Invited Speaker’s Abstracts

Tom Sherman, Media artist and Professor, Syracuse University

Keynote: Talking to Nature

Tom Sherman’s presentation will probe spoken and written language as a perceptual technology. Embracing the structure of phenomenological inquiry, where unconscious perception transforms into awareness (experience) and ultimately description, Sherman will focus on direct environmental perception, where the environment plays an overwhelming role in determining the nature of an individual’s thought and language. Wearable devices, depending on their design and function, may dissolve the psychological and linguistic divide between people and their environments, encouraging them to exist as one with their environments. The importance of description in the recognition, construction and understanding of our environments will be central to Sherman’s multimedia presentation grounded in his art and theoretical writing.

Don Braxton, J Omar Good Professor of Religious Studies, Juniata College

The Religiously Enhanced: The Play Impulse in an Informationally Saturated Religious Marketplace

Pre-information-age religious life was at least in part sustained by localized data curation, canalization, and selective exposure and segregation.  Religion was a scarcity market either by choice, circumstance, or social contrivance.  In the 21st century, however, the religious marketplace is moving toward a post-scarcity state that inherently erodes earlier limits that both enabled and constrained religious development.

In contrast to past generations, the religiously motivated will be able to design their own filters, their own religious search parameters, to take greater control of determining informational relevance.  The result will be ideally a form of virtuous feedback loop where a quantified self will inform religious seeking, detection, and engagement as a form of informational foraging.  Subsequent to detection and engagement, the consumer can judge satisfaction by employing technologies of self-awareness, then redesigning the filtration system, and finally once again, forage anew.

An unprecedented environment is generated by the saturation of information networks with religious information.  Exposure enables the cosmopolitan approaches to religious life more akin to the curious flaneur than the committed ideologue.  Opportunities proliferate for experimentation and the individualization of religious behavior and cognitive bricolage.  Various informational technologies thus create affordances for serious religious play.


Gary Genosko, Professor of Communication and Digital Media Studies, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

The Big Toe’s Resistance to Smart Rehabilitations

Operationalizing the big toe, despite its status as a marker of manifest stupidity, is a technical dream of wearable technology that today persists in the era of per­sonal computing and wireless communications. Following the theory of early twentieth century French writer and surrealist Georges Bataille, I argue that the interface of the most human yet base part of the human body and wearable computing confounds the low with the high and produces a condition in which the computational intervenes to overcome the horror evoked by the lowly, flat, dirty foot by means of regain­ing the big toe’s ability to move, though not convincingly grip. For Bataille, having lost its prehensile character, the human big toe is idiotic, especially compared with fingers, which are long, light, nimble, and intelligent. Yet for all the nobility of the human, whose head is elevated and distant from its feet which are still stuck in the filth of toe jam and sweat dirt, the big toe imposes its ignobil­ity when least expected and is difficult to reconcile with high tech solutions. It is not easy to manufacture a smart big toe. In order to ease my passage downward and take a position under the table, I will scavenge Douglas Engelbart’s late-1960s proposal for a knee-controlled bug [cursor]-positioning device, a proto-mouse. In 1982 inventor Floyd P. Ganyard filed with the US Pat­ent Office a plan for an alarm toe switch that would allow the user to covertly signal duress and, through design innovation surpassing previous models from the 1970s and earlier, avoid false alarms. Ganyard’s invention of a better big-toe alarm has a decades-long history in the twentieth century. Another example is described in Thomas Bass’s The Eudaemonic Pie (1985), a toe-activated switch hidden in a shoe that was used to cheat in roulette and card games. The Osaka-based team of Noriko Tanaka, which developed and tested the concept of the Toe Mouse in 2007, views the big toe as a “foot thumb,” demonstrating the extent of the figurative effort to rehabilitate the lowly digit.


Brian Greenspan, Associate Professor, English, Director of Hyper Lab, Carleton University

Party Dress:  Wearable Media for Utopian Bodies

Wearable media inevitably raise dystopian fears of dehumanization, total surveillance, and the subsumption of bodily pleasure within the fully quantified and fetishized self. At the same time, wearables also evoke utopian fantasies of more harmonious relations to our bodies, our technologies, and each other. This talk will explore the utopian pre-history of wearable technologies alongside more recent examples of wearable devices that might exist, but don’t in actuality. As unlikely, awkward, and inefficient technologies, such speculative wearables disrupt the time and space of everyday life, widening the sphere of embodied pleasures in ways that are potentially disastrous for capitalism, and hopeful for our species-being.


Stuart Murray, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Rhetoric & Ethics, Carleton University

Fashion Bombs: Wearable Explosives, Weaponized Bodies

Wearable tech tends to obey a neoliberal and biopolitical world order: “Smart,” digitally networked, and encouraging mass “prosumption,” it also quantifies, records, and militarizes the human bios, aggregating human lives and augmenting and enhancing the human body itself. Its utopian promise is purchased on dystopian societies of control, speculative futures, and mass mediatized bodies. But this talk takes up other everyday wearables—underwear, shoes, hoodies, and other intimate devices—that are wired as explosives, or otherwise weaponized, and intended to tear apart the times and spaces of everyday lives. These are wearable media for dystopian bodies, mediatizing those bodies in a decidedly different fashion: as violent assault, certainly, but also as defence, and as an occasion to reflect critically on the ills of our neoliberal and biopolitical world order.


Marcel O’Gorman, Associate professor of English Language and Literature, Director of the Critical Media Lab, University of Waterloo

Bear It Like A Cross: Wearable Computing and Critical Media

In the presentation, I will discuss a number of projects from the Critical Media Lab, including “The Burden of Communication,” “Border Disorder,” and “Digital Tabernacle,” that make use of wearable computing to explore the impact of technology on the human condition. In keeping with the theme of the title, this project will pay special attention to the collision of technical prosthetics with both digital and religious ritual.