Intus et in cute
On the occasion of the group exhibition Open Skies at WIELS (27.9.2019–5.1.2020), Passa Porta invited two young Belgian authors to write a new text in which they present a critical reflection on the ever-louder call for transparency in society. Below you can read the text by the Brussels-based French-language writer Aïko Solovkine, translated by Daniella Shreir.
“Early infancy and old age constitute two of the most profitable sectors of the market. The ‘silver economy’ is, moreover, the promise of a rich future; a way of combatting the slowing of population growth. A great number of products specifically targeted at these two age groups appeal to their buyers’ desire to monitor the body in real time, and the need for security is the argument at the heart of their marketing campaigns.
When not under the care of the medical establishment, these ‘online’ products take charge of the monitoring of the infant and the senior, relying on potentially permanent access to some of the most intimate biological parameters in order to fully quantify, store and control them. The future of data gathered in this way, and this data’s eventual instrumentalisation for mercantile ends, nevertheless takes place without the knowledge of those who are not yet able or no longer able to give their consent.” — Aïko Solovkine
Ego te intus et in cute novi.
I knew you within and under the skin.
– Persius / Rousseau
The regularity of your breathing.
The position in which you sleep.
How deeply you’re sleeping.
Your body temperature.
You’re doing well, that’s what the tortoise says. The little electronic tortoise built into your soft cotton romper and linked up via Bluetooth to the application downloaded onto your parents’ smartphones.
Yes, the little tortoise has ears. A microphone is hidden under its soft shell. The information it gathers is sent to the smartphone which sends it to the wireless bottle warmer and the bottle warmer immediately gets to work. Soon your milk will be ready.
These are your earliest archives. The tortoise stores all your psychological parameters. How you breathe, how much you perspire, how you move around your crib, any risk that might come with your rest.
An inclinometer is built into your wireless bottle bag. This ensures your bottle is positioned at the right angle so that it’s not spat out and doesn’t go down the wrong way, resulting in diarrhoea, colic and reflux. But if this does happen a warning signal and flashing light are emitted. The inclinometer also knows how to detect any lumps in the bottle’s teat. It records the number of bottles you drink throughout the day, the length of your feeds, as well as the quantity of milk drunk in order to optimise your metabolism.
You’ve urinated. Time for a change.
The little Bluetooth sensor built into the outside of your nappy has detected it and sent the data through to the app that analyses your waste: you’re not dehydrated, your urine is clear and your kidneys are healthy. Instead, the app will send your parents the times you’ve woken up and the times you’ve gone back to sleep, and when you’ve taken your bottles.
You’re alive and still breathing. Your heart is beating at 110 beats a minute.
Sudden infant death syndrome isn’t a problem today. The pulse oximeters built into your booties light up the bottom of your feet with red infrared and LED lights in order to measure your oxygen levels and to take your pulse. Thanks to them we know whether you’re sleeping on your stomach or on your back. All your vital signs are sent through to your parents’ smartphones via the box installed next to your bed. If there’s any problem the app sends an alarm through to their phone, even if it’s on airplane mode. If the Wi-Fi is down, a docking station takes over in order to alert your parents, who will, in the same alert, be informed of any first aid they might be able to administer and the correct emergency numbers to dial.
How are you doing?
A small egg-shaped bracelet is tied to the wrist of your right arm which does the same job as your booties in relaying your vital signs: your temperature, your oxygen levels, your heart rate. If your parents are too far away for the Bluetooth system to work, your bracelet will notice and send a signal to the device’s charging dock which will sound an alarm.
Why are you crying?
The teddy bear that sleeps beside you is filled with sensors that pick up and send useful information about you through to an app. The little bear analyses the markers of your distress. It teaches you words and is able to get you to sleep quickly with its lullabies. It can measure your temperature and your pulse and the development of your physical strength. The database built into the smartphone app compares your behaviour to that of other children of the same age and provides tips for improving your performance.
Your baby monitor with a built-in two-way audio system, linked up to an app, is also equipped with an air purifier capable of detecting the presence of toxic particles in the air you breathe. If needed, the device alerts your parents and emits negative ions in order to purify the atmosphere.
Oral hygiene assessment.
