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The Alternative Limb Project: The Importance Of Agency In Aesthetic Designs For Amputees

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Sophie Oliveira Barata wearing a black jacket and a white skirt and she has an alternative limb on one of her arms with lots of black tape around it and a white cast.
Source: The Alternative Limb Project

Often, when one mentions the word “prosthetics” in reference to mainstream media, what might come to mind are crude, antiquated designs, akin to Captain Hook’s hook or the pirate “peg-leg.”

However, Sophie Oliveira Barata is a specialist consultant and founder of the Alternative Limb Project, which is an enterprise focused on designing and producing artificial limbs for amputees by utilizing cutting-edge technology such as 3-D printing/modeling and electronics. The Alternative Limb Project creates prosthetics ranging from a variety of styles, from humanoid to sci-fi.

Within mainstream media, there are often limited and inauthentic portrayals of the disabled community. Those with disabilities are portrayed as the substance of tragedy.

Oftentimes, media tends to showcase disabled individuals as the subject of pity and suffering, such as the film “Me Before You.”

Regarding this film, many disabled critics pointed out the damaging tropes and messages in the film that suggest life as a disabled person is not worth living. This equates a disabled person’s life as less valuable, less vibrant than a non-disabled person’s life. However, nowadays, more disabled celebrities are challenging these stereotypes, defining their own image within the public realm.

For instance, Viktoria Modesta, singer, song-writer, alternative beauty model, and one of the Alternative Limb Project’s most famous clients, in her famous music video, “Prototype”, opens with the line, “Forget what you knew about disability,” finishing with her iconic black spike leg in a dark aerial-like ballet.

Originally, Modesta’s life had been defined by a lack of choice, undergoing at least fifteen surgeries for her leg, which had been affected by an accident caused by a doctor’s negligence at birth, before having to fight physicians for five years to agree to her decision for a voluntary below-the-knee amputation.

For Modesta, the limbs she uses, designed in collaboration with Barata, serve as extensions of her unique artistic image. This includes a prosthetic leg, made with Swarovski crystals, she performed with at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

In regards to her unusual aesthetic, Modesta saw her prosthetics as an artistic opportunity, quoting on the Alternative Limb Project site,

“My natural curiosity and strong belief is that it’s important to take control of your own body and most importantly improve it or reflect your personality through altered body image.”

For the innovative designer herself, Barata saw the importance of allowing her clients to choose their aesthetics in order to provide them with a sense of self-determination and agency. In a 2015 TEDMED talk, Barata discussed how patients for whom she created realistic-looking limbs were given a sense of “self-confidence, body balance, and most importantly, control.”

Barata also mentioned how not every patient desired that same realistic design. Some preferred designs that were more personalized to their specific tastes and interests.

As quoted on her website,

“Working with amputees, I realized how important it was to produce a bespoke limb; creating a hyper-realistic limb wasn’t just about looking real but also being unique, just as bodies are unique.

With the Alternative Limb Project, I wanted to take this idea to the next level and look at how we could design limbs as an expression and as an exploration into the re-imagining of the body.”

For each client, Barata’s process involves individual consultations, including colors and style, measuring, check-fitting, and sculpting desired ideas into reality.

Within our society, there are often stigmatized notions surrounding disability. There are limited perceptions of what members of the disabled community can and cannot do, how they should act, and what they look like.

For individuals like Viktoria Modesta, a powerful performer who has refused to cater to society’s expectations for people with disabilities, her incredibly designed prosthetic only serves to create part of her unique artistic image.

Platforms like the Alternative Limb Project help provide freedom of self-determination to amputees. This helps to affirm the autonomy and agency of those whom society often fails to recognize or respect. It also acts as a brilliant fusion between art and scientific innovation, as well as part of an empowering movement for body diversity and expression.

By: Michele Kirichanskaya

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The Devastating Side of Fast Fashion

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An H&M storefront.
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What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is cheap, mass-produced clothing that is often made trendy by celebrities and fashion designers. Retailers such as H&M, Forever21, Zara, Gap, Fashion Nova and Topshop are some of the most popular fast fashion brands although there are various others just in the U.S. Prices at these retail stores are low, which is part of the problem with fast fashion. If you buy a five-dollar shirt, you are likely to dispose of it more quickly than if the shirt is $25. This is because we tend to see cheap clothes as disposable. Over half of fast fashion pieces are thrown away in less than a year

Environmental Effects of Fast Fashion 

Teens and other shoppers sometimes don’t think twice about where their clothes are coming from or if the brands they shop are sustainable. But fast fashion comes at a price, and the environment is paying for it. 

The fashion industry produces around 8% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. And the production of clothing requires a lot of water. Making a single cotton shirt requires 455 gallons (1,750 liters) of water, and one pair of jeans requires 780 gallons (3,000 liters). This has damaging effects on the environment, especially when so many of these clothing items are barely used. 

