Heads-Up User Group (HUUG) Research Project

The “HUUGers”, six students from the MA English and undergraduate Systems Design Engineering programs, wore Focals by North smart glasses for three weeks while blogging about their experiences with the glasses. The participants then discussed their experiences with the glasses in a focus group.

Abstract

Augmented Reality Smart Glasses (ASRG) are a recent development in consumer-level personal computing technology. Research on ARSGs has largely focused on new forms of etiquette for these personal computing devices, but little else has been examined due in part to consumer availability. The most well-known example of an ASRG is Google Glass, which was discontinued for privacy concerns. Focals by North, the device studied in this project, do not have the capacity to record video or audio, thus mitigating the risk of privacy breaches. This study examines how users of Focals employ the device, successfully or not, to facilitate daily activities such as scheduling, communication, wayfinding, and how non-users perceive the interactions of Focals users. Focals by North, a relatively low-cost ASRG, aims to make this tech mass market to “seamlessly [blend] technology into our world” (North). However, this study found participants preferred choice when receiving notifications, and greatly questioned the need for notifications to appear in their field of vision. Though most technology companies envision a future where ASRGs are ubiquitous, this study indicates that the glasses could be utilized more effectively for specific industry or personal needs, as opposed to the general consumer.

Principal Investigator: Marcel O’Gorman

Research Assistants: Chelsea La Vecchia (MA XDM) and Alexi Orchard (MA XDM)

This project was funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, SSHRC, and North.

Focals by North

In June 2020, North was acquired by Google and production for Focals 2.0 ceased. View North’s statement and news coverage here.

Related research:

Adapa, Apurva, et al. “Factors Influencing the Adoption of Smart Wearable Devices.” International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, vol. 34, no. 5, Taylor & Francis, May 2018, pp. 399–409. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, doi:10.1080/10447318.2017.1357902.

Booth, Callum. “North’s Focals 2.0 Smart Glasses Drop in 2020 — and They’d Better Be Good.” Plugged | The Next Web, 10 Dec. 2019, https://thenextweb.com/plugged/2019/12/10/norths-focals-2-0-smart-glasses-2020/.

Carman, Ashley. “Employees Warned North That Its Focals AR Glasses Were Overpriced and Too Male-Focused.” The Verge, 23 Dec. 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/12/23/21035390/north-focals-launch-letter-executives-ar-glasses-overpriced-employee-concerns.

“North Staff Warned CEO Its Smart Glasses Were Too Expensive, Didn’t Work Well for Women.” The Logic, 23 Dec. 2019, https://thelogic.co/news/exclusive/north-staff-warned-ceo-its-smart-glasses-were-too-expensive-didnt-work-well-for-women/.

O’Gorman, Marcel. “The Techlash Is Coming.” The Globe and Mail, 28 Oct. 2018. The Globe and Mail, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-the-techlash-is-coming/.

Rauschnabel, Philipp, et al. “Augmented Reality Smart Glasses: Definition, Conceptual Insights, and Managerial Importance.” Working Paper, The University of Michigan-Dearborn, July 2015.

Rauschnabel, Philipp, and Young Ro. RAUSCHNABEL & RO: Augmented Reality Smart Glasses: An Investigation of Technology Acceptance Factors. 22 Apr. 2016. Stein, Scott. “In 2020, Smart Glasses May Start Looking Totally Normal.” CNET, https://www.cnet.com/news/in-2020-smart-glasses-may-start-looking-totally-normal/.

Virtually Enhancing the Real World with Holograms: An Exploration of Expected Gratifications of Using Augmented Reality Smart Glasses – Rauschnabel – 2018 – Psychology & Marketing – Wiley Online Library. https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.proxy.lib.uwaterloo.ca/doi/full/10.1002/mar.21106?casa_token=wy9KUWQLw7cAAAAA%3AMuM9w103EcZHNkY4ZHlG4cMCjtjLBxrVqgLORcaG7uXPFuPRLpv-oahI3CEeYqg0YlS1wYCasBZtow.