Your wireless toothbrush is fitted with a timer and a position censor and can communicate information about how long you brush for, the areas that have been satisfactorily cleaned, the intensity and frequency of application. These pieces of information are then analysed in order to give an overview of the quality of your brushing.
Another bracelet, this time in hypoallergenic silicone, is attached to one of your ankles. As well as providing exactly the same service as the one on your wrist, it’s able to detect the temperature of your bedroom, its brightness, its humidity rate and the noises that enter your environment. One of your proxy guardians can also take the form of a third bracelet, also attached to your wrist or clipped onto your clothing. It’s linked up to an app which programmes the perimeter in which you’re able to move, from zero to 70 metres. If you escape these security perimeters, your bracelet sends an alert via Bluetooth to the app which then activates a GPS beacon in order to locate you.
Let’s go, boys and girls!
Your smartphone-controlled pushchair, which moves without needing to be pushed, is equipped with an air conditioning system, a music player, and a water-boiling device. Your parents can see you at any time thanks to a webcam, and can hear you at any time through the built-in microphone.
You’ve fallen down again.
The fall-detecting patch stuck to your chest is fitted with a microelectronic chip.
An accelerometer picks up on any changes in position (upright, lying down). If a change in position is deemed abrupt, a signal sent through to the electronic box also sends an immediate alert through to your parents or the person minding you. The patch can also detect any abnormal lack of movement outside of your bed, thanks to the infrared detector placed under it. Within five minutes, an alert will be set off. Next to no allergic reactions or intolerance has been caused by your patch and it doesn’t even need to be removed at bath time.
Medicine arrived at destination.
Even when they’re at work your parents know that your nanny is taking good care of you because your medicine contains a sensor which records its ingestion. This sensor is made of magnesium, silicon and copper and communicates by way of a sound that’s given off when it comes into contact with stomach fluids. This signal is picked up by a receiver situated on your chest cavity in the form of a patch that requires weekly changing. This patch transmits any information collected to your parents. If they wish, your GP can also track this on the web version of the app.
This begins at birth but it can begin long before that. They want to know. To hear you and feel you. Even to see you if they can. To begin educating you, to cross the threshold in order to get to the heart of you as soon as they can. The wireless device attached to your mother’s stomach takes your pulse and sends ultrasound images straight through to the screen of her tablet. The portable Doppler device linked up to an amplified headset can communicate the frequency of your heartbeat at any time. The audio waistband strapped around her stomach is twinned with her phone and sends the sound of her voice or select pieces of music in utero. Just as the small vaginal speaker linked up to two external headphones does. The speaker that is placed just above the cervix, allowing her to be in musical osmosis with you.
Translated from the French by Daniella Shreir
The peaceful rhythm of your breathing.
On your back, on your front or on your side.
And the tempo of your heartbeat.
How long you rest.
Nothing to report. The sensors built into your hospital bed relay the routine of your night-time activity to the staff at the geriatric clinic via Wi-Fi.
Cardiac arrhythmia detected.
Your smart mattress has brilliant hearing and nothing escapes its attention. It’s capable of altering the temperature of your bed if it picks up on an increase or decrease in body temperature. And if you’re someone who snores, know that your mattress can also alter your position in order to clear your airways.
Your last stats. The bed gathers all your bodily variables. How you sleep and how you breathe, the quality and anomalies of your heartbeat.
The base of your glass includes sensors that measure your water intake and make sure you’ve actually drunk it. It can even determine if you’ve drunk it or if you simply spilled its contents. If you’re in a retirement home you, like all the other residents, will receive a bracelet so that the caregivers know who has drunk from what glass. These results are sent to a programme that sorts the data in order to assure the correct care for each resident.
You’ve urinated. Time for a change.
The carbon fibre humidity sensors built into your nappies communicate with the electronic box which is linked to the network of the nursing home via Wi-Fi. The information picked up by the sensors is then able to be accessed on the smartphones given to each carer. Green signal: all is well. Orange signal: moisture detected in the nappy. Red signal: quick intervention required.
You’re not dead, you’re still breathing. Your heart is beating at 80 beats a minute.
