Coupling quantified bodies: transformative play through self-quantification

Cercos, R 2017, Coupling quantified bodies: transformative play through self-quantification, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Media and Communication, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Coupling quantified bodies: transformative play through self-quantification
Author(s) Cercos, R
Year 2017
Abstract One of the promises behind self-quantification is to transform the ways in which we live our lives through the collection of numerical evidence about the body and its activity. Although this process may boost self-knowledge, everyday life involves a complex network of relationships with other bodies that exert a significant, sometimes determining, influence on how we act. This complexity is poorly captured by a purely quantitative perspective that is only concerned with individual behaviour.

Digital self-quantification data—such as that generated by wearable activity trackers—opens new possibilities to transform current unhealthy social practices, like the ones related to sedentary lifestyles. In this work, I explore how interaction designers may design self-quantification systems which support transformative play. I do so by reframing self-quantification data as something to be modulated into perturbations to other human and non-human bodies that participate in existing social practices and establish new couplings between selves. By coupling quantified bodies, a new dynamic of co-evolution through embodied interactions is enabled, which, in turn, affects the elements that realise, perform and reproduce existing social practices.

Taking a research-through-design approach, I have studied three designs in everyday contexts of use, drawing from different qualitative methods such as cultural probes, participant observation and semi-structured interviews. Each system puts forward different modulations of self-quantification data, enabling screen-based, tangible and embodied interactions.

Firstly, I designed Watch your Steps, a shared, situated display of an individual’s number of steps for a collocated group of co-workers. Secondly, I designed Dyna, a meeting table that self-adjusts its height based on a group’s levels of activity. Finally, I designed Dataponics: Human–Vegetal Play, a system in which a quantified plant receives water and light according to someone’s walking activity, then plays different music styles according to its moisture level.

In these designs, self-quantification couplings were designed to enable play that transforms social practices while preserving players’ autonomy and individuality. I have also tried (sometimes without success) to avoid both coercion and prescribing limited courses of action. By applying these values, these designs enabled new forms of play which in some cases had transformative power.

Based on analysis of these studies, I explore some of the implications of embracing play-inspired design values to enable social change, discussing insights and design tensions when designing self-quantification systems that go beyond the self and the numbers. I also speculate about the future of self-quantification, keeping a critical distance from current self-quantification systems.

With this work, I aim to expand our understanding of the transformative possibilities of play in the context of self-quantification and the transformation of social practices.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Media and Communication
Subjects Interactive Media
Computer-Human Interaction
Keyword(s) interaction design
embodied interactions
tangible interactions
human-computer interaction
persuasive technology
social practices
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Created: Thu, 13 Jul 2017, 10:52:16 EST by Denise Paciocco
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