to do with my project and keep each other updated.
  • (From Beth, thesis GTI) other softwares to check on sound, Audacity and DM1