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.


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.

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?

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.




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.


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.


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.


By Caitlin Woodcock, XDM MA Graduate.

Take your non-use on-the-go with iAbstain. Place your phone in the mobile carrier and proudly display your choice to actively resist the distractions of digital technology. While your phone is out of use, its battery will slowly deplete, allowing you to focus on the world beyond the screen. Go hands-free and see what else you can pick up.

Basket Case

By Caitlyn Woodcock, XDM MA Graduate.

Inspired by local Mennonite communities, XDM student Caitlin Woodcock’s BasketCase is an experiment in digital abstinence. When a mobile phone is placed in the handwoven basket, a sensor measures how long it rests there. When the phone is removed, the screen displays a percentage comparing the length of time the device rested to the length of time it took to weave the basket (about 20 hours). This piece highlights craft-making as an alternative to technological productivity and as a way to combat the distractions of our devices.