Critical Design Methods Student Project Showcase

The pieces below were submitted as final projects for Dr. Marcel O’Gorman’s ENGL701 Critical Design Methods Fall 2020 class. Despite the challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, students used a variety of media and materials to engage with the question “What is critical design?” The range of projects, some of which are presented here with their designers’ statements, drew from critical theory and a variety of research-creation practices such as speculative design, critical making, discursive design, and applied media theory to critically engage with the socio-cultural implications of technology. The results, some speculative, others provocative, offer critical and sometimes playful interventions into contemporary technoculture.

SOS – The Resistor Case, Lisa Brackenridge

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Grey cloth pouch, with the letters S, O, S written in Morse Code
Grey cloth pouch, with a resistor attached to the top flap, and photos of the maker's children on the front
Grey cloth pouch, with velcro fastener displayed, on a table next to an Arduino speaker microcontroller and an iPhone

SOS – The resistor case is an interpretation of the resistor case workshop from Marcel O’Gorman’s book Making Media Theory. Using a resistor case kit, with some adjustments and additions, my interpretation of this critical design artifact is a thought experiment about digital abstinence and making media theory. Somewhere between passive usage reports on our digital devices and more stringent lock boxes and cases (like the K-Safe orYondr pouch), the SOS uses sounds and images to encourage thought about the conversations and human interactions we may be missing, or at least limiting, when using our digital devices.

Designer: Lisa Brackenridge, MA student, Experimental Digital Media (XDM)

Knotsomuch, Carolyn Eckert

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KnotSoMuch began with twelve equal lengths of twine, folded in half with a loop and strung over the top dowel to form a Lark’s Head Knots. The twelve are then grouped into six, representing six days. I then take each group of four strings to cross and loop to form the Square Knot. Several Square Knots provide substance and form to fully identify the six days. The outer sides represent the days Sunday and Friday, and feature wooden circles with single painted beads that are meant to be my “eyes” now open and seeing the passing of time. The middle four sections feature single painted wooden beads placed before and after plain wooden beads. Each plain wooden bead represents an hour consumed that day by my digital device. Monday and Friday were shorter periods of time, whereas Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were the longest hours spent distracted by my digital device.
KnotSoMuch began with twelve equal lengths of twine, folded in half with a loop and strung over the top dowel to form a Lark’s Head Knots. The twelve are then grouped into six, representing six days. I then take each group of four strings to cross and loop to form the Square Knot. Several Square Knots provide substance and form to fully identify the six days. The outer sides represent the days Sunday and Friday, and feature wooden circles with single painted beads that are meant to be my “eyes” now open and seeing the passing of time. The middle four sections feature single painted wooden beads placed before and after plain wooden beads. Each plain wooden bead represents an hour consumed that day by my digital device. Monday and Friday were shorter periods of time, whereas Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were the longest hours spent distracted by my digital device.
The beads in KnotSoMuch are not simply the measurement of time, but can be attributed to prayer and meditation in religions from Hinduism to Catholicism. I have added a Rosary and my set of Mala mediation beads, as well as an iPod with recorded meditations, “Sleep” music and a podcast of the Rosary to aid with spending mindful time with the self. The tree branch represents nature and the healing power inherent in spending time in nature. I do get lost in the ritual of the craft of knot making and the need for patience and planning, as well as precision.
The beads in KnotSoMuch are not simply the measurement of time, but can be attributed to prayer and meditation in religions from Hinduism to Catholicism. I have added a Rosary and my set of Mala mediation beads, as well as an iPod with recorded meditations, “Sleep” music and a podcast of the Rosary to aid with spending mindful time with the self. The tree branch represents nature and the healing power inherent in spending time in nature. I do get lost in the ritual of the craft of knot making and the need for patience and planning, as well as precision.

Inspired by digital ritual and devotion, PhD student Carolyn Eckert’s KnotSoMuch is an object-to-think-with that examines our digital device devotion, in reference to mindfulness and the idea of wasted time. When she discovered that over a six-day period of time she had spent twenty-five hours scrolling aimlessly through social media, texts and emails on a mobile phone, she knew that something had to change.

