Skip to content

Nicola Naismith Blog 4: Consistency and inconsistency

  • by

Care was fully in my mind when the hiCraft team journeyed to Norwich in June to visit me in the studio. My thinking had come to a natural pause so it was a good time for discussion. Laying out the work I had already created helped me to step back and review: I was interested in the Fitbit tracker I had bought during lockdown, now out of action due to a second strap breaking (despite repeated repair jobs with sticky plaster and masking tape). I had begun to explore how the fitness tracker data was presented through the apps, and in particular historical heart rate data from 2021, which in some respects represented events from that year.

Fitness trackers are complex in their ideology. They seem to want to ‘collaborate’ with us on the formulation of goals, but these are framed within the functionality the designers have laid down. I question here – as others have done – the assumptions that designers make about financial and time resources, and ability and disability: many people’s realities and goals don’t fit neatly and consistently within the app’s parameters. We can set ambitions for when to get up, when to go to bed, when to move, for how long and at what intensity. We can decide how many steps we would like to accumulate over the course of the day, and menstrual cycles can be recorded. However life is mainly a patchwork of inconsistency and messiness, and the nuances which form the reality of most people’s lives is consistently under-acknowledged by those who want to market goods and services to us. 

Unwanted reminders plague our mobile screens – get up and get moving – which of course supports health: to move from a desk after an extended period of computer work or from a sofa after an evening watching TV is clearly important, but the same can also be said for rest. Time for rest is important not just as part of a fitness regimen, but rest is important on its own terms: it’s an opportunity to decompress, to daydream and recoup, or to undertake hobbies or activities away from work. But responding to our own inner signals that a period of rest is required is at odds with the fitness tracker’s view on consistency. When the device is synced with the phone app the user is met either with incomplete circles (not enough steps, distance, zone minutes and a possible sense of failure), or if you have met the goals a momentary animation celebrates your achievement (well done, you have done better, or consistently maintained your effort). By reviewing their results the user can see how the app rewards consistency and betterment – with the row of stars acting as a reminder of school days – and unmet goals become ominously noticeable. 

I’m interested in how we can search for a fuller truth in the data we have, and how we might see it as belonging to a bigger picture. What if we place less emphasis on striving for consistency, and instead view irregularity as not only part of life, but what makes it interesting. Uniform scores and results are unlikely to be possible for most people, despite what marketing would have us believe, and in any case what actually happens if we are consistently achieving in one area of our lives? It begs the question: what’s happening in other areas?  

So how can we add to the data picture in order to build a more complete representation of our experiences across a period of time: a day, or a series of days? How could other records (both analogue and digital) be used – for example a diary, a series of photographs, a text message – to create a representation of our daily activities and experiences? And what if those elements were combined with the fitness tracker data and formed into a design which more fully reflects the day? A composite design of this kind could be taken into digital making processes, such as machine stitch and laser cut acrylic. It’s also worth considering the possibilities of applying this new design to a hand-making process such as embroidery, which in itself could induce a sense of rest and flow. Given my interest in social art practice – and the possibilities of participatory craft for this particular project – I have developed composite designs which synthesise different data sources from both my life and that of hiCraft collaborator Jayne Wallace. This involves using Internet of Things data with care – not for economic gain but rather in relation to gift-giving and exchange. Samples are in development, and through making I am beginning to explore how this process could be used with groups of people.