P@tch began as a personal project created with no intention of sharing it with others let alone putting it in my thesis show. I was annoyed with armchair activism online as people share political or environmental advocacy articles online and then do not live their lives that way here in the physical space. Like a Fitbit for your ethical performance, P@tch is a hand-embroidered soft-circuit patch that allows the user to track their progress as an advocate for an ethical stance. The P@tch utilizes the ethos of Punk, DIY/Lo-fi, and digital open source movements by posting all sources, material, and instructions online for anyone to access. By making all of these resources public I hope to foster a more inclusive space for voices that are often unheard in new media art and tech fields in general. My intention was to redirect the perception of a highly styled corporatized self-tracking device to a handmade object. The wearable would allow the user to track their environmental behavior enabling them as consumers to question a culture that values physical performance, beauty, and productivity over other acts. The workshop series, as well as the online instructional pages, allow anyone interested to create their own making it antithetical to the corporatized self trackers on the market.
Companies have marketed self-tracking devices for quite some time. The Quantified Self movement is an international community of people discussing and sharing ways in which to collect personal data. Technology has biases and is shaped by the society that produces and uses it. Our self-tracking gadgets track everything from efficiency, diet, exercise, and sleep patterns, but there is not yet a market for tracking qualities such as our empathy or our ability to affect change. This absence may be due to the capitalistic, white and male power structure of current technology spaces and needs to be rejected and restructured to include women and people of color in order to unleash the true power of technology. Not surprisingly there is nothing currently on the market to track environmental advocacy or ethical performance. This absence may be due to the capitalistic, white and male power structure of current tech space and needs to be rejected and restructured to include women and people of color to unleash the true power of technology. The action of wearing the P@tch is a performance in the sense that it draws attention to the wearer and sparks conversation with others in the surrounding community. We can imagine an alternative world in which tracking our environmental impact was as popular as tracking our fitness level. A glowing world full of low power LED accountability jackets.
The main components of P@tch are an RGB color mixing LED light, a small sewable microcontroller, a Bluetooth module, and a button switch. This wearable is made with soft circuit electronics allowing participants to sew the circuits directly into the fabric of their patch. The Bluetooth module connects to the Adafruit Bluefruit app on their phone which then sends self-reported data to a feed on an open source platform. It then triggers another online application created using IFTTT to transmit data from their feed to their twitter account.
At the moment P@tch is entirely reliant on self-reporting, requiring the user to evaluate their behavior and decide if they believe it to be in line with their ethical goal or not. While this may not be the most scientifically significant data to collect, I personally find that using P@tch to monitor and evaluate my behavior is quite effective because of this. The awareness I have gained by using this monitor has already impacted my consumer habits as I shop, particularly at the grocery store. I now notice all the sneaky ways manufacturers use plastic in their packaging and have realized how difficult it is to buy something without creating plastic waste.
I am not opposed to utilizing more concrete data for the P@tch project, however. I will be running two P@tch workshops in August of 2019 in conjunction with Science Gallery Melbourne to put that will include a Gas sensor to track air quality. Gathering this kind of data as individual citizens to share could be an important step in the next iteration of the P@tch project especially as the reality of climate change is somehow still up for debate in the United States and Australia. The CO2 data gathered by 50 participants throughout Melbourne will be displayed in the gallery during the months of August and September 2019. I feel this kind of hard data along with self-reflection is a way to track the larger consequences of our consumer decisions.
In the future, I plan to continue to provide both demonstrations and written instructions to make the P@tch via workshops, but I am also creating a video tutorial to make it more accessible.
In person, P@tch workshops invite participants to create their own critical design object that allows them to discuss boundaries that inhibit personal political action that shift from the online space to the physical realm, as well as question the limits of personal and corporate responsibility. The P@tch workshops teach participants the basics of embroidery, conductive thread circuitry, to get them started making their own self-accountability-tracker that can be synced to their twitter feed (Figure 2.).
To begin a workshop, I provide my story of creating the P@tch and use my plastic-use tracking P@tch as an example. I do not prescribe my own ethical beliefs to the participants, but encourage them to create a tracker to advocate for something they care about. I then have participants introduce themselves so participants get a short introduction and get to know one another. The participants are provided with written instructions that include images and circuit diagrams in an eleven-page zine. By providing instructions for workshop-goers that covers things like how not to create a short circuit, it is my goal to make participants feel less rushed to complete their P@tch by the end of the workshop. The zines also include instructions on where to find the code or how to get the microcontroller up and running. I walk from person to person helping and joining conversations instead of taking a place at the head of the workshop table. This allows me to help those too shy to ask for assistance, and I can encourage those who are more experienced to help others. It also gives those that wanted to the option to work ahead of the rest of the group and those who worked more slowly to go back and reference the instructions.
I had the opportunity to run the first iteration of this series of workshops at Purdue University on October 26th, 2018. Around 10 participants came to make a color change P@tch. The workshop participants were mainly college-educated women ranging in age from late teens to middle age with previous sewing experience, but little to no experience with electronics. Some participants had no sewing skills and that seemed like a larger hurdle than the circuitry. In these kinds of cases, I think it is important to demonstrate and provide clear guidelines on how to sew basic stitches and how to tie off their thread which I had left out in my first set of instructions. For this particular workshop, I adapted the P@tch to the skillset of the group by only include a color changing LED instead of the Bluetooth module. In this color change version of the P@tch, the button switch only triggers a color change in the LED, so those within your vicinity can see how you are doing on your goal. I intended to make the experience relaxed and low stress as I knew they had a lot to learn in a short amount of time. I did not ask them to share their tracked behavior (though many did) with other participants or me, but I did ask them to fill out an exit survey. One participant chose to follow their plastic use, three decided to monitor their water use, and one chose to be more conscious of riding their bike over driving to work.