The Sentient Complexion


The World & Setting

The date is Monday, 11th of February 2036.

Until the turn of the century, those dematerialised lives where things are incredibly hard to afford and finding well paid labour was like sniffing for truffles, encouraged people to discover pleasures in non- materialistic activities. It was around the same time that everyone slowly became less capable of affording their own perfect lives. Jobs got eradicated by ever cleverer robots everyday. The days of real ownership had long been gone and society was thriving on the current model of living; subscriptions to everything. People never needed to be the owners of most of their belongings, simply because it was not worth it.

There is a downside, however. An educational psychologist by the name of Marty Nemko wrote about relationships between humans and the internet. He was right, the decline of real belongings resulted in a sense of diminishing responsibilities, families breaking, school systems failing, even dropping birthrates which was credited to technological overwatch and all the smart contracts each subscription brings with itself. This was obviously going to happen, how else would all these things keep track of when they’ve been subscribed to.

Regardless, when it became so much easier to simply create an avatar or character for yourself through any of the social platforms online, society responded. Those representations people had of themselves were never entirely accurate of course, which fuelled the decline in real responsibilities even further. In today’s world, here in Uppsala the public has no such problems. The Scandinavian super-cluster, the mega- expanded area around former Stockholm, is one of the most popular places to live around the world, due to the beautifully warm summers and moderate winters. There is a huge variety of people, an incredible amount of information moving through the streets all the time, where they go, how they move, how they breath. It seems strange to seek privacy, suspicious almost, like religious people used to be.

The entire public has one thing in common though, their own and entirely personal prized possession: The Sentience.

The Sentience

The Technological Dimension

Many years ago William S. Sax proposed that people and places where they reside engage in a continuing set of exchanges; and that they have determinate mutual effects upon each other, because they are part of a single, interactive system. Once rediscovered, his statement started shaping the lives of billions. The interconnected nature of technology made possible, that roaming just about anywhere, streets, shops, homes etc. littered with devices, could keep track of something or other related to your body. A lot of the information was sold at one point, then they tried to be open about what they collect and actively make people’s lives easier and now it is all being gathered in a representable, tangible form.

In essence then, the Sentience is an artefact that acts as a timeline of a person’s life, depicting positive and negative impacts on the body in its skin and flesh. Indents, bruises or cuts etc. represent hard, painful or negative bodily experiences, while healthy protuberant parts and bright skin portray the good. It grows taller with every printed layer to mirror the lifetime of a person, forming a truly personal character defining artefact. Humans have a strange fascination for keeping timelines and tokens that help represent who they are and where they’ve come from. As such the Sentience also has the ability to track back through different generations of people, through its end of life scenario.

While a living sentience has skin and its different complexions portraying the characteristics of things people experience through their bodies, deceased lives are also embodied. This means that when a person dies, their Sentience follows a similar path in decaying, but the skeleton remains. Many people keep them in this state as tokens of heritage, as heir looms that not just them, but where they came from. Today’s society ironically still has many its old issues too. Classes of people and race discrimination are as present as ever, something Sentiences tend to highlight through their own complexion and deformations. Some skin types, colour, or disorders are simply passed on, with wealthier echelons able to alter and hide certain characteristics.

If they shield their lives from uncertain situations, they can make sure negative indents or harsh surfaces are never expressed on their Sentience.

Characters & Fashions

The Social Dimension

The naturalist has very traditional Buddhist ancestors, which can be recognised in his character. The carefully chosen housing decor represent a certain refined touch, yet the cluttered arrangement of things reveals his free approach to life.

He believes in nature and humanity more than most people and carries a great fascination for documenting his real life. As the naturalist, he believes in having the most pure experiences and follows a very natural way of life, something his Sentience also represents. When he was very young his mother passed away, leaving deep marks in his Sentience. He has managed to grow from the situation and become stronger today, but still keeps his mother’s sentient skeleton close as a token to preserve in his life.

Contourists are a peculiar kind of people. They are comparable to social media extremists back when those networks warranted some kind of social ranking.

Today, with Sentiences, the Contourist has to actively take part in the life she is portraying, and with that, live through very specific situations. She is incredibly ambitious about shaping her Sentience, and consequently her life. This means that she conducts many experiments which could help her bring some new and unique markings to the artefact. Even of this means she has to stay awake for two days, cause pain with cuts, or even induce slight psychosomatic traumas, limiting any relationships she has with people to three years. Because of the large amount of effort that goes into beautifying, getting recognition is just as important.

The pessimist is the most mysterious type character. He works in communication privacy management and majored in boundary turbulence; which encompasses understanding disruptions in control and regulation of privacy information.

He is not the biggest fan of all the technology that goes into feeding the Sentience. Many people tend to dislike him, but he seems to be the quite realistic. He never found much in the confusion as Plato did back in the day, but strangely identified with Aristotle’s drive to organise and catalogue the world to see systems and patterns behind the confusion of phenomena. Perhaps this is why he approaches his life in such a negative way. He may have a certain illness, but his cunning intelligence brings an intrigue to the shape of his Sentience.

Society & Ripples

The Sociosystemic Dimension

Society has gone through many drastic changes over the last century. First, people had to recover from the violence of the war, then computers crept into the home, suddenly everybody was holding one in their hand and finally, they were literally everywhere, some silly idea about ubiquitous computing became reality. Sentiences brought back a sense of belonging, a certain ownership. It allowed people to express themselves in the way they lived, through their bodily experiences, and let them look back at who they are through something far more real. What nobody expected was the drastic societal shift they induced too.

People eventually separated into something only comparable to fashions. The characters which were outlined earlier are a prime example, distinctly different approaches to the same piece of technology. The unexpected or unintentional opportunities which are provided to society through certain technology still prevail. Nobody would have ever thought that people will resort to doing something like burning themselves periodically to create a mark which may or may not be seen as beautiful by the rest of society. In the political infrastructure, while not many things changed, a dramatic increase in interest was the most obvious.

Campaigns and promises built on lies take their toll on the body, the Sentience, which the public can see. This truthful approach doesn’t end there. Within the smallest scale, relationships between people and themselves, they could tell if they were harming themselves. There is of course a certain intimacy involved when two people are very close. They learn about each other, they become a part of each other’s lives, and hence their Sentiences.

Everybody is unique in their own way, but with time people may learn how to interpret each other’s lives better, and hence read more into their partner’s lives, present and past.

Future Domestic Landscape

Design Fictions from the MFA Interaction Design programme, Umeå Institute of Design, 2015–2017.

Umeå Interaction Design

Written by

Stories from students of the MFA programme in Interaction Design at Umeå Institute of Design.

Future Domestic Landscape

Design Fictions from the MFA Interaction Design programme, Umeå Institute of Design, 2015–2017.

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