Since Hansen uses Shannon’s Information Theory when he discusses Skin Probes, here are some thoughts in my mind:

  • The original purpose of Information Theory is to create a technological theory of the transmission of physical signals
  • The word information is used in a purely technical sense
  • Shannon himself rejected extension of his mathematical model of information to the arena of human communication

Thus, when Philips Design describes the idea behind Skin Probes as to “construct technologies that express the emotions and personality of the wearer”, I can see their principle is  “Information-as-thing”, which means:

Idea (or emotions) = object

The bodysuit’s visual appearance = container

Communication = sending the idea in a container to the receiver (reading the emotions shown in the body suit’s visual appearance)

Based on Shannon’s model, information is depicted as being packed into a word or sentence and then shipped across a channel/conduit where it is unpacked intact by the recipient. Thus, a successful communication is receiving a message that is the same as it originally transmitted, while all context or individual experience are considered as “noises”. Following this perspective, skin probes can be seen as a good way for social interaction to become easier, better, more meaningful and more accurate, because the body is seen as a container of information, and the probe is a direct translation and convey all information to the receiver.

But I feel a disadvantage of this approach is that the human component is removed from the communicative process, and the message itself becomes the primary and dominant   —  if not the sole  — focus. In this sense, meaning exists independently of the intentions of the wearer, the experience of the audience, and the influence of context – Is it too boring? Also,  the description of this design sounds dehumanized: body is the container of information, skin is interface, emotions are visual signals, etc.

Similar question for designers: Do designers tend to “pack” some ideas into the product, so users can “unpack” it and get exactly the same intact meaning? Or do designer should leave some room for users’ interpretation and personal creation?