QuantHumanists update 1: Breed ideas, not/and babies!
Pleasure Principal has been a steady current of work for the past three weeks, even though it feels like I have nothing to show for it. A lot of my time has been spent in research mode with a heavy influence on defining the core values of the project, which has been more of a writing exercise over a design exercise (turns out there's a lot of foundation to build before diving into the technicals). But more than that, this project has proven to be a fear challenge of sorts, as the sensitive nature of the project puts me in what feels like a very vulnerable/exposed position. I've tended to be a fairly private person among any nature of colleagues and ITP is no different, so going from discreet to openly discussing my sexuality has me bumping up against major anxiety roadblocks.
I suppose I'll break through by beginning with fleshing out my proposal points. I'll follow with motivations/inspiration in the form of a sort of manifesto, and then will create a new blog post to document the research and design conducted up to this week.
North star: what and why
Three weeks ago we brought our final project proposals to class, here's the link to my presentation if you need refreshing. At its core essence, Pleasure Principal is a behavior intervention product that motivates and rewards creativity with erotic pleasure, in the form of a vibrator with usability determined by making art. The idea would be to create a self-tracking input front end UI that would control how long the vibrator would be powered and how strong it would vibrate; the interface experience has evolved from the classic self-tracking design (more on that in the upcoming R&D post), but the intervention remains the same.
I decided to go through the "five whys" to inform the final mission statement or "north star" of Pleasure Principal, and this is what the exercise looked like:
Problem: I'm not making enough art.
why? i don’t have time with other responsibilities
why? other responsibilities have clear goals that create incentive (pay, assignment deadline, appointments, etc), while creative time is more abstract
why? because the goals are not necessarily tangible
why? because creativity/artmaking is not inherently a trade
why? because creativity is a condition, like "wellbeing" or "mental health" can be measured by "condition"
so? make a way to habit change toward bettering my "creativity condition."
Still, habiting toward better creative health is hard to form, even for innately-creative people. Rewards are abstract, as opposed than habit-forming toward labor (eg “productivity = more or ‘better’ work) or conformity (eg “fitness” = social acceptance). “Arting successfully” is a paralyzing goal, especially as we externalize our reward systems (recognition, hire, engagement, change) and correlate “successful arting” with a finalized object that is “valued as art” which can be traded.
So how do we make making art a deeply personal investment with grand and tangible incentives that treat creativity as a condition and not a commodity?
Motivation: exploration of a built-in reward system
Sexuality can be a loaded topic, and I've found myself anticipating a lot of future reactions that have made me very cautious about how I frame this project; I've had anxiety dreams of having the concept (or at least my execution of it) dismissed as trite. But I'm the product of many intentionally created cognitive feedback loops, which requires listening and speaking to embodied perceptions. It so happens that sex is part of the body, and it is only a loaded topic because of an extraordinary effort to sever sexuality by pathologizing, medicalizing, and moralizing it away—with a great deal of violence—from the body-as-subject.
But what if you can strip society away and investigate the personally-experienced sexuality for what it is, a reward-focused cognitive sensor of our autonomic nervous system? Seems like a fairly ideal environment for a behavior intervention, then, doesn't it? Tuning that reward toward creativity feels especially purposeful, recursively elevating both art and pleasure toward the virtue of bringing more imagination into the world. Breed ideas, not/and babies!
We have reached peak "self-development culture", with a $10b self-improvement market telling us how to recognize, listen to, and exploit our embodied cognition toward cultivating an ideal self. Despite being the drive of existence, sexuality rarely enters the self-improvement conversation, with the exception of attracting and of course breeding (I know that's a huge generalization, but it's not perceptible in the mainstream at least). This is also an opportunity to invite and explore sexuality as a means of blossoming the self for the self, not the self for the other.
Inspiration: shame is lame, a history
Pleasure Principal is a deeply intimate exploration of behavioral intervention, inspired most generally by a long history of self-evaluation toward growth. Much of this has taken recognizable form; systems and habits cultivated toward building a more resilient mindset, to transform anxieties into opportunities, to connect conscientiously with my body, the spaces it enters, and observe how the two interact with each other. But there is a deeper underlying current of evolving away from subjugation programming that flows beneath the surface as inspiration for my own personal development "journey"; I liken this programming to addictions plied to the child (evoking the true violence of molding "normative" behavior) that must be kicked in order to achieve autonomy.
These two addictions are "fear" and "shame" (the latter being the internalized former). My shame came in the form of caging my intuitive ambition toward biopolitical autonomy, consequently burying my feminine power and sexuality, dreading the violent correction potentially incurred by expressing—no, embodying—these ideas that I now consider fundamental to my core essence. Thusly Pleasure Principal is an exercise in shedding yet another level of shame, first for myself by producing this provocative object despite my true terror of bringing my sexuality in front of an audience, and then hopefully for you by offering a way to consider the sexual response system apart from its moralized baggage, as something that should have never incurred shame in the first place, as something to be honored for its purpose of creation.
I have not gone down this road alone. This “desire to evolve” was an establishing factor of my near-decade-long relationship with a dear human named Ronen, who has assumed the roles of both muse and mentor in much of my development toward artistry and boldness; Pleasure Principal certainly holds elements of his musings and could only manifest for our time spent together in intervention mode. Referencing powerhouses such as Gertrude Stein, Emma Goldman, and Charlotte Bronte, Naomi Wolfe notes that relationships between great women artists or revolutionaries and their muses “coincided with risk-taking on other levels—social and artistic—and with other kinds of awakening: of mastery, expression, and creative powers.” This holds exceedingly true in my experience, though I still fall well within the shadow of those giants mentioned by Wolfe.
At the very beginning of our knowing each other Ronen gave me the adage "Shame is Lame." It's taken me this long to fully grok it.