Your laptop was trying to remind you all this time to keep breathing, without you realizing it. This is the thought that the project “Choke me” has taken one step further. It explores a new way of looking at and interacting with the laptop, using its existing elements. Get in sync with the laptop through the laptop fan and become more aware of your breathing behind a screen. Created from the phenomenon called screen apnea, the effect that screens have on our breathing.
Will I be choked (metaphorically) in a digital future?
Research about the phenomenon called screen apnea shows that 80% of people who are in focus behind a screen breathe shallowly to periods of holding their breath, which is a stress reaction. If this will likely get worse heading toward a digital future, are we being choked (metaphorically)? Only when I first heard this, I was aware that I am indeed doing this, but is this really as bad as it sounds?
Well, stress is not a bad thing necessarily since stress and fight flight mode is essential for achieving optimal performance. But not if it’s triggered by everyday stresses. Now I am not an expert, but this is what sparked the relevance about this phenomenon for me, because I see that stress is a relevant topic in today’s daily life. For example, due to the current burnout wave, and that people experience performance pressure due to staff cutbacks or sick leave. In my opinion, it feels like there’s an increasing demand for focus with no room for stress. Whereas breathing for me personally is a powerful tool for learning to deal with emotions like stress. Even as people and companies are becoming more aware of incorporating mindfulness and breathing, as it promotes productivity and a better work environment, the employee still spends most of their time behind the laptop. Thereby, experts recommend to step away from your screen to combat screen apnea. But how realistic is that heading toward this digital future?
‘You only notice the fan when your laptop is working hard, functioning now as the first signal to check in with our body that’s probably working hard too.’
An abusive relationship, in sync.
My curiosity was sparked to see if this digital future could be an opportunity to look differently at the abusive relationship we can have with our laptop today, instead of stepping away. By making comparisons with how our human relationships affect our breathing. This project explores interpersonal intimacy, whether similar connections can be created between the laptop and its user. Mirroring the user’s breathing rhythm while being in focus, to unconsciously promote body awareness. And creating a form of synchronicity, just as we tend to synchronise our breathing when you lie in bed next to your partner. By means of existing elements of the laptop, to discover a new way of looking and interacting with your device. Namely, the laptop fan, in a way the breathing of the laptop. You only notice the fan when your laptop is working hard, functioning now as the first signal to check in with our body that’s probably working hard too. We recognise the effects ourselves too late, like being overworked, when the damage is already done.
The breathing keyboard prototype, how does it work?
The laptop fan mirrors the rhythm of screen apnea. Without extra stress and pressure from yet another device or notification. Without giving an option, the fan subtly transitions in a breathing exercise that reinforces focus. The 4-4-8 breathing method helps to calm your nervous system and helps to stay focused. Conscious breathing helps to reduce stress and anxiety, in addition to enhancing creativity. The sensors in the F and J keys of the keyboard make the signal to the fan. Those keys represent the base of your keyboard and you can find them blindly by the small dash. As people might recognise, we unconsciously tend to rest our index fingers on the F and the J keys when drifting away in focus – as we learned during the first lesson of typing class. The prototype explores a step towards staying consciously embodied – the practice of being more aware of your body, in relation to our device.
A bright blue future.
When you sit at the desk with the prototype, you look at the – from transparent to blue colored – stripe on the floor heading toward 6 screens. You watch the film about the phenomenon in a speculative digital future scenario, whose 5 other screens breathe rhythmically along with the film with blue light. An experiment to keep focus on your breathing, just as the person in the film focuses on the blue light moving around them. As the breathing through the film becomes increasingly irregular and intense, the feeling of screen apnea is visualized as well. Contrasts are magnified, the blue light that visualizes and takes over the person’s breathing, drowning in your screen translated with the blue-lighted water, the user being in a vacuum bag along with the laptop, and the connection between human and technology.
‘It highlights techno-animism, how technology is and will be more imbued with human characteristics.’
The project opens the dialogue on our relationship with digital screens and to what extent we (will) consent to this and its hidden issues. It highlights techno-animism, how technology is and will be more imbued with human characteristics. The project does not want to visualise a doomsday scenario, but it is a conversation piece which aims to make people a bit more conscious of their bodies behind a screen and its effects on our health and wellbeing.
Written by: Loïs Weeber
School: Willem de Kooning Academy