The Macrame KnotSoMuch project is a visual representation and a reminder that time and attention are precious and not simply for the commoditization of our digital distractions. KnotSoMuch offers alternatives, such as prayer beads, the Rosary and an iPod with recorded music, meditations and prayers with the intention to digitally disconnect in order to connect with the self. For Jenny Odell this is a form of creative “nothing” that acts as a “political resistance to the attention economy” that allows time for solitude, observation and enjoyment of life as it unfolds, but without the capitalist commoditization (Odell 12).

A visual representation of alternatives to digital device devotion that offers creative mindfulness and rejuvenation of the self. This piece also highlights craft-making as an alternative to technological productivity and as a way to manage or find balance from the distractions of our devices.

Designer: Carolyn Eckert, PhD Student, English Language and Literature

Exercises in Critical Making, Heather Eustace

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A case designed to hold a cell phone, made out of vinyl, duct-tape and rivets, with a resistor fastened to the top.
Conductive playdough shaped like hands
A basket woven from vinyl strips, with a Grove-LCD screen, attached to an Arduino microcontroller. The screen reads "Phone: I miss you."
A laser-cut wooden box with words scrawled over it like "danger", "do not use", and a toggle switch set to the "off" position

Exercises in Critical Making: The following projects are taken from Making Media Theory, by Marcel O’Gorman. They are exercises in Critical Making a DIY approach to Critical Design. These projects use the assemblage of small circuits, coding and other more historical practises of making to bring up issues around technology.  These projects are critically informed, active and often interactive objects meant to provoke thought. The tactile nature of the work involved in producing these projects engages the mind with the bodily experience of the materials and opens different channels for exploration through problem solving. This type of work involves a great amount of focused attention. To sustain attention cell phone notifications were silenced when making. The final product is not meant to stand alone to communicate the ideas uncovered through the building process, rather it is the process itself that is valuable.

  1. Smartphone Basket/ Codependent Relationship: This project involves the meditative historical process of weaving a basket. This is juxtaposed with the act of programing a digital screen that attached to the basket. The contrasting types of labour involved in making this project led to contemplation on technology and its effects on body and mind. When a cell phone is placed in the basket the screen quips needy messages to the phone’s owner highlighting a codependent relationship.
  2. Conductive Dough/ Monstrous Hands: This project uses the insulating quality of salty playdough and the resistive quality of sweet playdough to complete a circuit illuminating 2 LED lights. The dough was sculpted into hands initially to evoke making with the hands. The crudeness of the sculpted hands at once brought to mind Dr. Frankenstein’s monster an idea that was accentuated by the electrical current running through them. The connection to Frankenstein raises many issues associated with creating in one’s image: whose image? – For one, and also the short comings of human centric thinking, especially in regards to our current climate crisis.
  3. The Useless Box: This project involved assembling an electronic kit of a box whose sole purpose is to turn itself off. This clever comment on technological abstinence is both humorous and poignant. The drawings on the outside of the box boost its punch line with warning labels calling on the myth of Pandora’s Box. It highlights human curiosity and temptation as well as the notion of the taboo.
  4. The Anxiety of Resisting: The purpose of this project is to create a case for your cell phone that makes it difficult to access. During the process of constructing this case the cell phone was measured to be sure it would fit neatly inside. Handling the phone during construction highlights the impulse to respond to incoming notifications. This condition led to a breach in technological abstinence due to worry and anxiety over missing something important. This breach is ironic in the context of the project and illustrates the challenges of unplugging.

Prometheus, Aleksander Franiczek

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Prometheus is a “Discourse Reflection Game” designed to encourage engineers to reflect on the potential social and ethical consequences of tech designs. It’s a narratively-driven, text-based game with gameplay that requires players to make discursively engaged dialogue choices with three different characters from a diverse set of backgrounds. By immersing players in the role of a fictional engineer, the game is intended to function as a reflective tool that demands an engagement with design that is less concerned about commercial value and optimization and more focused on recognizing how tech designs shape human experience.

With Prometheus, I didn’t want to make a game that is overtly didactic. At the same time that it is supposed to prompt critical reflection, it is also supposed to be enjoyable to converse with the characters. The player can express themselves in a variety of ways which will have different impacts on the conversations, and each of these outcomes provides alternative perspectives on the discursive implications of tech design and the characters’ perspectives on the practice.

