Blackout Dongle

Wireless serial communication, TouchDesigner
Carnegie Mellon University
2020

Learning from home requires an extraordinary effort to maintain a clean stream of attention towards the communication devices we use for that purpose —computers, external monitors, smartphones, iPads— as well as an unimpaired dexterity with peripheral electronics —mouse, keyboard, external drives— and traditional tools —for me, a mechanical pen, a notebook, and tons of Post-its. The complex choreography across technologies has an additional challenge: each of those devices and tools is interfaced with our brain in different ways. The different operating systems, visual and sonic interfaces, tactile experiences, and cognitive mechanisms involved in mastering and transferring knowledge from one to another system saturates our capacity to focus our attention on this task's main goal: to acquire knowledge and develop our understanding of the beyond-the-brain body.

'Today, there’s a new kind of chore. A new set of numerous, mindless errands embedded into our already overwhelming busy lives.’
(Krishna, 2015)

Far from Xerox Park ideals of working and living in a seamless universe of computers that could help me achieve my educational goal during the in-home university, I spent my hours clicking icons, chasing hyperlinks, scrolling up and down, swiping left to right, typing user and password forms, and delighting my vision with carefully crafted UI/UX designs and lazy rectangles (Krishna, 2015). Though sometimes I have taken advantage of multiscreen settings for accomplishing complex processes that require auxiliary tasks—such as searching for words in my phone or uploading snapshots from my camera to the cloud—, the presence of my smartphone in a learning environment is counterproductive to complete such processes fully and most of the times is a distracting tool. As many studies suggest, 'the mere presence of one’s own smartphone may occupy limited-capacity cognitive resources, thereby leaving fewer resources available for other tasks and undercutting cognitive performance' (Ward et al., 2017).

Blackout Dongle is a portable add-on filter that interrupts the video signal of a computer workflow when the user's attention shifts to their smartphone device.

Blackout Interaction
[Click to watch the demo]

Praising concepts of efficiency in the workspace and optimization of multidevice screen-based behaviors, this portable video dongle connects between the HDMI connector of a standard monitor and the HDMI cable from the user's workstation/laptop interfering with the video signal when the phone is in use.

The system allows the user to better stream their attention to one digital platform at a time: as soon as the user flips the phone, the Blackout Dongle interfaces the video signal with a blackout animation effect that covers the angular area proportional to the orientation —or roll angle— of the phone.

• Krishna, G. (2015). The best interface is no interface: The simple path to brilliant technology. Pearson Education.
• Ward, A. F., Duke, K., Gneezy, A., & Bos, M. W. (2017). Brain drain: The mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces available cognitive capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2(2), 140-154.