Little Black Box

Designer | Artist Marie Virginie Berbet
Year 2008

The Little Black Box, inspired by biofeedback techniques and named for a device in a Philip K. Dick story, visualizes our biological rhythms based on heart rate variability (HRV) and helps us control them. Marie-Virginie Berbet posits that this technology can be used to manage stress, eliminate sleep disorders, or enhance athletic performance, among other applications. Berbet cites research suggesting that HRV may demonstrate the mutual influence between brain and heart: interaction between the two plays a large role in regulating bodily functions, with changes in emotion reflected in changes in heart rhythm. Conversely, emotional states can be changed, for example, by using breathing exercises to modify the heart rate. A fingertip sensor detects a user’s HRV, and the box then coordinates its light pulses and vibrations in time with it. The pulsing light can also be used to modify—rather than simply display—the HRV, by being programmed to slowly change, visually suggesting a variation in breathing pattern that the user can eventually generate without help. The inner state is thus externalized, bringing, as the designer says, the “feeling of the heart beating into the hands” and “[generating] a kind of self-empathy . . . a singular interaction between [the] user and his own feelings.”