In The Air_Augmented Control

18th March 2013

Humans used to be a species of hunters, always on the move and ready for fight or flight. Nowadays we spend more of our time online and in sedentary modes, leading to a lack of physicality and a natural hormone imbalance. As a result, our digital future sense of wellbeing and body consciousness is changing. Our natural endorphins have to be stimulated in new ways. With advancement comes evolution and with evolution comes change. Our technological evolution has meant that we are in some ways defying nature, pushing ourselves, and our bodies to new limits. We are no longer dependent on nature’s or our biological rhythms, but instead rely on technological rhythms that accelerate our lives, allowing us to work all hours and be in any place at any time. We are constantly accelerating our pace of life as well as extraordinarily enhancing our cognitive functions. With this 'always on' lifestyle we are forgetting to switch off and in order to push ourselves we are supplementing with a new kind of control. Within this control we are almost defying nature and subverting the commonplace ideal of ‘natural’ by constantly pushing for the optimization of perceived perfection.

Man has defined life based on rhythms, using time, clocks and agendas. Although we still relate to day and night, sleep and wakefulness, moon and tides, we no longer adhere to the natural rhythms that nature bestowed upon us. In an attempt to cheat nature, we are pushing our capabilities to consistently do more, at a faster pace. Medicine and technology are merging, resulting in the rise of tailored therapies and projects that permit increasing synchronization with the requirements of modern society, thanks to body regulators and stimulating devices. Exploring the idea of the circadian rhythm – our own internal body clock, textile designer Julie Yonehara has created innovative lumino-therapy eyewear accessories to help rebalance the body. Through light and color, her facial filters help users maximize efficiency or minimize jetlag. Projecting the body into a future digital world, Extra Endorphin Suppliers by Hélène Combal-Weiss produce a natural substance known to chemically provide the feeling of wellbeing. Similarly, emotional highs and lows are needed in order to maintain equilibrium. Revital Cohen’s emotion calibrator connects to the eye to measure and orchestrate crying in order to guarantee emotional consistency. Referring to a clinical trial that suggests applying women’s tears to men’s upper lips in order to decrease their testosterone levels, Angela Bracco envisions a future where synthetic tears could be produced and converted into a ‘tear mist’ that could be pumped into certain high-conflict environments, like war zones or prisons, to calm groups of men. Based on a speculative scenario,Ai Hasegawa's Extreme Environment Love Hotel copies the atmosphere of the surface of Jupiter. Without gravity, the surface could offer humans an optimized environment for reproduction and evolution of the human body.

Medicine is one of the main drivers of innovation. As digital technology progressively enters into the orbit of the medical world it will lead people to take control and monitor their own health. Dr. Eric Topol believes the Smartphone is the future of medicine and with an increasing number of medical apps, mobiles are becoming portable medical devices. Inspired by this future, designers are redefining the concept of health products and monitoring, where health will be more participative and affordable at home. An early Philips Design Probe explored a future where the organs are represented in 3D and shows the repercussions of one’s lifestyle over a lifetime. It aims to make people become more responsible and aware of their choices. Synthetic Immune System by Tuur Van Balen embodies the idea of making healthcare more accessible and personal. Suggesting a future where we become our own doctors, a series of biosensors will allow individuals to make their own diagnoses. He suggests that we may even be able to externalize our immune systems by outsourcing metabolic functions to microorganisms such as yeast that will then sense and diagnose anomalies in the body and in turn create synthetic immune systems using advances in synthetic biology.

As the primary driver of our fast paced lifestyles, technology is now being used as a tool to solve the problem it provoked in the first place. Technology is evolving and our relationship with it is becoming more symbiotic resulting in a role change in our lives. A new technological movement is emerging, called the quantified self. People interested in self-tracking and personal infomatics are readily reaching for technology to use for tracking information. These self-quantifiers are gathering data on everything from sleep to the moments in the day when they were happy or sad so that it is possible to control oneself. Exploring this new level of technology and the psychoactive effects it could have is Ludwig Zeller. Through his projects he considers how future generations will deal with cognitive deterioration. Introspectre is a neurological monitoring tool that helps to compensate troubles of concentration. It assists the user to stay attentive on one unique task and aims to reconnect with slow activities. Dromolux is a speed-reading trainer that helps to fight mental decay. Marie-Virginie Berbet’s Empathy Box provides assistance in relaxation and stress management by detecting the user's heartbeat and materializing it through light. The visualization of the inner state makes the user take notice of their own body and regulate it using breathing exercises, for example. Looking to control the mind with technological assistance, Beam Me Down by Sitraka Rakotoniaina creates a self-induced amnesia via hyperventilation in case of an emotional or physical overload. It can help trigger short-term memory loss in an effort to control an unwanted situation.

