Introduction: The IDial - Critical Making Personal Identity Augmentation Device.

Picture of The IDial - Critical Making Personal Identity Augmentation Device.

In this critical making project, we will be making a personal iDial, which will give you, the wearer, the ability to reflect on your personal identity in a private space, and then spatially and temporally dislocate your ‘private self’ into public conversation!

You might be thinking, ‘this device looks ridiculous’. Well, that’s the point. This iDial is a ‘post-optimal device’ (Dunne, 2006). It doesn’t have to be a perfect, seamless, invisible example of wearable and ubiquitous computing that fades into the background of our lives. Instead, it is meant to call attention to the seams, call attention to itself and the way wearable computing is changing our relationships and conversation. This is a design for homo ludens (Gaver, 2002). Make it playful. And as you are making it, make sure you play with the ideas as well!

The actual making of this project is easy. You shouldn't have any trouble putting it all together. The ideas, however, are a bit more challenging. Really, if you just read the instructions to make the device without reading and engaging with the ideas, you might be a bit underwhelmed! But, if you can tap into some of theory behind our idea (see the work of Anthony Dunne, Fiona Raby, Carl DiSalvo, Matt Ratto, David Philips, Bill Gaver and more!) we think you'll encounter some deep thought on the nature of wearable computing and technology's potential to augment or hinder the public negotiation of private identity.

And keep in mind, the iDial does not solve any problems. It creates new ones!

Step 1: Materials (physical and Conceptual)

Picture of Materials (physical and Conceptual)

-arduino! (we have an arduino uno, with an accompanying breadboard)
-paper plates
-servo (MicroServo, 180 degree sweep)
-wires to connect servo, potentiometer and arduino
-hot glue gun
-styrofoam ball

CONCEPTUAL (bibliography)
Seek out these papers! First, we've listed required readings for a full understanding of this project.Then there is a list of supplementary readings to get a better understanding of the fundamentals of Matt Ratto's concept of critical making.

Please, do your best to find this stuff. These are as important as the hot glue! If you're not at an academic institution, give Google Scholar a try--sometimes you can get around the paywalls.

Bell, G., & Dourish, P. (2007). Yesterday’s tomorrows: notes on ubiquitous computing’s dominant vision. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 11(2), 133–143. doi:10.1007/s00779-006-0071-x

Dunne, A. (n.d.). Electronics as the Post-Optimal Object. In Hertzian Tales: Electronic Products, Aesthetic Experience, and Critical Design. Cambridge: MIT Press|cJan. 2006.

Gaver, B. (2002). Designing for Homo Ludens (Still).I3 Magazine, (12).

Phillips, D. J. (2009). Ubiquitous computing, spatiality, and the construction of identity. In I. Kerr, V. Steeves, & C. Lucock (Eds.), Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society (pp. 303–318). Oxford University Press.

Viseu, A. (2003). Simulation and augmentation:  Issues of wearable computers. Ethics and Information Technology, 5(1), 17–26.

Optional (see Matt Ratto's faculty page for more)
Galey, A. (2010). How a prototype argues. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 25(4), 405–424.

Ingold, T. (2010). The textility of making. Cambridge Journal of Economics, 34(1), 91–102.

Latour, B. (2008, September 3). A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design. Keynote lecture presented at the Networks of Design Conference- Design History Society, Falmouth, Cornwall.

Ratto, M. (2011). Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life. The Information Society, 27(4), 252–260. doi:10.1080/01972243.2011.583819  

Step 2: Materials (digital)

Picture of Materials (digital)

And finally, here's our code. As you can see, pretty basic. It's a slightly tweaked "Sweep" from the Arduino example library. Feel free to copy and paste!


Servo myservo;  // create servo object to control a servo

int potPin = 0;    // select the input pin for the potentiometer
int potVal = 0;       // variable to store the value coming from the sensor
int mappedVal = 0;    // variable to store the mapped value from potentiometer
int pos = 0;           // variable to store servo position
void setup() {
   myservo.attach(9);  // attaches the servo on pin 9 to the servo object

void loop() {

  potVal = analogRead(potPin);    // read the value from the sensor
  mappedVal = map(potVal, 0, 1023, 0, 4); //map the value to a state of 0 to 4.

switch (mappedVal) {
case 0:
      pos = 180;               
case 1:
      pos = 120;              
case 2:
      pos = 60;                
case 3:
      pos = 0;


  Serial.print("potVal: ");
  Serial.print("mappedVal: ");
  Serial.print("Pos: ");



Step 3: Think Awhile

Picture of Think Awhile

Before you begin, think awhile on these problems. You'll understand where we are coming from, and your conceptual juices will be flowing for when we ask for your input later on in the process.

The iDial was made for Matt Ratto's Critical Making class at the University of Toronto's iSchool. We were challenged to make a wearable technology that displays private information in a public space. 

