“Your heart knows things that your mind can’t explain”
The Speculative Heart series shines a bright light on uncomfortable truths about developing technologies by drawing out the ways that heart-rate sensors might be problematic, pointing to information privacy and increasingly obligatory use of digital devices and social media platforms. The project revolves around three heart-monitoring devices: Babump, Tattletale Heart and Meeglo. Babump is a heart monitor disguised as a business card holder, so that employers can monitor employee heart rate during meetings. Tattletale Heart is a necklace, pocket-gamer, and phone app that posts users’ moods directly to social media. Meeglo is a handheld device for heart-focused breathing and meditation. After building the devices (which really do pick up heart rate), I framed them as tech startups, creating a brand-identity and online presence for each product. From there, the startups became platforms for art performances that infiltrate tech spaces. I showcased the products at several Bay Area startup fairs, presented Babump at the Berkeley Engineering Research Symposium, and received funding and support for Meeglo from the CITRIS Foundry, a technology incubator. I also positioned the devices as subject and stage for fictional film. In the movie Tattletale Heart (17min, 2016), Tattletale Heart’s phone app becomes a vehicle to explore online surveillance, harassment, and dating culture in online queer communities. By producing work that showcases technology and its marketing trappings, and taking it just a little bit too far, I show how Silicon Valley start-up culture might be leading a sometimes eager public into a dystopic future. However, my take on tech culture is not so one-sided. Whereas some of the startups are speculative, Meeglo is a genuine business endeavor. The project as a whole is a reflexive critique from within tech. It embodies the dualities that define our relationship to developing technology: fear and seduction, hope and doom. Because some products use satire while others are more earnest, the work steers away from the didacticism that often accompanies critical art — its ambiguity grants the audience/consumer the opportunity to perform the critique for themselves.