Our fast-paced contemporary world is shaping modern society – not one driven by religion per se, but one where the priority is finding a place both physically and mentally to stop and be calm. Mental peace has undoubtedly become an essential quest for human balance. Regarding this growing philosophy, designers are looking to new meditative practices provided by experiences or tools. To counterbalance the chaos of Milan Design week, multidisciplinary Studio Toogood organized La Cura, as a therapeutic performance. In this hospital for the senses, the audience was given a white clay ball to shape, representing their mood while experiencing the intimate space that was flooded with calming light, smell and sound. Using a series of toys for adults, Ingrid Hulskamp, aims to bring contemplation into our daily lives. Precious hand-blown glass vessels filled with liquids and pigments reconnect us with simple and poetic enchantments and aim to recall the open-mindedness of childhood. Hitherto, technology has been developed in order to augment cognitive functions and accelerate productivity but it seems it is now going in a holistic direction. Digital could be increasingly used as a tool of relaxation. Ludwig Zeller imagined Optocoupler, an isolation chamber that slows down the user's brain activity through audiovisual stimuli.

Emotions are very instinctual, and often hard to control, but now a series of designers are exploring emotions in order to push the boundaries of self-control. Using the narrative of design fictions, designers have the ability to translate the extraordinary into a kind of reality. Such projects put people in unexpected contexts and make them experience the hyper-normal and the impossible. By placing people in surreal contexts, designers such as Nelly Ben Hayoun take the control of our emotions. She aims to involve common people in science and confront them with the unexpected. Soyuz Chair is a common living-room chair, which reproduces the different stages of a rocket launch. Escape from 20,000 Leagues Below the Sea is based on a similar idea of being confronted with an exciting and stressing context. Studio Good One is a speculative design collective that proposes being contained by a fictional submarine to defy our potential fears of extreme depth and isolation.

Pushing our senses into another realm and exploring the boundaries that our planet imposes on us, such as gravity, designers are re-evaluating how we perceive our environment. Placing some of the control back with us, they are subverting the norm in order to experience space alternatively. Using rudimentary props they propose to play with perception. Exploring the notion of gravity and the influence it has on the body, Multi-Gravity was developed by students of HEAD in Geneva during a workshop led by El Ultimo Grito and Auger-Loizeau and shown during Milan Design Week 2012. The camera captures participant’s faces morphing due to the incline of a rotating chair. Marjan Van Aubel a student in MA Design Products at the RCA, built a pair of mirror glasses that provide full vision directed towards the sky. This disorienting experience was explored during a lecture about clouds from The Cloud Society, providing a new perspective on Hyde Park, London. Similarly, designers Sitraka Rakotoniaina and Gerard Rallo have designed a series of periscopes providing a 360˚ vision that offers an out of body experience. The Inversion Glasses, also by HEAD, are used to navigate through an inverted experience, re-orienting the user’s point of view. Participants followed a path on the ceiling using the mirror on the glasses to push the boundaries of their ability to trust themselves and their perception. Sandra Fruebing’s project proposes alternative experiences towards space by establishing new ways of walking, floating and rolling on angled or uneven surfaces thanks to elementary wooden add-ons.

Advances in genetics and our understanding of DNA has led to some great medical discoveries, but has also meant that DNA databases are controlled by institutions and governments. This level of control means we are still only beginning to understand what this means to our health and reproduction in the future. Taking a particularly critical viewpoint is Jaeyeop Kim. A fictional event, Dr. Weiskind’s Day promotes the sharing and matching of genetic information for medical, genealogical and dating purposes. With widespread sperm donation, the potential for siblings to meet and reproduce in the future is increasing and this project suggests a future where we will be able to test ourselves in order to reduce what is being coined as ‘accidental incest’. On the fictional Dr. Weiskind’s Day, people share edible gifts and greetings cards and genetic pendants that encourage users to share their genetic data. Illustrated through her Genetic First Aid Cabinet and considering issues of genetic harvesting, critical designer Natsai Chezai’s Biocolletibles provokes the debate on a future market for genetic products that leads to the possibility of our bodies being ‘Future Farms’. In a similar vein, Kristina Cranfield has devised a fictional legal case titled GENE CHP- 48/0Z-378 where human tissue becomes a legal battle between governments and corporations, where the state assumes ownership of a person as they carry a rare genetic DNA make-up that is owned by a global leader in human genetics.

From an individual to the whole of humanity, projects such as these highlight a shift in our evolution – from one ruled by nature, to one ruled by the possibilities of technology. Many of these projects highlight the evidence that we are entering into an era of transformation and taking control of nature and our environment in an entirely new way. By linking the natural and the manmade, we are turning ourselves into the perfect beings, one perhaps led by hyper-nature and perhaps with touches of superhuman qualities. In our digital future we will take control of our well-being and body consciousness. This abundance of technology is leading to us becoming hyper-humans, bio-calibrated entities, taking control and cheating our natural selves.

Published July 2012 © Reproduced with kind permission of