Dec 18, 2012
A profound shift is underway in how we experience circadian time, the rhythmic alternation of activity and rest over the course of the twenty-four-hour day. At the center of it is pervasive computing.
Increasingly, the rhythms of human activity are shaped less by environmental cues like the presence or absence of daylight and more by rhythms in the data streams that occupy an ever greater share of our attention. Partly as a result, circadian rhythms research is flourishing.
In this talk we’ll explore circadian selfhood in its cognitive, cultural, and environmental dimensions. We’ll examine the historical context for the dramatic rise of computing power and for the scientific categories by which we understand biological rhythms. We’ll look at how social scientists can make sense of these phenomena using an ensemble of methods linking the history and philosophy of science, cultural, linguistic and cognitive anthropology, and the philosophy of embodied cognition. We’ll discuss emerging practices that exemplify circadian selfhood, among them chronotherapeutics (bright-light therapy, clinically managed sleep deprivation) and polyphasic sleep. And we’ll consider case studies from two emerging consumer product categories: personal photosimulation (http://valkee.com) and personal actigraphy (e.g., http://lark.com/products/larklife/experience).
As the buzz surrounding Lark, Zeo, FitBit, SleepTracker, and their competitors demonstrates, interaction designers cannot afford to ignore the design challenges of mitigating the novel physiological stresses of pervasive computing. We’re talking about users’ body temperatures, corticosteroid levels, and slow-wave sleep patterns. Design does not get more personal than this. Is there a way to respond to these challenges without becoming complicit in the “medicalization of sleep” and the ever-more-intrusive presence of commercial life in our bodies?
About the Speaker
Josh Berson is an anthropologist of interfaces and material flows: between body and world, animal and human, machine and living thing, subject and institution. He holds a PhD in the history and anthropology of science, technology, and medicine and linguistic anthropology. He has taught computer science at Harvard (1996–8) and the anthropology of international development at the University of Pennsylvania (2004–9). From 2010 to 2012, Josh was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Berlin. In 2012–13 Josh is a fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, Munich.