I’m Josh.

I investigate complex behavioral phenomena and design responses to them.

I look at how beliefs, tastes, habits, and survival strategies take form and how people reshape their environment to support new forms of life.

Interested in working with me?

At present I’m taking select assignments. I’m particularly interested in projects that touch on these themes: sound and its effects on mood and attention, movement, physical discipline, and how we learn to carry our bodies, meat and the future of nutrition, mobility, what we carry, and what we carry it in, and access to credit and informal channels of credit and credibility.

My 2015 book Computable Bodies won the 2016 PROSE Award in Language and Linguistics.

I have two new books in the works. You’ll find other writing and talks scattered here and there. Start with this: Sound and Pain

Recent highlights:

Cartographies of Rest

Client: Hubbub. Roles: Research direction, creative direction. 2014–16

A project on three levels. First, coaxing Wellcome Trust toward human-centered design. Next, getting LUSTlab up to speed on informed consent, reliability and validity, and other dimensions of rigorous research. Then the brief itself: Build an instrument to measure social rhythms of rest and its opposites in the wild. Make it participatory. Make it scalable.

After trying a bunch of things, we arrived at a model that incorporates self-reports of alertness and mood alongside ambient sound. This allows us to ask how environmental factors interact with place, time of day, and users’ state of being. Once a day users receive a notification asking them to comment on their state of being while we collect audio in the background. The whole interaction takes less than five seconds. We’re planning a launch for June 2016.

Cartographies of Rest: Handset views

Spectral Envelope

Self-initiated. Procedural video and installation. Ongoing since 2015

Spectral Envelope is an ongoing series of procedural video interventions exploring relationships among sound, light, movement, and attentional-motoric style. It got started in 2015 with audioshader, a livecoding environment that allows the operator to play the GPU like an instrument—indeed, to redesign the instrument as the set unfolds. This led to rd, which uses audio-driven reaction-diffusion models to explore the threshold at which a video image resolves into an image of something—a human face, say. Eventually, rd will form the basis for a series of large-format multichannel installations in which channels communicate zeitgebers—phase alignment cues, such as a loud noise—to one another, just as we continually transmit and receive phase alignment cues to and from others in our environment.

Spectral Envelope: Framecap from rd

Acoustic Fieldwork in Laos

Client: Hubbub / Self-initiated. Roles: Field observation, audio recording. 2016

In February and March 2016 I spent three weeks doing exploratory fieldwork in Laos. I had a bunch of aims, among them to look into possibilities for extending Cartographies of Rest into Southeast Asia.

Design researchers sometimes talk about the emerging world as a place with no incumbency, no entrenched infrastructure to bias new behaviors around communications technologies. But what is true of phones is not so true of roads, where the internal combustion engine has tremendous incumbency. In Vientiane, as so many places, the dominant motif in the urban soundscape is the 50cc motorcycle engine.

Vientiane, March 2016: Enjoy Everything Everyday Everyone

Computable Bodies

Book. Published 2015

In Computable Bodies, anthropologist Josh Berson asks how instrumented life—life lived under the constant gaze of sensors—is changing what it means to be human. Drawing on two years of fieldwork in the Quantified Self and polyphasic sleeping communities and integrating perspectives from interaction design, the history and philosophy of science, and medical, linguistic, and cognitive anthropology, he probes a world where everyday life is mediated by a proliferating array of sensor montages, where we adjust our social signals to make them legible to algorithms, and where old rubrics for gauging which features of the world are animate no longer hold.

Winner, 2016 PROSE Award in Language and Linguistics

These days I’m based in Berlin, though I spend a lot of time living out of a 22L knapsack.