Social Computing in 2020 Second Prize Winner: Experiential Skin Diving by Daniel Luis Kamakura

About the Author: Daniel Kamakura is a rising undergraduate senior at Duke University, with aspirations of going to medical school and becoming a published science fiction writer. Having been an amateur writer since 5th grade, the Bluesky “Social Computing in 2020″ Competition is his first submission to a mainstream creative competition. He is currently studying for his MCATs in August, working on the manuscript of his first, full-length science fiction novel, as well as searching for an artist to assist in a possible graphic novel tie-in. He hopes to complete both projects—including matriculation to medical school—some time before the year 2020, and eagerly looks forward to his first “Skin Diving” experience.

For more information about all of the contest winners, please see the full contest winners announcement.

Participants in the competition warrant that their ideas are their own. Where ideas include component-ideas or materials by others, applicants warrant that any intellectual property owned by others and used in their submissions is approved for use and appropriately attributed.

The copyright or patent for any material submitted for the competition remains with the original owner.

Description of the Idea:

It is part of human nature to desire to be or do things that are not always easy or even physically possible, to be or do. Very few human beings, for example, will ever experience the sensation of walking on the Moon, or hitting a home run in Wrigley field, or swimming with sharks in the Great Barrier Reef. Very few human beings, for example, will ever be anyone but the person they are at any given moment; this knowledge is ingrained and consciously known as fact, but nevertheless, people still dream of being Neil Armstrong, or Mark McGuire, or Jacques Cousteau, and of doing the things that these men could do.

In the year 2020, however, the ability to be something or someone else, to do something that may or may not be likely, or even physically possible, will become reality: virtual reality. With new advances in intelligent nanofibers and materials, fiber optics, super- and semi-conducting substances, and data storage, collection, and transfer technologies, reality can be accurately simulated in a virtual setting. And by using unique programs and garments made of specialized materials, virtual sensations can for the first time be experienced safely, realistically, and above all accessibly by the average consumer, allowing a quantum leap in social networking and the next logical progression from life- and experience-sharing softwares and technologies.

In this new age of experiential simulation, social “networkers” wear special ultra-thin “recording suits” that digitally record every sensation that they experience. The “experience” is then downloaded to a computer and uploaded to the Internet, where “skin divers” download and relive the experience by hooking up their own full-body “sensation suits” which mimic the experience in minute detail.

Skin divers are thus able to attain the next logical progression of networking sites, status updates and personal blogs, and engage in a quantum leap in social interaction and engagement. Through sensation suits (alternately referred to as “skin suits”), users are able to share and express their feelings and experiences in ways that words and video could never do. Utilizing skin suits, divers can literally “get under the skin” of their friends and (for the right price) any celebrities or pop culture personalities willing to participate. The potential for professional “sensation” actors has untold implications for the entertainment industry, most obviously for adult entertainment, but also in more “family friendly” sectors.

For a relatively nominal one-time fee (covering the cost of a sensation and recording suit, and any ancillary hardware necessary to transmit/record sensations) friends can share and swap their favorite “experiences” with one another, either their own or those that they have purchased from “experiential vendors.” Those with truly intense, pleasurable, or otherwise popular experiences may also opt to sell these experiences to others for a profit. Entire niche industries may crop up catering to unique experiences and tastes. Experiential “circles” or experience groups may crop up on the Net or in real life, as people who might’ve shared vacation photos or home videos will instead compare and share real-time, real life experiences.

The potential also exists for people to gain more insight than ever into the lives of others, by literally “experiencing” their lives personally, rather than having to rely on information conveyed verbally or visually; in using full-body sensation suits, one can not only “walk a mile in another man’s shoes,” but walk in those shoes feeling, hearing, seeing, smelling, and tasting every step of the way. In this way, interpersonal relationships will not only become more intimate and more close, but also more rewarding. An individual who is, for example, unsatisfied with the behavior of their friend, associate, acquaintance, or romantic partner (be they public, social or even erotic behaviors), but is unable to articulate or convey their concerns through traditional means, can share with their partner the experience from another person’s perspective, or even their own. These “out-of-body” or third-party perspectives not only provide the opportunity for meaningful and in-depth self-reflection and introspection, but also allow for incredible levels of understanding between individuals and groups. Routine sharing of experiences will also lead to ever greater intimacy, interpersonal and social satisfaction, and also new heights and depths of empathy, mutual trust and social connection.

