Conference Paper

Deciphering a Meal through Open Source Standards: Soylent and the Rise of Diet Hackers

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Abstract

A life without food – a leitmotiv of science fiction dystopias is becoming a voluntary choice for thousands of people consuming the powdered food replacement soylent. The DIY soylent powders are designed by a group of nutrition hobbyists who distrust existing healthy eating standards and crowdsource experimental soylent recipes in their online user forums. This DIY food-tech rebellion offers an opportunity to look at the issues around present food standards and policies from the HCI perspective. This paper reports findings from in-depth interviews with 21 soylent dieters, with the aim of identifying the risks and opportunities of the expert-amateur DIY food practices.

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... We frame our findings within the prior scholarship on citizen science [12,13,21,23,34] and health selfexperimentation [4,14,15,17,18]. Scholars have voiced the need to encourage lay people to become legitimate producers of scientific knowledge, and highlighted positive impacts of amateur science practices on participants' literacies and self-awareness [8,16,32]. Although the limitations of amateur science practices have been identified as well [10,21,23] the issues around participants' comprehension of risks related to these practices have not been substantially covered. ...
... A deliberate engagement in the empowering but also risky health self-experimentation can be driven by diverse motivations. While the interests of the practitioners (endusers) usually revolve around self-improvement, self-cure, curiosity in new technologies, or a distrust in health policies [8,18] the facilitators of data-sharing services (e.g. developers of self-tracking technology and other products, corporate healthcare providers, or academic bodies) may be motivated by scientific advancement as well as by financial profit [4]. ...
... Both the idea and the product were pioneered by software engineer Robert Rhinehart and went from his kitchen tinkering experiment to a commercial venture in 2013, after a successful crowdfunding campaign ( Figure 1). To deliver his powder commercially, Rhinehart founded a Silicon Valley-based venture Rosa Labs [26] and the soylent community made up mostly of white male technology developers [1,8] began to grow. This demographic asymmetry has been a subject of critical discussions highlighting the unequal socio-economic access to soylent [8] as well as possible adverse impacts of the simplified powdered nutritionism on the already vanishing human-food relationship and traditional food cultures [9]. ...
Conference Paper
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Quantified self-experimentation with personal diets is a popular activity among health enthusiasts, diagnosed patients, as well as "life hackers" pursuing self-optimization goals. In this paper, we reflect on self-experimentation practices in the context of amateur citizen science communities. We report findings from 11 month-long qualitative fieldwork in a community of nutrition hobbyists experimenting with a powdered food substitute "soylent". Our respondents customized the soylent powders to their personal needs, tracked their metabolic reactions to the diet, and discussed their findings with the online soylent user community. Although the data and knowledge sharing within the community positively impacted respondents' nutrition literacy, these activities created risks regarding their health safety and data privacy. We define soylent self-experimentation as a form of "extreme citizen science". Based on the limitations identified in the soylent community, we suggest a set of design recommendations for extreme citizen science projects.
... As shown by [6] or [17], hands-on engagement with personal health and peer support in the communities can also have a positive impact on participants' scientific literacy, selfunderstanding, and emotional wellbeing. However, there are also certain limitations that curb these celebratory accounts, such as the low scientific validity of n=1 experiments [4]; safety risks of self-guided health interventions [2,15]; ambiguous privacy aspects of open data sharing [4,14]; and limited socioeconomic access to technology and knowledge resources [7,13]. ...
... Self-experimenters usually pay for their self-tracking devices, DTC sequencing tests, and participation in crowdsourced health studies, which makes these services affordable only to certain socio-economic cohorts [7]. For instance, the QS and Soylent groups are populated mostly by middle-aged white males [2,7]. Not only does this skewness exacerbate the already problematic healthcare disparities, but it also limits the idea of crowdsourced health studies and trials as a source of demographically robust data [12]. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
Quantified self-experimentation with personal health is a growing activity among health enthusiasts, biohackers, and patients with chronic conditions. By collecting and sharing their health data through self-tracking devices and health networking services, self-experimenters engage in a unique form of n=1 citizen science-style research. This data sharing altruism is constrained by limited data security, validity, and socio-economic access. We will explore these issues as design challenges. The workshop invites various stakeholders (private, corporate, non-profit, academic) to engage in a discussion and a performative prototyping of a design framework for transparent and just health self-experimentation.
