Over the past decades, digital media has radically altered our environment. A layer of data has been added to the physical and visible environment, flowing through our spaces and creating networks that flawlessly cross the borders between public and private. We interact with this digital layer daily, yet it remains largely invisible and thus hard to understand or reflect upon. Hybride.me/ns (Dutch for "hybrid human" and the URL of the project's website) investigates how technology can be used to prompt reflection on the omnipresence of wireless networks in public space.
Hybride.me/ns consists of three core elements. A smartphone is used to capture wireless networks in the environment and convert these signals into visible, audible or tactile feedback for the user. However, the smartphone is not used as a handheld device, but placed on the user's body (as an extension of the human body) by means of covers and containers made out of everyday materials like cardboard, tape, and ribbon. The project thus uses an everyday object which is designed as an easy-to-use interface for the complex wireless world (the smartphone), but takes it out of its context by wielding it in a weird way, leading to a kind of estrangement, similar to the mechanics found in critical design (Dunne & Raby) and slow technology (Hallnäs & Redström). A wiki (http://hybride.me/ns) presents the project in the shape of how to guides and encourages users to invent, build and share their own extensions through its accessibility and DIY aesthetic.
An example of such an extension of the body is the hybrid heart. The heart is one of the main organs of the human body, yet it reacts strongly to external stimuli. The hybrid heart is a smartphone application that uses the phone's vibrator to mimic a heartbeat. The speed of the heartbeat is influenced by changes in the wifi networks in the area. By mounting the phone on top of the physical heart, one gets a double heartbeat, for both the physical and the digital environment, allowing the user to experience his environment in a different, hybrid way.