Likewise, political or socio-economic initiatives would receive a tremendous boost in building awareness and sympathy for their respective causes, especially when advocating for the plight of specific groups or individuals. In a real-to-life “prince and pauper” phenomenon, persons who might never understand, for example, the experience of being a minority in a predominantly colorless environment, or life within a traditionally disadvantaged or discriminated against social group, would be able to experience the sensation firsthand and in real-time. This has far-reaching implications for not just for social awareness programming but also educational initiatives and sensitivity training, as it provides a relatively safe and easy-to-replicate means by which another person can “live a different life,” from that which they normally inhabit.

The implications for artistic expression are also impressive, as “experiential artists” can experiment with developing and combining various experiences into new and wholly different overall experiences. Skilled artists may attempt to create new and wholly original experiences (similar to original, entirely unique works of art), or take existing or commonplace experiences and recombine them in new and imaginative ways (experiential montages or “experience collages” if you will). The potential also exists for artists to create new and completely artificial experiences that may or may not actually be possible in real life, either to express a political or social ideology, or simply to explore “alternative” sensory inputs and/or pairings. With full-body sensation suits, the potentials for creative invention and sensory recombination are infinite, including (but not limited to):

  • Unnaturally intense (or artificially muted) simulations of common sensations
  • Erotic or noxious pairings with mundane sensations or activities
  • Mismatched stimuli or experiences with disjointed stimuli (i.e. the visual, tactile act of eating a pizza paired with the olfactory, gustatory stimuli of eating pancakes; the act of bathing and drying off, but with the tactile sensations inverted in temporal order)
  • “Synaesthetic” pairing of actions or experiences with nonsensical or non-sensory stimuli (i.e. “tasting” the act of listening to classical music, or “hearing” the act of eating pasta).
  • Combining enjoyable and noxious stimuli in imaginative or unrealistic ways
  • Creating “layered” sensations (neither pleasant nor distasteful), that are developed and/or combined in ways not physically possible, widely common, or easily reproducible in real life
  • .

In the realm of sports, both training and recreational enjoyment would be profoundly changed by the practice of athletes adopting and wearing skin suits as part of their normal training and competitive routine. Aspiring athletes can see quite literally “through the eyes” of their favorite all-stars, not only enjoying the thrills and excitement of watching and experiencing every minute of the game, but also gaining valuable skills, insight and motivation for future athletic performances. Such dying sports as golf, baseball, or equestrianism could be revitalized in the form of experiential entertainments; whereas passively “watching” golf or equestrian sports may not be appealing, experiencing the sport through the eyes of a professional could breath new life into the entire sporting community.

Aside from the popular culture and social sectors, other applications may include the field of medicine. “Manual therapy,” and various derivations thereof, has been widely used both in traditional and alternative medicine to treat a wide variety of physical and psychological disorders and symptoms. Benefits of manual therapy (and more broadly, massage in general), include acute and chronic pain relief, reduced anxiety and depression, temporarily reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and increased attention and relaxation.

However, manual therapy relies primarily on highly trained specialists, and treatments are only possible provided there are specialists available for each individual patient; mechanical massage devices are already available of course, however these devices cannot replicate the intricacies and therapeutic benefits gained from a trained specialist. Furthermore, the costs associated with purchasing the services of such specialists may be prohibitive to some, and the services themselves may or may not be available in large geographic areas (such as isolated or rural areas) where established practices are not common.

