Exploration of Digital Vulnerability


In keeping with my unnecessary endeavor to combine my more traditionally feminine hobbies with programming, I got really excited bouncing ideas off of a co-worker this summer when he mentioned conductive thread. I'd been reflecting a lot on the parts of ourselves we share online, what's lost in that translation, and the general transfer of information. I'm not sure how or why I connected these thoughts to the Phrenology skull my mom had in our little open dining area in our house when I was younger, but that brought me to this project.

My vision was a phrenology skull that was instead shaped like a human heart, half inspired the E.E. Cummings poem and, admittedly, the other half inspired by the pop Christmas ~classic~, I loved the idea of an experiential piece that you could hold in your hands.


  1. Embroidering

    I started off by using conductive thread to embroider words that captured feelings I'd been having for a while onto roughly outlined panels. Conductive thread is great but really hard to embroider with because it's much stiffer than regular embroidery floss. The words are embroidered in cursive and a little hard to read, but hopefully legible!

    The words are euphoric, hopeful, melancholic, empowered, isolated, sinking, yearning.

  2. Construction

    Without a real pattern in mind, I cut out the panels and started piecing them together with the intention of forming a human heart shape with them. It kind of worked out, kind of didn't. I mostly wish I had a sewing machine because my hand sewing is pretty sloppy.

    sewn/embroidered human heart
  3. Wiring it up

    Once I'd sewn the panels together, I tied the ends of some long red wires to each of the embroidered words on the inside of the structure (this relies on the embroidery being contiguous) and then wired it up to my arduino using the capsense library and this setup.

    ardunio with wires coming out of it
  4. Coding it up

    In Processing, I used the serial port stuff to read the data coming in from the arduino port. I set thresholds to determine when a word had been touched and had to do a little fine-tuning to handle the asynchronous nature of reading to & writing from the port. I then used the Beads library to produce different notes and to change the volume of them based on input. I coupled this first with displaying different colors on the Processing canvas and followed that up with displaying images that evoked the feeling associated with each embroidered word.

    repo w code!


  1. The things we share

    Sometimes I feel compelled, given my inclination to share happy moments or adventures online, to also share things that are a bit more of a bummer. I fear, though, that the loss of nuance and question of the role of ego in one's presence on the internet make it difficult to articulate emotions that could convey a complexity to one's experiences beyond a gilded presentation of happiness.

    This was, in many ways, a continuation of my meditation on Christian Hawkey's Ventrakl and the loss of information across time and space. The still images that appear on the screen mean very little to a viewer without context, and the addition of a note or a chord or a word doesn't do much to shed light on why the images make me feel the way they do.

    The notion that I could 'give someone my heart' or share vulnerable parts of my psyche with them online feels like something that's impossible to do genuinely & wholly. Instead, what I can give is a shoddy imitation that fools us into thinking we can feel and understand the experiences and emotions of someone else.

  2. more thoughts later; am sleepy...

-cb 👩‍💻