Environmental Health Clinic

11 Dec

In November I had the opportunity to visit and speak at the Environmental Health Clinic in NYU’s Steinberg school, which is run by Natalie Jeremijenko.  The clinic deals with regular people’s concerns about the health of the environment, and through a consultation, they devise various experiments and interventions to both measure the health of the environment. The photo above was taken immediately after the talk. I had been drafted into the Imaginary Airforce to retrieve a dead woodpecker for examination. Why are we triking across Manhattan to retrieve a dead woodpecker? I’m just a draftee they don’t tell me these things The X Clinic or Environmental Health Clinic is researching bird wings to better build a flight simulator to allow people to experience flight viscerally again.  As commercial flight is a completely insulated experience, so simulated flight via the Strap on Flight Trainer [sorry I have a huge problem with this name. I think wearable is a much less alienating name.  I get the point, of course, but I don’t think it adds to the project] is experienced completely via the body, on a one to one basis.  That we should experience things physically should not be anything special, but these days the technological and digital mediation of experience is getting such that purely physical experiences are becoming academic.

I had a short discussion with Natalie about methods to construct this flight trainer in larger numbers.  The current design is fine for a beginner, but I also see limitations on finer controls. Control surfaces should be operated via the fingers in an advanced model, and perhaps a skin and bone construction.  I will try to find some time for modeling and prototyping in the New Year.

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2 Responses to “Environmental Health Clinic”

  1. andreychernykh December 12, 2009 at 1:56 am #

    I’m glad i stumbled on this post! This is very interesting Casey!

    I agree with you that there is a problem with technology alienating us from pure physical experience but that is true i think only when the technology exists as a separate entity. As soon as it becomes part of our bodies even a small portion of it, it reopens the doors of perception, possibly even enhancing it which i think this device is capable of doing.

    • caseywong December 13, 2009 at 3:17 pm #

      I also agree that technology is too much conceived as a thing outside the self. There is a general assumption that the body is natural and immutable and therefore sacrosanct and unalterable. Evolutionarily speaking though, the organism has gone through many innovations and alterations. The e. coli that lives in our gut and helps us digest is a plugin, if you will for our digestive system. A chip in my head to expand my my memory is the same kind of add on, only that the bacteria is much smarter and replicates itself. The difference is, I think, that the evolutionary changes to the body were judged from the standpoint of survival. That is, we think of all these features of the body to be necessary and natural, because they allowed us (and other organisms) to survive. The problem now, is that augmentations are not seen to be necessary, but rather to be alien and unwanted. The problem is that there isn’t any intrinsic value attached to the alteration of the human organism, beyond, how it came from the factory, so to speak.

      In terms of the technologies that I mentioned, the gspeak, voice recognition etc. They are not so much to help us, as they are to help them, the machines, understand us. Now, is this an instance of Jerry McGuire, “help me, help you”? Maybe that’s not the right question. Maybe it would be better to ask, what would the world be like, how would we perceive it, if man and machine became one?

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