In utilizing a full-body sensation suit, however, the entire experience of a single massage session (down to the sights, sounds, and even smells) can be replicated in exacting detail, and would for all intents and purposes be identical to the experience itself. In this way, an experienced, skilled, and fully licensed therapist may apply a standard or routine procedure to one individual and replicate the experience in a number of clients and patients, sparing their time for more intricate or personalized sessions for cases requiring special attention or care. Likewise, patients receiving frequent or recurrent treatments (even ones requiring personalized details) may experience the session only once at the hands of a specialist, and “relive” the experience in subsequent sessions, either at home or in an out-patient setup with only an attendant on hand to guarantee safety.

Imaginative Realization, Embodiment, or Illustration of the Idea:

“Skin Diving” and It’s Impact on Society:
Hearing before the Joint Committee on Virtual Reality and Technology

CHAIRMAN: This investigative hearing of the Joint Committee on Virtual Reality and Technology, presided over by Chairman Joseph Brenner, is now in session. The purposes of this hearing are to determine if, in fact, the continued practice of experiential simulation and the use of so-called “skin suits” poses a risk to the American public, and if so, to what extent does the practice warrant legislation and regulation. I just want to remind my colleagues and the witnesses and parties providing evidence that this is not a hearing to determine the legality or constitutionality of “skin diving” as a practice, but to determine what risks may be faced by Americans who undergo skin diving sessions. To that end, the chair recognizes Mr. Martin Blanchard, representing the Concerned Parents Association of Wilmington. Mr. Blanchard, I believe you have a prepared statement for us?

BLANCHARD: Yes Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the members of the committee for having us here today. As you all know, skin diving has become a popular recreational activity among many Americans, both young people and adults, and has become something of a national/international pop culture phenomenon. While we respect the Supreme Court’s decision that so-called “experiential artists” who record and share their experiences with the public are exercising their First Amendment rights, as parents we worry that the practice of skin diving and experience-sharing may be progressing too far.

In 2020 alone, more than a dozen cases of individuals attempting to commit suicide, through various means, have attempted to “share” or record the experience of death for others’ enjoyment. The most recent case, involving Mr. Stanley Bidell’s attempt on his own life, was actively advertized for weeks on Mr. Bidell’s personal blog as an “artistic simulation of the experience of death, so you don’t have to” prior to his attempt. Thankfully, Mr. Bidell’s attempt was thwarted by local law enforcement before the act was carried out, however the case was dragged out for months as Mr. Bidell’s attorney’s attempted to argue it was a First Amendment protected act of artistic representation.

More disturbing still, is the macabre fixation that hard-core skin divers seem to have had with these experiences, and the shocking lengths to which they have gone in their attempts to obtain them. Thankfully, local police and internet watchdog groups have been able to track and suppress so-called “death dives” and keep these experiences off the Net and out of the public domain, however despite these measures, the practice continues.

The Concerned Parents Association of Wilmington, North Carolina are also concerned over the use of experiential sharing sites to propagate other materials that are inappropriate for children and other minors; not just the aforementioned “death dives” but also the extremely violent “blood dives,” and sexually explicit “ero-dives.” While we respect (and respectfully disagree with) the Supreme Court’s stance on the issue of experiential pornography, the fact remains that such material is wholly inappropriate for consumption by minors, and leaves the door open for the potential exploitation of children by online experiential predators. To say nothing of the invasion of privacy associated with sharing or experiencing the sensations of another person, or having total strangers experience your own sensations without your knowledge, as concerned parents—and more importantly, as concerned voters—we would like to know what safeguards and assurances the government can provide to insure that inappropriate experiences do not fall into the hands of our children, and how the government plans to deal with individuals who continue to endanger not just themselves but others in the pursuit of ever more “exotic” and increasingly intense experiences, simply for the sake of profit and experiential entertainment.

CHAIRMAN: Thank you Mr. Blanchard. The committee would now like to hear from Dr. James Caldwell from the National Institute of Health, who has examined the full-body sensation suits and researched them at length. Dr. Caldwell? You have the floor.

