How do we ….really count and translate numbers?

Laser cut drawing of upset stomach 22" x 30" | Laurie Frick

Have been working hard on the concept of a unique patterned language for self-tracking. There has to be a metaphorical language that translates primal patterns of ourselves. Something far from data visualization or graphical output of data.

I think the way to come at this is to find a more instinctual approach to numerical cognition. Read about the Amazon tribe that can only count to five – we learn linear representation of numbers from using rulers, tape measures and simple arithmetic….turns out our brains can accurately recognize one, two, three and then it gets fuzzy.  Large numbers are totally abstract in our heads, a million, a billion…how many trillion was the (fill-in the blank) war/bailout/deficit?

Young kids estimate numbers on something closer to a logarithmic scale, small quantities are far apart, and then large numbers squish together as they get larger.  Just read ‘Number Sense: how the mind creates mathematics-updated’ by S. Dehaene – he is THE GUY for numerical cognition.  And Alex Bellos “Here’s looking at Euclid’ – interesting, easy ….reads like a Malcolm Gladwell book.

We humans look for patterns, like puzzles, have an intuition for simple arithmetic – there has to be a more intuitive way to convey personal tracking data about ourselves than the line charts and graphs that the gadget companies serve up.  

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      Wearables versus there-ables.

      What if we’ve got it all wrong?

      What if we’re not actually supposed to wear all sorts of technology on our bodies and on our clothes? What if we didn’t have to / weren’t meant to carry our technology with us as we moved around town?

      What if the technology was actually already in the room when we got there? Maybe that’s the kind of Internet-of-things that will be more sustainable and will win long-term.

      We already have early indications that this is a product category that is succeeding and sees more engagement long-term than the types we carry around. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve personally experienced or heard anecdotes about the typical wearable drop-off: you stop using a device or service after four to six weeks of breaking-in. On the other hand, the most successful types of hardware I’ve seen recently are Nest Thermostat and Withings Wi-Fi Scale, both of which you plug in and use, perhaps not multiple times a day, but every once in a while for many days and years to come.

      It’s true that both tap into something that we were doing for years as opposed to having us learn about and track something new. (The Nest tracks temperature; the Withings, weight). But there are other smart devices that are around the corner that fit my proposal too: a bed that tracks you and vibrates to wake you up gently; a smart toilet or shower that tracks your body’s physiology, diet and illnesses; a smart kitchen that…well, you get the picture.

      That’s not to say that wearables have no place in our future – perhaps the way they should evolve is to become really cheap, incredibly dumb single-feature sensors that actually need another layer like our phone or like a pairing with a there-able device.

      Wearables know it’s us because we exclusively wear them and sync them with our phones. That’s the authentication: our phones and the identity handoff that resides in that exchange.

      There-ables infer identity based on how you interact with them. There-ables know it’s us because, well, they are smarter: Nest knows our heat signature. Withings knows our body composition.

      There-ables have fewer power restrictions; they’re often just plugged right into the power grid and, therefore, don’t need to have batteries charged everyday.

      Meanwhile, by being battery powered, wearables can be smaller, cheaper and more abundant all over your body. Perhaps wearables can become like the zippers in our clothing: cheap enough and standardized enough to be in basically every piece of clothing we have on. Or perhaps wearables will take the form of the “smart pill” we keep hearing about: you take it and the results are later calculated by your futuristic toilet and zoomed to the cloud for review.

      Here’s a final thought in this argument: that we may not want to carry more than one device with us when we move around. Currently, that is our phone. Yes, it’s a whole bunch of other things too (wallet, keys, …) but, more than likely, these things will all just continue to collapse into one thing: our phone.

      And then maybe, besides our phones, the best technology is one that’s already present where we are going.

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      Walk around my neighborhood in Brooklyn #quantifiedself - in pattern. “Walk52”

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      A walk and steps captured in cut paper. #quantifiedself

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  • Short-short Statement

    The work pulls from my background in engineering and high-technology to explore science, human pattern and self-tracking.

  • The art of self-surveillance

    I’ve been experimenting with a future where everything about us can be instantly measured and significantly added to my daily regimen to develop a patterned vocabulary and language for self-tracking. Steps walked, calories expended, weight, sleep cycles, time-online, activities, location, daily mood, micro-journal of food ingested are all part of my daily tracking -- simple and easy to collect using iphones and gadgets that point toward a time where complete self-surveillance is the norm.

    Numbers are abstract concepts but we recognize pattern intuitively. I’m experimenting with wall size patterns that anticipate the condition of our daily-selves. Very soon walls and spaces we occupy will be filled with easy to decode patterns – a visual record of how we feel, stress level, mood, bio-function captured, digitally recorded and physically produced using 3D printers and lasercutters. Human data portraits transcribed as pattern from the all the sensor data collected about us.

    Will it kill the mystery of being human, simply magnify our defects or will sensors and a mass of measurements acknowledge and present patterns of self-examination that lure us into a future of self-quantification that is irresistible?

  • Neuroscience?

    I’m convinced the way we unconsciously slice our time, waking and sleeping reflects the underlying structure of our mind. Capturing time-based activities is a way to reverse-engineer subtle underlying brain rhythms. Each work and installation I make is an experiment to find the exact resonant rhythm which tracks the underlying spaces and neural patterns of our mind. Not a total fantasy, this follows from an emerging theory in neuroscience.

  • More about Sleep

    All the good stuff happens while you sleep. If you’re sick, you heal. You build procedural memory, grow taller, resolve conflict, reorder and organize all long-term memory. Recently I’ve learned you dream in all stages, not just REM sleep. I’ve been measuring my nightly sleep using a ZEO eeg headband for over 3 years and have in excess of 900 nights of sleep data. There is a definite pattern to the brainwaves, with much more activity than you’d imagine. It’s ragged with shorter bursts of deep sleep and REM sleep than I thought. I wake up a lot. My brain is pretty busy during sleep -- clearly, sleep rhythms are not so different than waking rhythms.

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