At New Tech Museum Exhibit, Your Body Is the Work of Art

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A new permanent exhibit at San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation, Body Metrics, a highly original and completely interactive exhibition (hint: you'll be asked to wear a sensor), asks the billion-dollar question: How can technology really, truly improve our lives?

For curator Romie Littrell, the answer lies in a person’s own wellbeing. “Our hope is that technology can help people pay attention to what they’re doing, and that they can use information to make positive changes in their lifestyle,” Littrell says.

Check your preconceptions about museums at the door: There are no austere marble floors; no over-eager guard to measure your respectful distance from the art. With Body Metrics, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, it's about getting up close and personal. Here's the big-brother-y part.

When you visit the exhibit, you'll be outfitted with a sensor kit consisting of three devices: a customized iPod, a Somaxis muscle and heart device, and a NeuroSky EEG headset. Yes, it feels pretty unnatural, sort of like a thin layer of bureaucracy between you and your own body. Once you sling the iPod around your neck, paste the sensor to your traps, and strap on the wireless headset, you’re ready to find out what your body is all about.

The gadgets keep close watch on you as you wander through the exhibit, which includes a Heart Sync and exercises. Your customized iPod snaps pictures and records audio; the wireless headset measures brain wave activity; and the Somaxis sensor registers heart and muscle tension. You’ll feel about three gigabytes shy of being C3PO.

You'll return to humanity at the exhibit's finale, when you slide your iPod onto a Data Pool that displays your body metrics in six categories—activity level, tension, mental focus, talkativeness, attitude, and the number of people nearby. It also compares that data with others who have experienced the exhibit. (Anonymously, of course.) What happens next is entirely up to you.

“If people come to understand that a high heart rate can be helped by recognizing breathing patterns," says Littrell, "then the exhibit has been a success.”  //  Body Metrics, Tech Museum of Innovation (San Jose), thetech.org/bodymetrics

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