CALDWELL: Thank you Mr. Chairman. As you yourself just mentioned, the NIH has been keenly interested in examining the full-body sensation suit, also known as the “skin suit,” not just for research purposes but also to determine whether or not the suit itself might pose a danger to the public welfare. The somewhat intentional injuries sustained by BDSMS [bondage-sado-masochism-simulation] enthusiasts notwithstanding, we at the NIH can find nothing in the suit’s construction that may be inherently dangerous or detrimental to the user’s well-being, so long as the instructions and guidelines regarding safe usage, cleanliness and maintenance included with the suits are carefully followed. Likewise, we can find no indication that the “experience” of experiential simulation is in any way more or less dangerous or detrimental to one’s physical or mental health than experiencing the simulated sensations, first-hand.

That being said, I would like to point out that if users do not follow the care and cleanliness instruction outlined by the skin suit manufacturers, they do so at their own risk. The sharing of skin suits, particularly in the public and dubiously maintained “sensation suites” that cater to sensations of an erotic or sexual nature, have the potential to spread sexually transmitted and other communicable diseases if not properly sanitized both before and after use. Other primary health concerns related to so-called skin diving generally result from the use of black-market or imitation suits of inferior quality and dubious safety, as well as the experiencing of incredibly intense and potentially dangerous experiences by individuals who might not otherwise be allowed to experience the situation in real life.

For the latter case, I would like to refer the committee to a case in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where an elderly gentleman, whose clinical background and history of chronic heart disease would have disqualified him from participating in a sky-diving excursion, opted instead to experience the sensation of sky-diving via skin suit simulation. While the gentleman in question was warned of the risks and required to fill out a waiver form before the session, the skin diving agency allowed the man to participate, and at no time made inquiries about his prior medical history or physical fitness in any way.

The unfortunate result was that just a few minutes after successful immersion into the dive, the gentleman in question suffered a massive heart attack and went into cardiac arrest. Thankfully, the attendant on hand had the presence of mind to dial 911 and administer emergency CPR; however had it not been for this, the gentlemen in question most likely would not have survived the “experience,” if you will forgive the pun.

Thus, I would like to go back and emphasize our findings that the experiential simulation imitated by the skin suits are no more—but also, no less—dangerous than the experiences they are intended to simulate, and it is the opinion of myself and of the NIH that these skin-suits experiences be treated and regulated as such. Experiences that would not be appropriate for individuals in real life—such as sexual or highly violent experiences for minors or highly active and thrilling experiences for persons with prohibitive medical conditions—should be regulated so that, as Mr. Blanchard stated earlier, the wrong experiences do not fall into the wrong hands.

CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Dr. Caldwell. The chair would now like to hear from a representative of the sensation simulation industry, and recognizes Mr. Arthur Ellis, representing the Sensations Unlimited Corporation, to speak on their behalf. Mr. Ellis?

ELLIS: Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the committee for inviting myself and my staff here this afternoon. Gentlemen, I would like to start off by echoing the concerns raised by both Mr. Blanchard and Dr. Caldwell, by saying that no one in the mainstream sensation industry, would ever think of doing anything that might endanger this nation’s youth or our valued adult clients. This is why with every sensation suit we sell, the unit comes with very clear and very explicit instruction on appropriate care and management of the suits, as well as owner’s manuals that outline in minute detail the risks and potential hazards that come along with using our products. Not a single Sensations Unlimited product, if used correctly and maintained in accordance with the End-User License Agreement, poses a danger to its users, not does it pose a hazard to the general welfare of this great nation. However, no product, if used incorrectly or for purposes not originally designed or intended, can guarantee the safety of its users at all times.

As personal entertainment devices, full-body sensation suits are to be used at the user’s own risk, and at their sole discretion. It is the sole purview of the user which experiences and sensations they wish to engage in, and it is up to the user to make sure that these actions are appropriate for their current condition and situation. A sensation suit, much like a video disc or computer program, will only give the user that which he has expressly desired to receive. A user who does not wish to experience an erotic, thrilling, or otherwise pleasant or unpleasant situation, should not do so, and simply needs to be sure that the experience they are about to play out is in fact the scenario or set of sensations they wish to experience.

