The Magnetic Sense

To add to Vaughan’s post about cyborg senses the other day, here’s another group experimenting with new ways of perceiving the world. Steve Haworth and Jesse Jarrell are body modification artists, and one of their clients was Todd Huffman, who has had a small magnet implanted in the tip of his finger.

In an interview with Todd, The Gift of Magnetic Vision (some pictures on this site are not for the squeamish), he describes how this magnet isn’t just a trick and what “seeing” magnetic fields feels like:

There are two distinct feelings I get from fields. For a static field, like a bar magnet, it feels like a smooth pressure. Imagine running your hand slowly through lukewarm water, and brushing your finger across the top of a large invisible marshmallow. That is the closest description I can give. Oscillating fields, such as electric motors, security devices, transformers, et cetera, vibrate the magnet. This sensation is much more sensitive and noticeable.

Having the magnet implant makes his understanding of the world more visceral:

Another time I opened a can of cat food for my girlfriend’s pets, and I sensed the electric motor running. My hand was about six inches away from the electric can opener, and I was able to sense where the motor was inside of the assembly. Again it brought my attention to a magnetic source that I understood intellectually, but would have otherwise been unaware of.

The interview also covers other supersenses Todd is thinking about, and the relation of this kind of experimentation to new computer interfaces–which is subject I find fascinating.

Interfaces of all kinds, whether it’s burglar alarms, televisions or computer screens, present information in a very factual way and in a way that’s intended for intellectual understanding. But compare that to the ambient understanding we have of the rest of the world around us: reading somebody’s scribbled note also carries a hurried sense; a car getting a flat or needing an oil change will drive differently; a glance along the spice rack will influence your shopping list. Our regular senses work on both attentive and preperceptive channels… so why do our technological systems so often stick to the former? And is it possible to transform the previously invisible – like magnetic fields – into senses we can use? This is what academic subjects like ubiquitous computing and ubicomp computer-human interaction are attacking, on technological and design fronts. But it seems that the folks really breaking new ground are the body-mod crowd.

Link to The Gift of Magnetic Vision.

Are our memories suffering from our reliance on gadgets?

So I’m in this month’s edition of Wired, just a short quote. Since it’s here and it’s now I’ve reproduced the full quote I sent them below:

> I’m looking for a response to this question: “Are tools like Google and PDAs
> ruining our ability to remember things?”

So we have this amazing brain which constantly scans our environment and seeks out short-cuts. New bits of tech, like google or mobile phones, stop being strange very quickly (even though, truely, they’re just incredible. Unthinkable just a few years ago). They get absorbed, become artifical information-processing prosthetics. Are they making us forget things? Sure, we’re forgetting the things they allow us not to have to remember. But when we use something, or design something, we get a choice about what it asked us to remember. My mobile phone means the only numbers i remember are the ones i deliberately haven’t put in their so i’m forced to learn them. Not knowing any phone numbers is fine – as long as i don’t lose my phone. Then it becomes a bit of a problem.

But phone numbers are hard to learn anyway – a hang-up from an old technology. The situation is completely reversed for getting in touch with people through the web. Knowing the URL or email isn’t so useful – it might change. But with Google, knowing a person’s name (exactly the piece of information you store in your phone to allow you to forget their number) means you can find their details on-line in seconds. The technology lets us forget an implementational detail, and allows us to concentrate on remembering a versatile, tech-enabled, solution.

The euthanasia underground

ogden.jpgAn online article from Scientific American discusses the work of criminologist Russel Ogden, who has been researching the social organisation of the euthanasia underground.

The practice of assisted suicide is illegal in most countries and Ogden has been pressured academically and legally to give up his research or reveal the identities of anonymous interviewees in his study.

He has successfully continued his research while navigating the novel ethical issues his works brings-up, and has discovered some surprising facts about the existence of the often unacknowledged ‘euthanasia networks’.

[Euthanasia organisation] NuTech is at the forefront of what Ogden calls the “deathing counterculture,” in which nonmedical death practitioners offer referrals, consultations and house calls. “They are taking the place of physicians to deliver virtually undetectable death assistance,” says Ogden

Link to article A Culture of Death.
Link to abstract of paper Non-physician assisted suicide: the technological imperative of the deathing counterculture.