Designer: Aleksander Franiczek, English Language and Literature PhD Student

EarthBand, Christopher Rogers

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Screenshot of the "About" page for the fictional blog "A blog in the Park", describing the fictional author, Jeremy, who works at Deep Lake National Park
Screenshot of fictional blog "A blog in the Park", on the page asking visitors to sign a petition to stop the sale of Earthband
Screenshot of fictional blog "A blog in the Park", on the page titled "My Final Post: Habitat Loss Hurts us All, Let's start truly making the connection"

This was a “Black Mirror” style critical design project that attempted to highlight how disconnected we are to the world around us. In this fictional scenario, EarthBand is a wearable device developed in collaboration between a big tech company (FriendlyTech) and an environmentalist working at a national park. EarthBand’s main goal is to help users connect with ‘nonhumans’ by heightening our natural senses and dulling our phone notifications.  

The wearable device has a number of components that let users experience their connections to nature differently. The hope is to help people become more aware of their entanglements with the world around them, and to cultivate a better sense of shared responsibility for the planet (especially in the face of climate change). This all seems well and good, but things don’t go according to plan. During the launch event, national parks and precious natural habitats are destroyed by the very people supposedly interested in EarthBand’s benefits.  

This speculative scenario is presented through the environmentalist’s personal blog, including videos, protype sketches, and fictional news clippings: A Blog in the Park

Earthband video sample: https://youtu.be/qb9gCeM8mxU 

Designer: Christopher Rogers, MA Student, MA student, Experimental Digital Media (XDM)

A Program for Posthuman Fitness

By Andy Myles, MA XDM

Transcending the limits of our fleshy husks: this attitude – that the fitness and wellness industry uses to target you – has a lot to do with how we got into this mess in the first place. But that’s not what this guide means by “posthuman.” Rather, it’s about understanding the consequences (for individuals, each other, and the world) that we’ve inherited through traditional ideas about humanity.

The guide proceeds by reading a series of terms common to exercise science and philosophy against each other, to critique the subjects, attitudes, and tools that make up modern fitness. A series of vlogs supplements these readings, speculating on how such ideas can be put into movement.

Anxious attachments felt towards exercise – judging every passerby on whether they even lift, counting every rep and calorie, pursuing thicc bootygains – How did we get here? What is worth leaving behind? And how might we imagine things differently?

#canstopmightstop #doyouevenreflect?

Infrastructural 8-bit Games

For ENGL 799, Winter 2019: Critical Media Infrastructures, students submitted mini projects composed of several parts: they selected old pieces of media or technology that are no longer in use, created miniature Bitsy games that highlight aspects of the selected device’s infrastructural histories, subjects, or contexts.

Sid Heeg, Farming Evolved

“Farming Evolved” is an exploration of how the dairy farm landscape has changed in the past century with changes in technology. From the traditional milk can to the robotic milkers, discover how work demands on the farm have changed by exploring three different dairy farm layouts.

AC Atienza, Directional Input Museum

Many people assume that new tech is strictly better than old tech, but is this always the case? The first game is a test of two ways of inputting directions, while the second is an exploratory museum. These games celebrate the different ways we’ve historically selected directions in videogames, and asks what kind of economy, social system, user demographic, etc may encourage the revival of tech we thought were “old”. Could your next project benefit from re-adopting one of these systems?

Play part two here.

Emily Acton, Pokemon Junk Drawer

Pokémon Junk Drawer explores the problems of planned obsolescence in videogame hardware. Drawing from the central “catch ’em all” ethos of the iconic Pokémon Red, players embark on a quest to repair the protagonist’s old gaming console, collecting electronic “junk” along the way. “Pokémon Junk Drawer” seeks to ask: how long can the owner of a videogame enjoy their property before it dies? And, once it breaks, how far will the player have to go to sustain their former experience?

Lia Black, No Print Media

No Print Media! interrogates the transition from print to digital forms and the invisibility of digital forms’ underlying infrastructure. While digital forms avoid the deforestation and oil consumption in the production of print media, they are not devoid of environmental implications. No Print Media! draws the player’s attention to these implications, not to make a statement about whether print or digital forms are preferable, but rather to raise consumer awareness of the underlying processes behind these digital forms.

