Data Vaporizer smoke machine makes the invisible visible.
In a digital age where our personal data is routinely bought and sold, the movement of our data is surprisingly invisible. We don’t see where our data goes, not even in an abstract way, and we don’t get any sort of physical sign when it stays with us, either. Interaction designer Ji Won Jun’s “Data Vaporizer” backpack is a visual meditation on this problem; it imagines a not-too-distant future when wearable devices are constantly and silently transmitting data to various companies. Some of this is for a purpose that’s useful to us, some of this isn’t.
The backpack, which was designed for a course at the Art Center College of Design and sponsored by the Intel Corporation, intercepts data that’s about to go to the cloud and ‘vaporizes’ it at the same time, creating both a real and symbolic shield. The backpack includes an ‘inhaler’ device that attaches to your hand and triggers it either when someone gets too close to the inhaler’s proximity sensor or when you breathe into it. An Arduino board then tells a valve inside the backpack to rotate hot water and dry ice and starts a fan that pushes the vapor out. The backpack can be used both to obscure your own data or destroy the data of those around you.
Not only does the smoke symbolize privacy, it also creates it, “form[ing] temporarily visible and defensible personal space for the user,” by obscuring them from unpleasant physical interactions. And one day this might matter: according to the designers, in the future there could be the alarming (but as-yet obscure) possibility of “getting robbed [of] their data by physical contact.” Not to mention, there are currently some surprising forms of data theft that can occur with just a clear photo – so visual privacy might be real privacy after all.
One of Jun’s goals with the project was to use smoke to make the invisible visible, much like the opposite of the Karl Max quote, “all that is solid melts into air”; instead of erasing our personal interests and replacing them with monetary concerns, the Data Vaporizer asks us to re-evaluate how much of our data we’ve divested out into the world, where it becomes both vulnerable and ephemeral. And there’s no smoke and mirrors about that. See the video below for an example of an interaction with the device: