A working prototype that demonstrates the super power of being able to make everything just right. The project is for course Studio 4 in spring term, 2021, instructed by Ben Hooker and Tim Durfee.
This is a 5-week project culminating in a technological "super power" prototype which is demoed or performed with device, object, wearable, system, tool, etc.
We think expansively about what could be considered a "super power," its effects, the motivations of those who make use their special powers, and the worlds they exist within. We will mix the epic and everyday, challenge dominant narratives and complicate set-in associations, to envisage new kinds of "heroes" who engage with the messy complexity of real life.
MakeyMakey, Micro:bit, conductive tape.
Prototyping, Speculative Design
In Western culture, the state of just right is often called the Goldilocks Principle(Wiki), and its application can be seen from everyday to epic. In the story of Goldilocks and Three Bears, Goldilocks says she wants a porridge that is not too hot, not too cold. It sounds like an easy thing but when we examine what is a just right porridge carefully, it becomes complicated. It depends on not only her personal tastes to porridge, but also the weather that day, or the temperature of food she ate before the porridge. Instead of a fixed parameter, just right is subjective and far more complexed. We hardly think about things in that way, but there exists a just right in everything. Our planet is in a location that is not too far from the sun and is not too near either. In our lives: a just right beer pint that is not too foamy or not too flat; A just right handshake that is not too hypocritical or not too creepy. If someone is able to make everything in their lives just right, it should be considered as a super power because it is not possible to achieve, just like other super powers like mind-reading or cloaking.
The inspiration of this prototype comes from my cooking experience. Different from the precision of Western recipes, Chinese recipes tell people to put “proper amounts of ingredients.” Asian parents teach their children to make rice by using fingertips or palms as a way to measure the water level, even though everyone's hands are different sizes. Some say the Asian way of making rice is to stop adding water when you feel a mysterious calling from the ancestors. The idea of ancestors' calling speaks to me and inspires me a lot in this project. What is the calling we perceive when we step on the gas pedal, add water to the rice, or fall in love with someone, that allows us to be intuitively aware of it when the condition becomes “just right”?
My prototype uses programmable boards to measure and indicate the just right condition with sound, which imitates a kind of "ancestors' calling."
In the design process, these choices and observations are something interesting to me:
- Sound design: What is the just-right sound for a just right moment? I played with different combinations of the sounds and chords, and find that I have to understand what is just right, if I want to design a sound for it. Is it something so strong that we immediately know when it's just right? Or is it something we hesitate between "is it right?" and "or not yet?" How strong should the indicator should be? What is an intuitive sound for people that everyone would agree it's just right?
- Aesthetics: What should this just-right device look like? Should it look somehow "just right" or not? I decided to make it look alien and technological to exaggerate the "just right" by presenting it with a cold appearance and instrumental functionality. Because of the time constraints, I wasn't able to make it look more like a product. Instead, what I did is to amplify the conductive tape in every scenario, and use the reflective texture to convey the messiness behind the scene of measuring just right.
Just right is the intersection of subjectivity and objectivity. For Goldilocks, a just-right porridge can be simplified as a specific temperature that can be precisely controlled by measurement facilities, which could be as simple as a kitchen thermometer. Paradoxically, on the other hand, just right cannot be measured. A certain temperature could be too hot for one person and meanwhile too cold for another. In this case, numbers cannot cope with the complexity of the world. People can only get their just right through their own practice. Subjectivity is not a productivity goal, and trying to reach the perfect number is at the cost of silencing the feelings.
The Earth is considered to be in the just right position, which is called the Goldilocks Zone, in the solar system. Astronomers examine the location of the Earth, assigning a subjective evaluation to this fortuitous planet, and are searching for possible extraterrestrial life by looking for environmental conditions similar to those of the Earth. The practice of looking for Goldilocks Zones implies that just right is not necessarily an exact value, but a range within which any number is considered just right. People's perceptions about the porridge's temperature can also be a range where just right exists. In this way, just right is a non-binary value between right and wrong, and it embraces different realities for people in different positions.