Uninvited Guests is the latest design fiction project commissioned by the interdisciplinary research group ThingTank. Created by design firm Superflux, it explores the way our relationship with technology is changing as our gadgets increasingly become nags and minders meant to improve our daily habits.
Specifically, Superflux focused in on home healthcare devices: smart objects and sensors that track everything from nutrition to exercise to sleep patterns. Many consumers are adopting these devices willingly in an attempt to improve their quality of life, but they are also being promoted as a way to remotely keep tabs on relatives who are elderly or in poor health.
The question is whether the person being monitored perceives each device as a benefit, or an electronic leash that takes away their control over their own life—and how that attitude changes their interaction with the technology.
In the short film accompanying Uninvited Guests, an elderly man has been saddled with a number of smart gadgets by his loving (but perhaps, in his eyes, overbearing) adult children. Over the course of three days, we see how his relationship with these devices evolves.
At first he uses them begrudgingly, disrupting his daily patterns every time a digital reminder prompts him to eat more vegetables or get up off the couch. Then he rejects the devices altogether, despite frequent messages from his concerned children. Finally, he invents ways to trick the devices’ sensors, and his family, so that he can go back to the routine he prefers—never mind the suboptimal health effects.
The film is a humorous but poignant reminder that technology doesn’t automatically create change or solve problems; we humans have to play an active and participatory role. The Superflux design team writes:
Whilst there are undeniable benefits to monitoring and tracking the elderly in their homes, we wanted to pause and reflect on some of the more complex human behaviours we are likely to encounter along the way. What are the messy, whimsical, unintended human behaviours that might collide with the one-size-fits-all ‘care' that many smart devices are designed to deliver?
See for yourself by watching Uninvited Guests below.