... Not only have the processes of food production become intermediated, but so have the processes of bringing that food to people. An extreme example of this is soylent [21], in which food is processed to the extreme to produce a single synthesized product that in concept has all the nutrients required to sustain a person. In addition to the food products themselves, the distribution channels for food have only recently begun to revert to older, localized practices, such as farmers markets and community gardens [45]. ...
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... For instance, food can be printed based on one's measured energy expenditure (Figure 2). The nutritional value of food can also be customized to a macro level, allowing users to individualize the amounts of protein and carbohydrates in their meals [2]. However, there are still considerable barriers in social and cultural access, usability, and implementation of ...
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'Hegemonic nutrition' is produced and proliferated by a wide variety of social institutions such as mainstream nutrition science, clinical nutrition as well as those less classically linked such as life science/agro-food companies, the media, family, education, religion and the law. The collective result is an approach to and practice of nutrition that alleges not only one single, clear-cut and consented-upon set of rules for 'healthy eating,' but also tacit criteria for determining individual fault, usually some combination of lack of education, motivation, and unwillingness to comply. Offering a collection of critical, interdisciplinary replies and responses to the matter of 'hegemonic nutrition' this book presents contributions from a wide variety of perspectives; nutrition professionals and lay people, academics and activists, adults and youth, indigenous, Chicana/o, Latina/o, Environmentalist, Feminist and more. The critical commentary collectively asks for a different, more attentive, and more holistic practice of nutrition. Most importantly, this volume demonstrates how this 'new' nutrition is actually already being performed in small ways across the American continent. In doing so, the volume empowers diverse knowledges, histories, and practices of nutrition that have been marginalized, re-casts the objectives of dietary intervention, and most broadly, attempts to revolutionize the way that nutrition is done. © Allison Hayes-Conroy and Jessica Hayes-Conroy 2013. All rights reserved.
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Manufacturers must accurately understand user needs in order to develop successful products–but the task is becoming steadily more difficult as user needs change more rapidly, and as firms increasingly seek to serve “markets of one.” User toolkits for innovation allow manufacturers to actually abandon their attempts to understand user needs in detail in favor of transferring need-related aspects of product and service development to users along with an appropriate toolkit.User toolkits for innovation are specific to given product or service type and to a specified production system. Within those general constraints, they give users real freedom to innovate, allowing them to develop their custom product via iterative trial-and-error. That is, users can create a preliminary design, simulate or prototype it, evaluate its functioning in their own use environment, and then iteratively improve it until satisfied. As the concept is evolving, toolkits guide the user to insure that the completed design can be produced on the intended production system without change.Pioneering applications in areas ranging from the development of custom integrated circuits to the development of custom foods show that user toolkits for innovation can be much more effective than traditional, manufacturer-based development methods.
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I anatomize a successful open-source project, fetchmail, that was run as a deliberate test of some theories about software engineering suggested by the history of Linux. I discuss these theories in terms of two fundamentally different development styles, the "cathedral" model, representing most of the commercial world, versus the "bazaar" model of the Linux world. I show that these models derive from opposing assumptions about the nature of the software-debugging task. I then make a sustained argument from the Linux experience for the proposition that "Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow," suggest productive analogies with other self-correcting systems of selfish agents, and conclude with some exploration of the implications of this insight for the future of software.
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Crowdsourcing is an online, distributed problem-solving and production model that has emerged in recent years. Notable examples of the model include Threadless, iStockphoto, InnoCentive, the Goldcorp Challenge, and user-generated advertising contests. This article provides an introduction to crowdsourcing, both its theoretical grounding and exemplar cases, taking care to distinguish crowdsourcing from open source production. This article also explores the possibilities for the model, its potential to exploit a crowd of innovators, and its potential for use beyond forprofit sectors. Finally, this article proposes an agenda for research into crowdsourcing.
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Household food practices are complex. Many people are unable to effectively respond to challenges in their food environment to maintain diets considered to be in line with national and international standards for healthy eating. We argue that recognizing food practices as situated action affords opportunities to identify and design for practiced, local and achievable solutions to such food problems. Interviews and shop-a-longs were carried as part of a contextual inquiry with ten households. From this, we identify food practices, such as fitting food, stocking up, food value transitions, and having fun with others and how these practices are enacted in different ways with varied outcomes. We explore how HCI might respond to these practices through issues of social fooding, the presence of others, conceptions about food practices and food routines.
