Final Subjunctive Project

My project can be found here.

Introducing: Stuck In Your Head

Though I present this as a joke in a blog post on my site, I really did get my inspiration for this project from an episode of E’s Keeping Up With the Kardashians where Kris Jenner hires a personal scribe to record everything she says so that her brilliance doesn’t go to waste. Though we had different motivations, I empathized with Kris. Often in my life, I wish that someone could be there to write things down for me when I’m unable to; whether I’m driving, falling asleep, or sitting in class. I also think faster than I can type or write, so it’s often frustrating trying to put my thoughts down. So for this project, where we were tasked with making a subjunctive product, I followed the old saying to “see a need, fill a need.” I saw a need, both in my personal life and in Kris Jenner’s, and I set out to create a product that would fulfill those needs.

To do this, I designed a website for an imaginary company calledStuck In Your Head. The name is a play on words and captures the way a thought can stick in your mind and how the product yourself is literally stuck into the users head. The company sells personal scribes that range in price from $220-$300, along with subscription plans to accompany the scribes. The scribes, once inserted into your head (with a one-time procedure that you can schedule on the site) and connected to your neurons, will record all of your thoughts so that you never have to worry about losing them. They’re designed to look like jewelry and I purposely priced them similarly to other wearable tech, such as smartwatches. The subscription plans are designed to seem like extra benefits when in reality they’d be pretty essential to a common user. Similar to the Slack messaging platform, you have to pay in order to store more than a few days worth of thoughts. In addition, any basic privacy and encryption of your thoughts require a subscription plan.

Designing the sight

I designed the website to feel sleek and professional. I also purposefully marketed it towards females by including pictures of females and writing with slightly sexist undertones. The women pictured on the site are successful, beautiful, and powerful; I’m making an implicit promise that a personal scribe will make you all of those things, too. Language such as “our products match your personal style and allow you to take your multitasking to the fullest” exploit the stereotype of the female that is expected to do and be all things.

I also relied on principles of visceral design from Don Norman’s “Three Levels of Design.” The sight is minimalist and elegant. The graphics are clean-cut and the site overall emphasizes cleanliness and beauty. This design was used in order to attract customers that value these things; people who are busy, intelligent, and always looking for the next thing.

Writing blog posts for the site instead of the traditional tabs for FAQ and general information was a deliberate ploy to make the site seem more personable. The blogs are conversational and informative, designed to feel unbiased and trustworthy to a prospective customer. They also allowed a space for satire that wasn’t explicitly obvious on the home page. The post describing the insertion procedure explains that customers will experience “a deep headache that will last for a few days” to mock the pain that we’re willing to go through for beauty and productivity. The FAQ post explains that Stuck In Your Head will only sell “only the best, most lucrative” thoughts” to third-parties. The flippant language undermines the gravity of your thoughts being mined for profit.

Implications

I started this project innocently and did not intend to make something so cynical and dystopian. I genuinely thought that it would be great to be able to effortlessly record and keep track of my thoughts. However, I quickly realized that this utopian ideal was unrealistic. A product like this could be easily abused by a powerful tech company preying on trusting consumers. Right now, in the digital age, it feels like our thoughts are one of the last things that we can keep private. Our technology is constantly watching us and listening to us, so if we express something outwardly, it can be recorded for others to see. A company such as Stuck In Your Head that had access to its users’ personal thoughts would be the company that finally knew everything about its customers. By analyzing thoughts with algorithms and machine learning, Stuck In Your Head could feasibly sort through all of the thoughts it collects in order to find the most important ones. What makes a thought important would be up to the company, but would likely include the most incriminating and innovative ones. As humans, we’re constantly trying to untangle and make sense of our own thoughts. A company that could do that for us would truly know more about a person than they know about themselves.

It is also scary to imagine a world where our thoughts become commodities. If we don’t own our thoughts because we’ve signed them away in order to use the newest technology (who really reads Terms of Service agreements, anyway?), then what do we actually own? Depending on the TOS, intellectual property laws wouldn’t even have to apply. Our thoughts are the most personal thing about us, so if they became part of the public domain, either for commercial or legal purposes, it would be the end of privacy as we know it.

I purposely made the personal scribe a “permanent” device because that seemed scary. There aren’t many things that we voluntarily do to permanently change our body, besides tattoos. However, upon speculation, I realized that this isn’t that far from reality. Nowadays, wearable tech is marketed as something that we should fully integrate into our personhood. It’s meant to be worn all of the time; there are fancy watch bands so that you can wear your smartwatch to a gala and dog collars so that you know how many calories Fido is burning. People talk about feeling “ghost vibrations” if they take off their smartwatches, and we panic if we realize we forgot our wearable tech and won’t be able to track all of our data. The Quantified Self movement relies on a dependence that makes the tech feel like a permanent part of us – not that different from Stuck In Your Head, after all.

The decision to market towards females was a deliberate move that was inspired by a classmate when I first presented this project. I had already named the products with traditionally masculine names to subvert the tendency for digital secretaries to be female. Since Stuck In Your Head appears to be a jewelry company, the decision to target female consumers felt natural. I used subtle language about multitasking and feminine examples such as the Kardashians alongside all-female media to accomplish this effect. In this way, my project aims to critique some problematic stereotypes. Females are expected to superwomen who are smart, kind, beautiful, and more. They’re also expected to be emotional and simultaneously critiqued for showing emotion. A personal scribe plays on this stereotype by encouraging that women tune in to their feelings and relentlessly pursue everything.

Some concluding thoughts

When looking at Dunne and Raby’s A/B list, I think that this project represents some principles of speculative design. It is obviously a functional fiction because it is an imaginary product that is meant to feel like it could almost work in the real world. This proximity to reality also leads to other fundamentals of speculative design. The project makes us think about what we should expect out of tech companies that continually try to harvest more and more information about their users. The seamless integration of technology with physical bodies that they promise could be problematic when considered alongside this project. It also leads us to reflect on our expectations of ourselves. This project seems feasible because it would fulfill a societal need to have complete control and oversight of everyting, even our own thoughts.

So, I think that the project asks this question: how far from reality is Stuck In Your Head? People use digital scribes to write emails and texts. We also store diaries online. We already trust technology with personal information, sometimes as personal as our thoughts.

Works Cited

Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby, “A/B” and “Design as Critique” from Speculative Everything: Design Fiction and Social Dreaming (2013), pages vii and 33-45

Don Norman, “Three Levels of Design” from Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things (2003), pages 63-98

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