The crux of our thinking about this project is David Phillips' chapter "Ubiquitous computing, spatiality, and the construction of identity" in Lessons from the Identity Trail: Anonymity, Privacy and Identity in a Networked Society (pp. 303–318). We wanted to make a technology that gets at the issues of what is private in a public conversation, and how technology could mediate, hinder, or augment the sharing of this private information.

The iDial is not a solution to craft better communication system between people through a wearable device - it investiagtes what happens to a person’s ‘identity’ when filtered with a technology. And what affordances or constraints does that put on the self in the social situation?

Step 4: Setting Up the Hardware

Picture of Setting Up the Hardware

Building the Dial
1. Cut hole in the centre of the back of one of the desert plates.
2. Push and secure the servo through the hole.
3. Attach arm indicator to servo. Feel free to attach a more obvious and playful indicator of your own making.
4. Secure a styrofoam ball to the knob of the potentiometer for easier control.
5. Hot glue two alligator fasteners to back of dial.

Be creative with this part! Make it colourful, large, and playful. The iDial is more about reflection and negotiation than authoritative identity. This device leverages the power of ambiguity. It is evocative. If you read Bell and Dourish's article about ubicomp, you may agree with us (and them) that we are often less critical of systems that fade into the background of our lives. The iDial is not hidden or discrete. It's exaggerated!

Creating Servo Circuit with Breadboard
1. Connect 5V Arduino to powerline on BB.
2. Connect GRD Arduino to groundline on BB.
3. BB powerline to power pin on servo.
4. BB groundline to grd pin on servo.
5. Connect servo signal pin to pin 9 on Arduino.

Creating Potentiometer Circuit
1. BB powerline to power pin on POT.
2. BB groundline to grd pin on POT.
3. Connect POT signal pin to analog zero on Arduino.

Step 5: Coding

Picture of Coding

So let's get the code in the Arduino.

We've tried to keep the coding as simple as possible, so that there are no barriers to making this thing. We want users to play with the design and use the skins (more on those later) to articulate and negotiate their identities. That said, if you have the skills to articulate your identity in the code, do it!

For example, following Phillips' ‘semiotic democracy’ concept, switchcase code is where you, the tinkerer, have the potential to take power and inscribe number of segmentations you need to make ‘meaningful’ dial positions. 

1. Input code from the materials (digital) section.
2. Run code through Arduino.

Finally, a little disclaimer here. If you haven't guessed, we are not the most skilled technologists. We were not able to get this device to work with a battery. For now, following our instructions, you are going to have to keep it plugged in to the laptop. Geez Louise, right!?!

But sympathize with us here. This isn't all bad. Every failure is an opportunity for learning right? This trip-up is an interesting example of Ingold's (2010) concept of texility. That is, in making we are always in a two-way conversation with the materials we are using. It is not a one-way street where makers command and materials simply do. It's a back and forth. For us the potentiometer just wouldn't cooperate with a battery. Have you had material constraints push back on our ideas? What about in making this particular device?

P.S. If you can figure out how to get the battery hooked up in a safe circuit without the servo going wonky, let us know!

Step 6: Making Skins

Picture of Making Skins

1. Determine how many skins you want to make and what the theme of each skin will be. For example, symbols, language, numbers etc. For our particular code you should have four values per skin.
2. Separate the skin into quadrants. Be sure to check that each turn of the potentiometer brings the indicator to a different quadrant.

When making your iDial skins, take time to think of how you would like to present yourself in public. What kind of information do you think could help your communication? The iDial skins are able to bring your moments of private reflection to the fore in conversation.

Here is thought from the Phillips reading that should give you a sense of the kind of things you might think about:

"For example, to successfully enact a social role, individuals retreat to “back regions” to prepare for later performances before audiences in the “front region.” In these back regions, performers collaborate with other team members in their preparations. Should the audience penetrate those back regions and become aware of those preparations, the front region performance loses some of its credibility. Therefore barriers are erected to control communication." (Philips, pg 304-305).

The iDial skins give you control over how your private preparations in these “back regions” are negotiated in public. The “back regions” can include the contingencies of your own personal history and your physical reality. You might also include the influence of what Philips calls “culturally shared ideal identities”: think about how your iDial can represent you as a member of a genre of identity, like a man, or a woman, or a student!

Step 7: Seal It Up

Picture of Seal It Up

Alright, you're all done! Seal it up with some tape and relish the feeling of blackboxing a bit of your identity!

Now, take the time to think again on what you have done.

An important idea for us is that this can be an ongoing process. We are opening it up to the world as some kind of probe. It's as simple as possible because we want it to readily accept other makers and users' interpretations, additions, improvements, hacks, tinkerings, etc. We hope it is obvious that the skins are not meant to be an easy solution for finding meaning but rather a place to begin investigating, constructing, and negotiating the self in the context of the social and for explorings how language and technology can simultaneously frustrate, enhance, and augment this process.

If you have any suggestions for future directions or improvements we'd love to hear them!


Kkrattiger (author)2014-04-02

Scientology E meter thingie

Toga_Dan (author)2014-04-02

amusing. :)

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