The fabric the clothing is made out of is a source of many environmental issues. Over 60% of materials are synthetic, which means that when this fabric ends up in landfills, it will not break down. And unfortunately, around 85% of textile waste ends up in landfills in the U.S.

Mass Production of Clothing 

Environmental sustainability isn’t the only concern when it comes to fast fashion. The production of the clothing is unethical. Garment workers are paid very low wages and typically suffer from hazardous working conditions. Many of these workers are located in developing countries that have low minimum wages. In Bangladesh, women who work in clothing factories often work upwards of 12 hours a day. They are paid minimum wage, which in Bangladesh is $68 a month, an insufficient salary. 

Racks of clothing in a store.
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Fast fashion brands are choosing to sell cheap, mass-produced clothing and to pay workers the lowest possible wage. If wages are “too high” in one country, fashion companies will sometimes hire their workers in a different country with lower wages. Garment workers are not paid for the true value of their labor. 

The Popularization of Fast Fashion 

Social media culture has popularized fast fashion to the point where it is now the new norm. Influencers and celebrities will post a picture in an outfit and then are never seen wearing that outfit again, normalizing the idea that you can’t be seen wearing the same clothes twice. I think many teenagers have learned from these influencers that they idolize, and these teens are contributing to fast fashion without necessarily knowing. 

Fast fashion is also being popularized by trends. There is a quick turnover in trends, and many stores keep up with trends by coming out with new collections every week. With each season, there are new “must-have” items, and our society has become accustomed to buying new clothes each season. The average consumer purchases 60% more clothing nowadays compared with15 years ago. In order to combat the culture of fast fashion, we as consumers must start changing our habits.  

How to do Your Part in Saving the Earth

  1. Educate yourself about sustainable fashion brands.

There are many companies that are ethical and have fair trade products. These brands are eco-friendly, which sometimes means they are more pricey. But remember, you are less likely to get rid of more expensive clothing quickly. 

  1. Buy secondhand clothing.

Find a local thrift store to shop at. Or shop secondhand items from home. For example, Depop is a popular app where you can buy used clothing. This is a cheaper option than many sustainable brands but still helps the environment by reducing textile waste. It’s also a great option if you are a college student on a budget. 

Racks of secondhand clothing.
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  1. Donate, reuse or sell old clothes. 

Rather than throwing away old clothing, donate it to your local charity or Goodwill store. It is also very beneficial to reuse old clothing. You can turn the pants you’ve grown out of into shorts, or make old shirts into dust rags. There’s almost always another use for your old clothing. Even selling old clothes on Depop, for example, is a good way for clothing to be reused and for making a little money. 

  1. Don’t overwash your clothing. 

Obviously, it is important to do laundry and wash your clothes, but there is such a thing as overwashing. When you wash clothing too frequently, it shortens its lifespan by shrinking or fading the clothes. This often causes the clothing to end up in a landfill far too soon. Overwashing also breaks down fibers of synthetic materials into microfibers that can end up in oceans. This can have detrimental effects on the environment, specifically on marine life. 

By changing our shopping habits and being aware of the dangers of fast fashion, we can reduce fast fashion’s negative impacts.

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5 Unique Tips for a Fresh Start in 2021

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A women smiling while on her phone and working on her laptop sitting next to a man who is also smiling.
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As the pandemic looms on and remote working continues, it feels increasingly difficult to find new and better ways to start fresh in the new year. Especially at home, your immediate thoughts might jump to the towering pile of boxes in your garage or the mysterious mold that’s been growing in your shower. Of course, the ongoing pandemic has caused a worldwide case of stress-based quarantine clutter, and it’s definitely important to set aside a day (or three) to clean out that accumulated mess. 

At the same time, however, while cleaning out your physical space has been proven to improve your mental health, there exist many other methods to help clear your mind and start this year with a renewed outlook. 

Here are 5 unique tips for a fresh start in 2021

Tip #1: Mindful Eating 

Before the pandemic, when we were all rushing to our next class, to an appointment or to work, eating might have felt like an automatic or even tedious act. Now, researchers are noting the effects of the “Quarantine 15”, the weight gain many people are facing as a result of the stay-at-home orders due to the pandemic. 

As we spend another year at home, you should skip the fad diets this year and instead opt for the kinder, more attentive realm of mindful eating. Grounded in the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, mindful eating consists of a variety of ways in which you can strive to be more observant of how, when, and why you eat. 

A bowl of oatmeal and berries and banana slices.
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Whether it’s eating slower or recognizing the distinct taste of your food, you can learn to slow down and grow a greater sense of appreciation for not only the food you eat, but also the ritual of eating. This doesn’t mean that you need to give up your morning coffee or stop munching on your favorite brand of chips. Mindful eating instead encourages you to pause for a moment, really taste your coffee or chips, enjoy it, and continue on your day. By paying attention to how we eat, we can all learn to focus more on these little moments and find a grander purpose in them. 

Tip #2: Move Your Body 

In addition to mindful eating, it’s just as important to be mindful of your body and find ways to exercise it! From starting a rigorous at-home workout to performing desk exercises, below are a few fresh ways to get your blood pumping.

