An intriguing location-based service and the importance of "measurement"

The second issue of PEACH featured a very interesting article by Chris Hand entitled "Electronic Devices as Design Exploration". Mr. Hand describes how design can go beyond the Engineering approach to design interactive electronic products through Art and Design methods. This is exemplified by a location-based application/project he carried out. This GPS-based Frisson Inducer is a portable/wearable device aimed at "the dwellers of small towns who yearn for the edginess of living in a big city and is amazingly intriguing:

"a map-based software enables users to designate any arbitrary space in their town, no matter how dull or empty, as one of their “Thrill Zones”, simply by drawing its boundary. Since the device contains a GPS (Global Positioning System), it can easily determine whether or not the user is inside one of these zones, so long as they are not indoors. Employing classical Pavlovian conditioning to elicit a response, electrodes connecting the device to the user administer electric shocks whenever the location is within one of the Thrill Zones. After a short training period this results in a frisson of excitement or trepidation whenever the user is getting close to a Thrill Zone, even after the shocks have been switched off. (...) By uploading their own data to the device’s website users can share their Thrill Zones with their friends and fellow thrill-seekers, making it possible for social groups to crystallise around these new places and to experience them in a way not previously possible"

This creates what Chris Hand calls "reverse psychogeography, i.e. rather than recording an emotional response to a place, the device is controlling the response. Why do I blog this? Beyond my curiosity towards this application (that I find very interesting), what struck me here, wrt my research, is the notion of "measuring instrument", a device that allow to detect implicit/invisible phenomenon. This certainly an important in interaction design lately; if you think about all the interactive art projects that deals with pollution/noise/electronic sensing and their representation on web maps. What does that mean? Why this notion of measuring is important? Chris Hand highlights some issues:

"Measuring instruments are a special class of device. Using measuring instruments we can interpret our environment and create meaning – it is in the act of interpreting objective data that meaning is created. Furthermore the use of instruments is open, in that their owners can create personal rituals and procedures around them, as well as developing their own methods of interpretation and beliefs about the results and data being collected and displayed. Through instruments, the objective world of cold numbers and statistics acts as a mirror, reflecting the subjective world of our emotions and irrational beliefs.""