Brian Freiter, Museum of Typewriter History

Learn about technologies that culminate in the form of the modern keyboard. See what worked and what did not.

Technically Buddhist

By Megan Honsberger, XDM MA Graduate.

From the state which pioneered Zen Buddhism, California’s Silicon Valley has a new spiritual beacon: mindfulness. Technically Buddhist calls attention to the curious instances of technical products and experiences seeking to remedy the ‘disconnect’ of technoculture using decontextualized Buddhist philosophy and digital technology itself.

For this installation, an augmented reality app, 3D modelled Buddha, and traditional elements of a Japanese dry landscape garden embody the profound juxtaposition of situating the sacred within our screens. The interactive environment asks the user to respond using a variety of tools and devices, including and especially their own body/mind. As a technique, this project invites the user to find “Buddha in the Machine” (Williams) and reflect on their own digital rituals.

Special thanks to Swanson’s Home Hardware and Stone Landscapes for graciously donating materials for this project.

Waterloo Region Cyborgs

By Miraya Groot, XDM MA Graduate.

  • Click for full image.

How do pedestrians’ behaviours differ when they pass through Victoria Park versus Charles Street Terminal? Sitting in eighteen outdoor locations across Waterloo Region’s three cities, I observed over 50 paths where cyborgs revealed themselves. The resulting speculative data enables the comparison of digital technology usage in various urban environments. Ultimately, Waterloo Region Cyborgs aims not to answer whether we should be using our devices in urban space, but to philosophically explore how human subjectivity changes as we are increasingly defined as “users” – of both digital technology and city space.

 

https://waterlooregioncyborgs.wordpress.com

mindflUX

By Megan Honsberger, XDM MA Graduate.

With the advent of wearable technology like fitness trackers, XDM student Megan Honsberger’s mindflUX explores what it means to be online and continuously connected. mindflUX combines a capacitive touch sensor bracelet with visualizations from neopixels which show how often and when an individual uses their device.

Sleep Mode

By Julie Funk, XDM MA Graduate.

Sleep Mode is a digital media project for those who are so connected to their phones
they take them to bed. This project emphasizes how attached we have become to our
mobile devices, and the separation anxiety we feel when those devices are
inaccessible. Sleep Mode asks users to put their smartphones in the locking case and
listen to your phone’s beating heart.

Greyfield/Brightfield

By Julie Funk, XDM MA Graduate.

In Canada, “A greyfield classification is applied to shopping malls with less than CDN $150 in sales per square foot [per year] and a vacancy rate of at least 10-15% (Parlette and Cowen 2011). A greyfield indicates a dead space. An infrastructure void of life. Inspired by the dead mall phenomenon of the twentieth century, this project is interested in practices of spatial interaction that “misuse” or subvert the intent of the space’s original design.

Greyfield/Brightfield asks the user to engage critically with their everyday spacial practices. Using Henri Lefebvre’s spatial theory from The Production of Space, this project situaties itself at the disjuncture between representational space (the ideological or symbolic), represented space (the engineered and designed), and spatial practice (the everyday use of space). Users are asked to engage with the digital display, with their movements being used to control the color saturation of the screen, as a way to think about how the interface changes the way they interact with the space.

Pacetaker

By Julie Funk, XDM MA Graduate.

Pace-Taker is a bio-art and digital media art project that challenges the user to recognize their own feelings of anxiety through interaction with digital technology. Borrowing the notion of “pleasing anxiety” from Soren Kierkegaard’s ontotheological work, The Concept of Anxiety, Pace-Taker aims to create an experience of mindful anxiety by emphasizing the disconnect between the user’s material physicality and the virtuality of digital technology.

Pace-Taker valourizes the corporeality of the user as it asks the viewer to become aware of the somatic responses to these digital anxieties. Centering the biological heart as a metaphor for the human, this project creates various environments of anxiety as the user defines and redefines their somatic relation to digital technology, challenging them to consider this anxiety as “pleasing” or mindful, and urging the user to consider these technologies through more esoteric and speculative conceptions.