For this reason—that is, making sure the experience one is about to engage in is in fact what the user desires—we strongly encourage our users to only use and download experience from trusted individuals or sites, and refrain from downloading extremely hazardous experiences from unsanctioned third-party sites. We also strongly encourage our users to make use of the realism and safety protocols included in each skin suit unit, and to never engage in skin diving sessions alone.

Furthermore, I would like to point out that while skin suits made by Sensations Unlimited, as well as other corporations in the industry, do allow for sharing and, with proper hardware, recording of one’s own experiences, as part of the EULA agreement any recorded or shared experiences are done solely at the discretion of the user, and it is on the user’s prerogative that these experiences are recorded or shared. Any “invasion of privacy,” alluded to by Mr. Blanchard in his opening statements, would have to be purely voluntary in nature, somewhat torpedoing the idea of invasion in the first place.

But, humor aside, my clients fully realize that the potential exists with skin suits for inappropriate experiences to be replicated and disseminated to the public, if the individuals in question wish to replicate and disseminate them. However, I would like to point out that the phenomenon outlined by the incident with Mr. Bidell would’ve been no different if Mr. Bidell had simply video taped or audio recorded the act of taking his own life, and posthumously attempted to disseminate this media via regular mail or the world wide web. Likewise, erotic or otherwise “pornographic” experiences as Mr. Blanchard called them, can only be downloaded and experienced by minors if the minors in question download and actively attempt to experience them. Like any adult content or otherwise controlled media, it is up to the user themselves—or in the case of a minor, the user’s legal guardian—to decide what media is and is not appropriate for their consumption and act accordingly. The elderly gentleman mentioned by Dr. Caldwell was not “conned” into experiencing an intense situation; he was not “tricked” into simulating a sky-diving experience when he did not wish it. In fact, if Dr. Caldwell is referring to the case that I think he is, the gentleman in question opted to use a sensation suit after being turned away from an actual sky-diving excursion because of his medical background. Now, it may have been the fault of the individual sensation suite for not properly screening for medical conditions before agreeing to such an intense experience; we’ll leave that for the courts and lawyers to decide. However, the gentleman mentioned consciously chose which experiences he wanted to try, and unless there is outstanding court order judging him to be unable to make that decision, it was his choice to experience it, and no one else’s right to deny him that choice.

Of course, we recognize that there is the potential for abuse of our products and systems by individuals wishing to make an illicit profit, or to work the system for selfish and immoral ends. However, when the Internet first went up, and mankind was first exposed to the potential for mass communication, somehow the morality of human race survived. When Facebook and Myspace and personal blogs began appearing, people were also worried that their children would be ogled and preyed upon by the immoral and the depraved—and tragically, some were. But, with proper monitoring and care, with careful operations, parental supervision, and really just plain, common sense, the use and sharing of experiences and the operation of skin suits and simulated experiences are, as Dr. Caldwell points out, no more or less dangerous than the experiences themselves. And I everyone in the sensation suit industry would agree with his assessment that the experiential simulations should be treated as such: simulations, which are incredibly vivid and reality to the point that they are indistinguishable from the real thing.

In closing, I would like to point out, if I may, that incidents of abuse or misuse of full-body sensation suits are in fact very rare and uncharacteristic of the average skin diver today. The Vast majority of our customers are fine, upstanding citizens much like yourself, Mr. Chairman, who respect the law and are both responsible and cautious about what experiences they wish to simulate. To ban or over-regulate a popular pastime, all for the sake of a few miscreants and isolated incidents, would be to unfairly punish this large majority of cautious and conscientious citizens over needless scare-mongering. After all, here we are in the year 2020, and the Internet is still up and running; sky-diving is still an acceptable past time, erotic media still exists, and American civilization is still largely intact. So I ask you, what’s the harm in sharing the experience of life with others who are interested in doing the same?

CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Ellis. We will now take a short recess for lunch and reconvene to hear more testimony from others in the sensation suit industry, parents groups, and other concerned parties.

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