From iPhones to Digital Pills


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IPhones adhere to Manovich’s five characteristics, but so do other “new media”. For my 506 project, I am currently doing research on Digital Pills, or Smart Pills. The device is composed by three subsystems: IEM, the personal monitor (patch), and the software. The IEM is a tiny microchip (size of a grain of sand) with a digestible antenna made of silver nanoparticles that can be attached to any pill. Once the patient ingests the pill, the fluids of the stomach activate the microchip that sends a signal to a personal monitor (patch) when the pill is ingested. The microchip can also send other data, including the type and dose of medication, date and time of ingestion, as well as other biological and behavioral information (e.g. heart rate, weight, activity). The personal monitor is a patch that is attached to the torso – in the future it may also be attached to a watch or a cellphone. The patch receives and stores the data and also sends it through wireless to a software such as the doctors’ computer or a mobile phone that organizes and displays the information. The person receiving the data does not have to be restricted to health care providers, as other persons such as relatives or friends can also be the recipients (Hoover & Howell, 2010; FDA, 2012; Gagnon et al., 2012; O’Reilly, 2012). In May 2012 the FDA approved the digital pills (FDA, 2012).

The Smart Pill thus (1) uses Numerical Representation as it is uses digital technology and works with numbers in one platform as indicators of health information; (2) has Modularity because we can change what vital statistics and health information we want to send and receive without changing the physical pill; (3) is Automated as its ability to send health information is automated at ingestion; (4) has Variability and Multiformity when the medias of all the various health informations converge to make the pill work and send/receive the information; and (5) is Transcoded as the data that is sent/received can be read in many different ways e.g. as an image, text, and even live.

Manovich states that the use of digital has become so banal and ubiquitous that it becomes “something which does not seem to require much reflection about”. Manovich thus is in line with mediologists in the assertion that despite and in spite of our symbolic faculties, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of blackboxing our objects. And just as mediologists would argue, Manovich posits that “all culture, past and present, is being filtered through a computer, with its particular human-computer interface. Human-computer interface comes to act as a new form through which all older forms of cultural production are being mediated.” In the case of the digital pill we can identify many cultural functions have already been embedded: the healthcare function, the doctor-patient relationship function, the drug adherence function, etc.

Bolter and Grusin discuss remediation by explaining the lack of recognition that iPhones are just an amalgamation of past technologies that have been packaged into one device well i.e. “Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them…virtual reality should come as close as possible to our daily visual experience and transparent interface is one that erases itself.” Bolter and Grusin not only ring true with the iPhone with its clever interface that renders mediation almost invisible, but this invisibility can also be witnessed with the Digital Pill. The Pill is taken just like any other pill and once the stomach acids dissolve the outer shell and reach the antenna, the pill is activated and starts monitoring, recording, and sending information to doctors, healthcare providers, and eve family members. And this all happens as the user merely ingests.