How might we generate, rather than deteriorate, physical health during day-to-day digital interactions?

I’ve recently rebooted my social media presence after a hectic few years. I’ve been reading lots of stuff, liking posts, commenting on the odd one as you do. But it was hanging out this afternoon for a couple of hours with a new friend that really kickstarted me to go from observer to contributor. So I dusted off a draft post (started over a year ago), retitled it, jiggled it and hit publish. Here it is:

Our physical behaviour and activity seems increasingly shaped by our screens. Many of us sit for hours a day trying to navigate our way through work, study, life… on a tiny screen.

The consequences of our digital lives are potentially vast and serious. Black Sabbath’s lyrics to the 1992 song ‘Computer God’ painted a reasonably grim picture (the header image of this post). More recently Adam Alter has drawn parallels between irresistibility of digital products, and drug addiction.

Robotic hearts bleed poison
On the world we populate
Virtual existence with a superhuman mind
The ultimate creation, destroyer of mankind

Black Sabbath 1992


The negative physical and mental health effects associated with sedentary lifestyles are many. BetterHealth Victoria lists some .


Standing desks have gained popularity as a healthier alternative to sitting, but doesn’t that shift the problem from atrophy of our glutes to fatigue of our ankles/ knees?

How about augmented and virtual reality? They could go a way to changing screen-based lifestyles. But will they inherently address the physical issue? Or will we again just transfer the problem to different parts of our body/mind? Will AR/VR lead to the new, new smoking in a few years time?

To design for healthy lives, we need to design for healthy use of technologies. We might ask questions like:

  • How might we redesign ‘spreadsheets’ to be driven by whole-body interactions? (Or even better, how might we design-out spreadsheets?!)
  • How might we design data interactions to suit the type of manipulation or exploration we want to do, rather than to fit a screen, keyboard, mouse, chair?

In addition the screen is extremely tiny and two dimensional, compared to the complexity and richness of the 4D world we’re manipulating and experiencing through it. Again augmented reality promises to change this, but will it lead to a less or more intense flow of information into our bodies?

Screen and digital technologies intensify and amplify the world into our senses. But how much do we really sense?
  • How might we use physical data visualisation to prompt us to be more aware of our surroundings and senses, and attuned to the experience of being alive?
  • How might we design data interactions to place us and our manipulations in the context of where that data is relevant? So we might better understand the impact of what we’re doing.
  • Could we discover a renewed and exciting appreciation for the trees, which sprout from our footpaths, if we were able to see how they felt?

One of the earliest forms of data visualisation I remember is Pinocchio’s nose. A quick search revealed that people have been doing this for a lot longer though, even back to 5500 BC (

Here are some other examples

With recent technology developments, and the dawning ‘internet of things’, integration of dynamic physical data visualisation into our day-to-day lives is already changing the way we live. Wearables are taking off. It’s exciting. Are we doing the right things to ensure that we wear wearables, and we don’t end up being worn (out) by them?


I resisted including an image from Minority Report!

Header image —  Black Sabbath ‘Dehumanizer‘ album cover

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