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Long before the terrorist atrocities of 11 September 2001 in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, the anthrax attacks through the US mail, and the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, signs were mounting that America’s ability to create and operate vast technological systems had outrun her capacity for prediction and control. In a prescient book, published in 1984, the sociologist Charles Perrow forecast a series of ‘normal accidents’, which were strung like dark beads through the latter years of the twentieth century and beyond — most notably, the 1984 chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India; the 1986 loss of the Challenger shuttle and, in the same year, the nuclear plant accident in Chernobyl, USSR; the contamination of blood supplies with the AIDS virus; the prolonged crisis over BSE (‘mad cow disease’); the loss of the manned US space shuttle Columbia in 2003; and the US space programme’s embarrassing, although not life-threatening, mishaps with the Hubble telescope’s blurry lens, and several lost and extremely expensive Mars explorers (Perrow 1984). To these, we may add the discovery of the ozone hole, climate change, and other environmental disasters as further signs of disrepair. Occurring at different times and in vastly-different political environments, these events nonetheless have served collective notice that human pretensions of control over technological systems need serious re-examination.
Conference Paper
We are at an important technological inflection point. Most of our computing systems have been designed and built by professionally trained experts (i.e. us--computer scientists, engineers, and designers) for use in specific domains and to solve explicit problems. Artifacts often called "user manuals" traditionally prescribed the appropriate usage of these tools and implied an acceptable etiquette for interaction and experience. A fringe group of individuals usually labeled "hackers" or "nerds" have challenged this producer-consumer model of technology by hacking novel hardware and software features to "improve" our research and products while a similar creative group of technicians called "artists" have re-directed the techniques, tools, and tenets of accepted technological usage away from their typical manifestations in practicality and product. Over time the technological artifacts of these fringe groups and the support for their rhetoric have gained them a foothold into computing culture and eroded the established power discontinuities within the practice of computing research. We now expect our computing tools to be driven by an architecture of open participation and democracy that encourages users to add value to their tools and applications as they use them. Similarly, the bar for enabling the design of novel, personal computing systems and "hardware remixes" has fallen to the point where many non-experts and novices are readily embracing and creating fascinating and ingenious computing artifacts outside of our official and traditionally sanctioned academic research communities. But how have we as "expert" practitioners been influencing this discussion? By constructing a practice around the design and development of technology for task based and problem solving applications, we have unintentionally established such work as the status quo for the human computing experience. We have failed in our duty to open up alternate forums for technology to express itself and touch our lives beyond productivity and efficiency. Blinded by our quest for "smart technologies" we have forgotten to contemplate the design of technologies to inspire us to be smarter, more curious, and more inquisitive. We owe it to ourselves to rethink the impact we desire to have on this historic moment in computing culture. We must choose to participate in and perhaps lead a dialogue that heralds an expansive new acceptable practice of designing to enable participation by experts and non-experts alike. We are in the milieu of the rise of the "expert amateur". We must change our mantra: "not just usability but usefulness and relevancy to our world, its citizens, and our environment". We must design for the world and what matters. This means discussing our computing research alongside new keywords such as the economy, the environment, activism, poverty, healthcare, famine, homelessness, literacy, religion, and politics. This talk will explore the design territory and potential opportunities for all of us to collaborate and benefit as a society from this cultural movement.
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Innovation is rapidly becoming democratized. Users, aided by improvements in computer and communications technology, increasingly can develop their own new products and services. These innovating users—both individuals and firms—often freely share their innovations with others, creating user-innovation communities and a rich intellectual commons. In Democratizing Innovation, Eric von Hippel looks closely at this emerging system of user-centered innovation. He explains why and when users find it profitable to develop new products and services for themselves, and why it often pays users to reveal their innovations freely for the use of all. The trend toward democratized innovation can be seen in software and information products—most notably in the free and open-source software movement—but also in physical products. Von Hippel's many examples of user innovation in action range from surgical equipment to surfboards to software security features. He shows that product and service development is concentrated among "lead users," who are ahead on marketplace trends and whose innovations are often commercially attractive. Von Hippel argues that manufacturers should redesign their innovation processes and that they should systematically seek out innovations developed by users. He points to businesses—the custom semiconductor industry is one example—that have learned to assist user-innovators by providing them with toolkits for developing new products. User innovation has a positive impact on social welfare, and von Hippel proposes that government policies, including R&D subsidies and tax credits, should be realigned to eliminate biases against it. The goal of a democratized user-centered innovation system, says von Hippel, is well worth striving for. An electronic version of this book is available under a Creative Commons license.
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