During the Winter 2013 term I took a critical making course at the iSchool. Four our final project we were asked to create a technology that made private data public. While the types of ready-made sensors that are easy to find and that integrate well with an Arduino often take as input or output bodily data–heart rate, temperature, etc.–I didn’t want to rely on contravening personal privacy for this project. Rather, I was interested in troubling  what is meant by “private” and “public” in this context.

In earlier projects I was very interested in building things that engaged notions of play, community and intimacy, but in unusual or unexpected ways.  I had mixed success with these earlier projects; it was quite difficult to actually build something that elicited the specific types of experiences I was after. Indeed, it seemed that no matter what I tried the technology would always “push-back” in new and unexpected ways.Rather than fight this “push-back” I thought of using this intriguing concept as a starting point for my final project. I wondered if I could use the indeterminacy of a technical object to create  moments of “weird intimacy.” Specifically, I wanted to play with existing social codes surrounding how to behave in public space, and structure siutations where the private is compelled to co-mingle with the public, and the distinction between individual, performer and audience is blurred.

To this end I created an object called The Chaperone--a hooded cap with an LCD screen and distance sensor mounted just below the mouth of the user. When a participant comes within ten centimeters of the sensor, the LCD turns on, a timer starts and a message is displayed for 5 seconds. If the participant continues to stand close enough to the user to keep the sensor on, a second message displays for 10 seconds. If the participant continues to stand close enough to keep the sensor on, a third message displays for 20 seconds. This process continues, with the time between messages doubling, through three more messages. If either the participant or the user looks away or moves away from each other the LCD resets, and the process begins anew. The Chaperone compels a too-close-for-comfort (less than 10 centimeter) physical interaction between user and participant, and pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable public behavior, of who it is acceptable to be physically close to, and the character of intimate moments, intimate spaces and intimate places. Read more about The Chaperone…

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