Dis/Connect (2021)

39" diameter x 16" high
Acrylic, brass, LEDs, electronics

Eric Forman Studio and Ben Luzzatto
Daniel Gross, Engineering
Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic, Legal Partner

Under a global lockdown, we rely more than ever on the technologies that enable remote connection. Our devices connect us to the virtual world, but they often disconnect us from people in the same room, even at the same table.

Very few of us have been successful at managing our device usage — they are, after all, designed to be always connected and with us at all times. It’s not that we can’t turn them off... it’s that we don’t. But what if we could control connectivity with the same ease with which we adjust the lighting and temperature in our homes?

The chandelier used to signify a highly formal space, but we have more pressing needs in our homes now. The Dis/Connect Chandelier casts not only light, but a space of mutual disconnection. Made from translucent acrylic that glows from within, each arm has RF jamming antennae instead of bulbs. The classic arrayed catenary curves of the hanging antennae cables reference traditional form, but it has a new purpose: it disables all cellular and internet connectivity within a five foot radius directly below, making IRL engagement automatically and effortlessly device-free for those who choose to sit under it.
The Importance of Digital Silence

It is well documented that the online platforms we increasingly inhabit pose a threat to our health and well-being as individuals, and as a society. Device addiction and over-use contribute to depression in teenage populations, the proportion of personal life open to corporate surveillance, the outsized influence of algorithms that threaten our politics, and more broadly, the atrophy of our ability to simply be present that is so crucial to practicing empathy.

The virtual world provides crucial and lifesaving access and knowledge, as well as entertainment. But it is too difficult for ordinary people to set healthy boundaries. The Dis/Connect Chandelier will give people the ability to establish small spaces outside the reach of online distraction. Designating zones of digital silence will serve as a reminder that the way we engage with each other and the world around us matters.
Innovation as Instigator

Once a consequential technology is introduced and quickly adopted, artists, designers, and social scientists must catch up to it and interrogate its impact on our lives. Their research and provocations spur a new phase of innovation, perhaps even regulation or legislation, to prioritize the interests and needs of the individual and society at large. The Dis/Connect Chandelier represents a new way of delineating space that embraces the fact that we now occupy two worlds — one virtual and one physical — and we should be able to gracefully and easily step in and out of each.

The Dis/Connect Chandelier is distinct from existing commercial efforts to provide consumers with tools for managing device usage because it is architectural in nature. By casting digital quiet over defined spaces, it removes the burden from individuals to constantly deliberate about whether to check their device. And because these areas are limited to only a few feet, anyone can simply reach their phone outside the affected area to reconnect.
Technological Advance

Passive signal blocking such as usage monitoring software has proved mostly ineffective because time limits set by oneself or by parents can easily be overridden. It is also possible to block RF signals with a Faraday cage by lining a room with conductive mesh, but this cannot be targeted to a specified area within a room, and its installation is highly unlikely to be undertaken by the average citizen.

Active jamming products are currently illegal in most countries, in consideration of both emergency communication needs and the business interests of spectrum licensees. But existing jammers are packaged as technical instruments with indiscriminate range that runs the risk of blocking other external communications without permission. The Dis/Connect Chandelier is uniquely designed as a desirable object for the home, making engagement simple, seamless, and intuitive.

Dis/Connect uses a new antenna technology that allows for more precise limits to jamming range, accommodating safety concerns and complying with the spirit of these laws. Unlike existing jammers which use omnidirectional dipolar antennae, Dis/Connect uses a “Vivaldi” design customized for each frequency band, and focused to a precise area under the chandelier. Muting connectivity can thus be a private choice within a private space, with no possible overlap into the public sphere.
Legal Provocation

Our partners, the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic, have prepared a draft petition for the FCC that challenges existing precedent around these issues. The petition argues that mandating constant connectivity to the network is both invasive to property and individual privacy, and harmful to mental and behavioral health. Therefore, there are compelling reasons for the FCC to reconsider its position on prohibiting all signal jamming technology and to allow for limited use.

Our networked devices are indispensable and yet they clearly pose a risk to our psychological well-being if we cannot easily manage their use. The Dis/Connect Chandelier gives the individual a frictionless way to create quiet spaces in her own home — as easy as turning on or off a lamp — and points to a distinct technological and legal path forward in our effort as a society to grapple with this issue.
Using Format