Wear It, festival for wearable electronics and arts in Berlin | Josh Berson

By November 3, 2014Blog

In light of the hype surrounding wearable computing it seems astonishing that it should have taken until now for Berlin to see a “festival for wearable electronics and arts.” On my desk, as I write, sit a pair of sample units from Misfit, a startup manufacturer of wearable actimeters. Misfit’s device, the Shine, is a triaxial accelerometer in an IPX8-rated housing (i.e., certified for continuous immersion—you can swim with it) that communicates with a handset via low-power Bluetooth. It classifies locomotion by mode and speed (walking, running, swimming), and Misfit is conducting trials to assess its value as a proxy for polysomnographic recording of sleep architecture. This is already the third or fourth generation of this type of consumer wearable instrumentation, and it represents just the earliest phase of rapidly growing market.

That’s what’s happening on the commercial side. On the Maker side, things remain substantially lower-key. At Wear It, presenters discussed their experiments with woven conductive fibers and hardware rapid prototyping platforms such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and [Flora]. Design exercises were geared toward instrumenting clothing to glow above threshold angular momentum, or to orient wearers to geospatial points of interest via GPS. Designers’ sense of what wearable instrumentation is good for diverged substantially from how this kind of instrumentation is portrayed in consumer wellness media. This presents an interesting problem for Hubbub.

At the Hubbub kickoff meeting on 9–10 October there was considerable talk about inclusivity and epistemological pluralism: How can we include people from a broad range of backgrounds and life circumstances in the project, above all people who tend to get marginalized in policymaking surrounding public health and the design of the built environment? How can we incorporate a broader range of knowledge-making frameworks into the project than is typical of medical research, however widely construed? What would be the practical effects, beneficial or otherwise, of taking seriously strategies of interpreting data—whether that data comes from brain imaging, psychonomic instruments, experience sampling, or body-borne instrumentation—that do not mesh well with interpretive rubrics accepted within the various scientific disciplines?

The problem is familiar to me from my work with the polyphasic sleeping community: What is the relationship between what my polyphasic interlocutors have taken to calling “sleep tension” and what sleep medicine refers to as “sleep pressure”? How should I interpret the hypothesis, offered by one respondent interested in transitioning to a polyphasic schedule with no early morning “core sleep”, that the key to maximizing naptime sleep tension, that is, being able to drop into one’s nap on demand, might be to build up a resistance to melatonin? Does this represent a plausible, if extreme, interpretation of the conflicting evidence on circadian variance in sleep propensity, or is it simply crazy? Do I have a responsibility to intervene?