This case study experiments with an extreme case of mediated touch, that is, bio-sensing as digital touch, in the context of parent-infant interaction. The study emerged out of a recognition that a set of digital touch technologies are beginning to reshape how parents are able to interact with their babies through a form of touch, starting in the womb. Be it the idea that touching a virtual 3D model of one’s unborn baby could alleviate maternal anxiety (FeTouch) or that a bio-sensing monitor could enable tracking baby’s health in and beyond the womb (Bumpe). A new wave of baby smart monitors caught our attention as having the potential to both complement and disrupt existing parent-infant touch practices, the ways in which parents know their babies, and make sense of their health and wellbeing through touch.
We connected with Owlet, a baby smart monitor provider, who shared with us the reasoning and design decisions behind the Owlet Smart Sock (OSS), and lent us four OSS units to explore the monitors with parents in the UK. Beyond our interactions and interviews with the Owlet team, the case study comprised of focus group research with parents (accompanied by their babies), home visits with video re-enactments of ‘bedtime routines’, and the in-situ use of the OSS by four families over the course of one to three weeks, followed by reflective interviews post use. We employed the Owlet as a form of technological ‘probe’, in the context of an ethnographic intervention that allowed us to understand how bio-sensing technologies like the Owlet might enter the space of parent/infant touch interaction within the contexts of the home as a research site and touch as part of a set of parenting practices.