Dishita Turakhia + Scott Penman
In today’s age of ubiquitous advertising, we are constantly bombarded by bits of information vying for our attention. The “noise” of our environment has reached a fever pitch for almost all of our senses. While our sensory modalities are designed to efficiently filter out much of the sensory data that reaches us and focus only on the relevant information, we believe that combining this filtering process with technology in a human-machine symbiotic intervention can help augment our ability to focus – and, in turn, help us kick the bad habit of constantly diverting our attention to technology. Our intervention is an eyewear that is designed to block the user’s view whenever he or she is distracted by mobile phones. The eyewear recognizes when the user looks at the mobile phone screens and actively shuts the eyewear lenses.
MOTIVATION + BACKGROUND WORK
While technology and gadgets like mobile phones assist in efficient task management and ceaseless connectivity, the downside of this pervasive technology is evident in our daily lives. Our phones pose a constant distraction in various contexts like driving, social gathering, personal/romantic bonding or even family get-togethers. This distraction can have adverse repercussions in our social lives but also result in a habitual lack of focus and shortened attention span.
Our goal is to use technology to augment user focus by blocking distractions. Reality is already suffused with information, so our aim is to clarify it, rather than complicate it.
Another motivation driving this project is to assist children suffering from ADHD. According to a study two million more children in the United States have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and one million more U.S. children were taking medication for ADHD over an 8 year period (2003-2004 to 2011-2012). In 2011-2012, 11 percent of U.S. children 4-17 years of age had been diagnosed with ADHD. Nearly one in five high school boys and one in 11 high school girls in the United States were reported by their parents as having been diagnosed with ADHD by a healthcare provider. This device can be used to enable focused study hours, especially for children struggling with the difficulty to concentrate on a given task.
In addition to being a focus-enabling device, we envisioned this gear as an artifact that gives a social message in the technologically-savvy society. The act of lens shutting was deliberately made performative by coupling it with red lights that flash to demand attention both from the user (for being distracted) and from people around (to make them realize that the user is trying to focus).
One of the inspirations that motivated our work was Nicolas Damiens’ Tokyo No Ads. In this work, Damiens photoshops all of the visible advertisements out of typical Tokyo street scenes, and presents them as before-and-after animations. In doing so, he provokes the viewer to consider: What would life be like without ads? What if we could visibly “tune them out”?
The concept of a device that enforces concentration by isolating surrounding sensory noise was creatively applied in Hugo Gernsback’s The Isolator. This multimodal work from 1925 involved both hearing and vision, as it rendered the user deaf and restricted vision to tiny apertures. Oxygen is piped in via tube.
We also were inspired by the design used in Cyrus Kabiru’s sculptures. Kabiru creates these works from trash that he finds in his hometown of Nairobi. His work is part art, part performance, part stress-relieving humor-therapy. On top of exemplifying human-machine symbiosis, we see our eye gear as an art piece that makes a socially relevant statement of awareness about pervasive technology.
DESIGN AND IMPLEMENTATION
The diagram for the system is simple. The decision of what to filter (in this case, cell phones) is offloaded to a CPU. A webcam captures what the user is seeing; that information is passed to the CPU, which determines whether or not a cell phone is present; and this ON/OFF decision is sent via Arduino to two servo motors that raise and lower lenses at the front of the armature. The device is thus a filtering interface that recognizes distractions and blocks the user from diverting their attention away from object of focus.
Our early prototypes of this used a pair of sunglasses as the armature, with paper shapes for lenses.
The final version was made from lasercut plexiglass and designed such that the webcam and servo motors (and accompanying wires) were properly attached to the armature.
The lenses were cut from cardstock and folded like a fan. This way, they could be discretely folded up into the armature when closed, and expanded out to fill the lens space when open.
In addition to these this, we chose to make the design of the eyewear very visually “loud.” We did this to provoke discussion around the idea of public accountability – do we break habits faster when the world can monitor our progress? To heighten this, we included two red LEDs that glow upon activation of the mechanism, illuminating the armature.
In our usage scenario, we have a student that is trying to study for her final exam. She grows tired of this, however, and attempts to look at her phone for entertainment. The eyewear notices the phone in her vision and promptly shuts the lenses. Only when she looks away (and back at her book) do the lenses retract.
CONCLUSION AND FUTURE WORK
We have provided a provocation-of-concept in the form of eyewear that transforms to publicly block the wearer’s vision when he or she looks at a phone. This project is part of a larger vision: by cognitively offloading our filtering ability to machines, we can actively tune out what we consider to be “noise” in our lives, and enjoy the augmented quiet that results.
This framework (offloading the decision to filter to a machine that has the ability to do so) can easily be extended within vision as well as to other modalities. In addition, with smarter filters (or even classifying neural networks or other advanced artificial intelligence mechanisms) added to the system, more robust filtering definitions could be described. We provide the following scenarios as imaginative extensions:
“I don’t want to see anything other than my book while I’m studying.”
“I want to focus on the road while I’m driving.”
“I only want to hear positive thoughts today.”
In addition to addressing the adverse effects of ceaseless connective technology, we also aim to use this device to create interpersonal empathetic connection, by enforcing people to focus on each other and not be distracted. In today’s digital age, as we become more and more shielded from direct confrontation with alternative opinions, we become more and more critical of them, engaging an egocentric cycle that results in a complete loss of empathy. But perhaps, instead of hindering our ability to be humane and sensitive, this gear can augment it.
Collins, Franklin M. 2014. “The Relationship between Social Media and Empathy.” http://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/etd/1150/.