Zone (DefenseAttackPack prototypes)

2012

Backpacks, nausea sound circuits, software, and dynamic LED display

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The DefenseAttackPack fits between the gaming world and that of public safety paranoia.  The backpack, if worn in public, warns the user when others breach their personal space.  The perpetrator, when approaching from behind, notices an LED bar array that indicates “terror levels” – green for safe distance, yellow for caution, and red indicating an unacceptable degree of proximity.  When the perpetrator reaches a distance of uncomfortable proximity, the ultrasonic sensor will set off a nausea sound circuit, alerting not only the trespasser and backpack user, but also others nearby.

The nausea sound circuit reflects recent developments in sound weapon technology, specifically the recent popularity of LRAD (Long-Range Acoustic Device), as used by the military and law enforcement for the purpose of dispersing crowds.  In Paul Virilio’s War and Cinema: the Logistics of Perception, the first rule or principle he outlines is that there is no war without representation.  As scientific and meticulous as war becomes, it never breaks from the ‘pre-technical’ ideas of war as deception and illusion, spectacle and captivation.  So in addition to visual representations of the battlefield, there are mediations such as the piercing sound of swooping planes and missiles, designed to paralyze their targets.  What was previously called the “theatre of operations” has been replaced by the “theatre weapon”.  A nausea circuit is just one of many of these theatrical weapons, meant to psychologically, rather than physically, incapacitate the target.  The sound emitted from the pack, when turned correctly, is not immediately audible, but rather felt as a pressure in the eardrum.  Though prolonged exposure to the nausea circuit can cause disorientation and vertigo, its primary effect is one of inducing paranoia due to the uncertainty of audio directionality.

During gallery hours, visitors were allowed to interact with the backpacks by wearing them around the space.  The wall label for the installation encouraged their participation, and many took advantage of the opportunity.  However, most viewers approached the backpacks timidly, not only because the wall label warned them of a “nausea sound circuit,” but because of what they identified as suspicious cargo.  Despite its initial user-friendly appearance (many noted being attracted to the flashing LED indicators), closer inspection revealed unsettling details; users commented that despite its candy-colored innards, the backpacks made them feel uneasy because of their “bomb-like” qualities.  Visitors that wore the DefenseAttackPack prototypes commented that other gallery patrons regarded them warily, some claiming that they felt too conspicuous, or uncomfortably visible.  Whether or not this is true, these user reactions indicate possible psychological effects of such a device: one becomes, or feels, suspicious as a result of her own suspicion.  Subsequently, one wonders if our paranoia is justified, or does our paranoia simply justify our paranoia?