And there was a beautiful view but nobody could see
Cause everybody on the island was saying: Look at me! Look at me!
–Laurie Anderson, “Language Is a Virus“
In conversation, people say they like to listen but they really don’t. Instead, they want to talk about that most interesting topic: Themselves. So it is with taking pictures: “selfies” is a thing, we want to see ourselves in the best light possible to appease our vanity. Is it also the case with thoughts? Do we merely want to fill others’ consciousness with thoughts about us? Do I want only others to think of me, and in so doing, spread my thoughts like virus across the human landscape?
“Look at Me, Think of Me” is an interactive installation game that uses a two-way mirror (Wehrmann, 2013) coupled to audio and brain-wave controlled lights to engage audiences in seeing the self vs. the other while talking and reflecting about themselves. It’s a model for how we validate ourselves in a chaotic world.
We were indebted to an inspiring project by Moritz Wehrmann, whose two-way mirror setup for seeing the self and the other called Alter Ego provided a technology we then used to make interactive. We added our interactivity using voice and EEG, making it into a biometric game. A two-way acrylic sheet mirror was obtained at Canal Plastics. Lighting on either side of the mirror causes that side’s image to be visible from both sides. In order to allow tuning of lighting on either side, we constructed a wooden frame around the mirror that has adjustable flaps on both side, and mounted a rectangular LED diffuser obatined from Canal Lighting and Parts on either side. Adafruit Neopixels were cut down to half meter strips, mounted, and soldered to wire to an Arduino Uno. Microphones were hooked up as here and passes volume to a controller in Unity or Open Frameworks through Serial port. A language is constructed to turn on/off lights on either side via Serial (see .ino file). Code for Arduino, OF, and Unity are here.
The Unity for voice application applies a threshold for volume detection and turns on the lights on the appropriate side via Serial. The OF app incorporates EEG data detected from NeuroSky Mind Wave Mobile. To get data from the headsets, we used both a custom app that uses the ThinkGear Connect protocol from the NeuroSky distribution, and a simpler OSC app running on computer that relays the data to OF called Brain Wave OSC. Getting data from each headset on separate ports, the OF code then turns on the Neopixel of the side with greater attention. For reference the code also includes equivalent code for Unity, which includes a third party OSC reader. That code uses the attention signals to drive another device.
Players sit across from each other wearing headsets that measure their attention. Whoever has higher attention both see themselves and impress their image on the other. The object of the game is to see your own face as much as possible. During testing we actually reversed the interaction a couple of times so that lower attention leads to the light turning on. Audiences took quite a while to realize this, because they don’t know what the others’ attention values are. It’s as if the game play never evolves when the player does her best only to get to see her own face.
When we communicate, the give and receive dynamics are reversed. When you receive another’s message by listening, you are the giver, because you allow others to impress ideas upon you about themselves. Conversely when you talk, you are making space in someone else’s mind, shaping it by impressing yourself upon them. “Look At Me, Think of Me” illustrates this relation by showing the speaker who she is really putting forth: Herself. Conversely the listener is left with the image of the other, giving herself freely as she receives the image impressed upon her.
An analogous thing is happening by pure thought as oppose to voice. We want others to think of us, so when we pay attention in the game, we are really paying attention to that most alluring and deceptively pleasing subject: Ourselves. Is it too late to step out of the constant cry of “think of me?” Will we ever remove ourselves from the temptation of life’s most omnipresent fruit, that of the narcissistic self, so that we can once again see freely around us?
“Look At Me, Think of Me” was a project at Parsons School of Design.