You won’t be found decomposing in your bed 40 years after your death. This is thanks to the hidden sensors in the soles of your slippers which detect your falls and alert your loved ones in real time. A femoral neck fracture lies in wait and double precautions are better than none. This is why you’d be wise to arm yourself with hip airbags with built-in 3D sensors which not only detect any falls but also cushion them nine times better than classic protectors. For optimal security, these airbags can detect any falls in 200 milliseconds and inflate themselves entirely in less than a second. They are reusable and rechargeable and are linked up to an electronic box which alerts your family to any accidents.
You’re doing well.
The wireless watch you wear on your wrist detects any falls and sends an SOS to your loved ones with your exact location. It allows you to make calls and includes a cardiac sensor which tracks your heartbeat in real time and sends out an alert if your heartbeat is too high or too low. An online health platform is available where the data collected on your wireless watch can be tracked.
What’s happened to you?
Both your loved ones and the emergency services can be alerted by text, phone or email about your falls thanks to your wireless walking cane. The cane knows how to differentiate between the fall of the person using it and itself. Thanks to integrated sensors on the handle, it detects if a hand is gripping it and lights up if this is the case. It can even come with an integrated GPS system and is also able to detect unusual patterns of use – weakened activity linked to an illness, maybe, or fatigue; unusually late waking hours, etc.
Your night vision monitor allows carers to know when you wake up in the middle of the night so they can help you get to the toilet. Its in-built sensor is activated by the smallest movement – to such an extent that your needs can be anticipated before you’ve even got up.
The results from your salivary analysis.
The electronic sensor built into your dentures analyses your saliva in order to measure your lactate, cortisol and uric acid levels and sends through a report via Bluetooth. These dentures replace the need for the regular blood tests necessitated by your diabetes.
The wireless pendant you wear around your neck is linked via Wi-Fi to sensors stuck on the doors of your fridge and your bathroom. They detect any deterioration in your habits: a decline in personal hygiene can be identified by a decrease in toilet visits; irregularly mealtimes can be detected thanks to the sensor on the fridge door. They warn your loved ones of these changes via the app, accessible on smartphone and online. This pendant also contacts a GPS tracker which means you can be found if you get lost. If ever you go outside the agreed perimeters, your family or carers will receive a message.
Time to go for a walk.
The wireless wheelchair you now use to get around is linked up to an app which recognises the routes you’ve already taken and records information about the places you wish to travel to. It is able to pick up information about your health (heartbeat, body temperature etc.) and contacts the emergency services if there’s any problem.
You’ve fallen down again.
They’ve installed wireless flooring in your retirement home. Thanks to sensors which carry out a permanent analysis of how the residents and carers are moving around, the flooring can anticipate potential danger and alert the staff in case of a fall. This flooring can also be personalised according to residents’ needs – by creating a light-up path when someone wakes up in the night – and allows someone to intervene if someone is in the toilet for an unusually long time. Thanks to this flooring it’s also possible to consult the weekly or monthly stats of each resident.
The correct pill has been swallowed.
The administration of your medicine is now secure thanks to your wireless pill dispenser whose compartments have been filled with your medicine. At the time you’re supposed to take your medicine, the dispenser sounds an alarm and lights up the compartment containing the correct pills. Its optical sensors calculate variations in weight in order to detect when a compartment is empty. It’s even capable of detecting changes in time zone and of adapting so that treatment is taken at regular intervals while travelling. If any medicine is forgotten or mixed up an alert is generated and sent via email or text to your loved ones.
This ends at your death but can be extended far beyond that. They want you to know. How much you were loved and how much you’re missed. They want to keep you with them by being as near to you as possible.
The inside of your coffin is riddled with wireless cameras that allow you to be seen in high definition across the major social networks. Speakers are also annexed into your coffin in order to play music to you, and to transmit voice messages or even poems sent by your loved ones. On the outside of your coffin as inside are wireless LED screens where photos, images and drawings appear as a slideshow. These screens can also display messages from loved ones who weren’t able to make it to the funeral.
Aiko Solovkine is a Belgian journalist and author. Her first novel, Rodéo, won the Prix de la première oeuvre (First novel prize) from the Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles in 2016. She has written two pieces of theatre: Rwanda Inc and Mare Nostrum which was first performed in January 2019 at the Théâtre de la Vie in Brussels. She has also published several short stories with her latest appearing in the anthology Nouvelles de Belgique (Short Stories from Belgium, Editions Magellan et Cie).