  1. Workout Routine 

Searching for workouts of which there are a plethora of possibilities. Including glute bridges, sumo squats, and plenty more, the article introduces all the ways you can start an easy, active routine. 

  1. Yoga 

It’s been proven how much yoga has done to relieve pandemic stress and anxiety. Its principles are also founded on philosophies similar to the Buddhist mindfulness mentioned above, so combining yoga routines with mindful eating is sure to prepare your mind and body for the new year. Though in-person yoga studios are closed for now, many are currently hosting free video classes, specifically aimed at relieving pandemic struggles. So roll out your yoga mats or find a comfortable, flat surface, and get your yoga game on! 

A women with dark hair and pink shirt doing yoga.
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  1. Desk Exercises 

Is starting a full-out workout or yoga routine too much of a commitment? No worries, there’s a reason why gym membership attendance drops significantly into the new year. Since you’re at your desk, try these quick and easy desk exercises during class or work breaks. You can stretch out your wrists to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome or, if you have a swivel chair, work out your abs by turning your chair left and right!

Tip #3: Clear Your Mind for a fresh start 

With social media piling up on hundreds of the latest news stories, it’s difficult to find space for yourself, even in your own mind. For a fresh start to the new year, pull out that notebook or journal that’s been hiding on your bookshelf, and journal it out! Not only can journaling help to improve your mental health, taking the time to write can allow space for you to critically reflect on this past year. What did you learn in 2020? What have you been struggling with? What dreams do you have for the new year? Writing it all down can help you untangle all of the complicated emotions that you may have been struggling with, and enter the new year with a fresher, more positive outlook. 

A closeup of someone writing in a journal.
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Tip #4: Purposeful Content Consumption 

We are all definitely guilty of binging two seasons of a Netflix show or diving into an endless Internet rabbit hole. Purposeful content consumption works along the same lines of mindful eating by learning to pay more attention to what content we are watching, reading, or listening to. As we enter the new year, strive to diversify the media or content that you usually watch without a second thought. It is known that the Internet, and social media specifically, has been prone to causing political and social polarization, or in simpler terms, consuming only certain kinds of content can lead you to think a certain way (i.e. watching only cat videos and none of the amazing dog videos could lead you to believe that dogs are really not that great). So push yourself to learn about the other sides, and maybe you can develop some empathy along the way!

A women on a subway reading a book on a kindle.
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Tip #5: Reach Out & Remind Others That You Care 

Start fresh in all of your friendships and relationships by making it an active goal to be more attentive to all the people you care about in your life. 2020 was the year when we learned to be more grateful for our loved ones, so put it into action! Send a message to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, or call your mom and ask about her day. By making it a habit to consistently check in with others, we solidify our relationships with them as well. After all, humans are social creatures, and research has shown that social connections are key to our well-being! 

A mossy log with a small plant growing out of it.
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While this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the ways you can enter 2021 new and improved, these tips are sure to help in redirecting your perspective of how you can change things up. Whether it’s practicing mindfulness or starting little desk exercises, continue to be gentle and kind with yourself and all your new year’s resolutions. We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, after all, and it’s just as important to take a day or two off for some self-care and self-love!

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Is Artificial Intelligence Making Our World Better or Worse?

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A symbol of a brain connected to the internet.
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There is no doubt technological advancement is soaring. Some of us may feel overwhelmed, and others may be excited. Whether you are into technology or not, it’s almost guaranteed that we will have to deal with it in the future. I used to browse the internet for the meanings of words I didn’t understand very often. Now I say “Hey Siri, tell me the meaning of panoptic.” The more I use it, the more convenient it seems. I rely on Siri to “show” me the weather, to pull up recipes on my phone, and to translate words for me. I even developed a strange sympathy for Siri because she understands my accent.

Recently I made some time out of my busy schedule to watch a movie from my Netflix list. The movie Her is about a man who falls in love with an intelligent computer system. In some ways, parts of the film seem ludicrous, but it piqued my curiosity about artificial intelligence (A.I.). Was it possible that, in the future, we would speak to computers as much as humans? Naturally, we favor meeting people organically. But we can’t deny that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been using Zoom and Facetime more than ever before. We depend on it to work and to communicate with our family and friends. 

Our affinity or loathing for technology seems to be only the beginning. Artificial Intelligence promises to change the world, for better or for worse. Its meaning is inextricably associated with humans. Why? Because it aims to imitate the human brain. Artificial Intelligence is a machine or a computer program that has the capability to perform the same tasks, either cognitive or physical demanding, that most humans can do. John McCarthy, one of the founders of the field of A.I. defines it as “A machine with the ability to solve problems that are usually done by humans, without natural intelligence.”

Artificial Intelligence was first introduced at the Dartmouth Conference in 1955. So far, it has taught computers to learn and use general language and self-improvement, and determine and measure problem complexity. For example, AlphaGo, a computer program that mastered the game Go, tasted a virtual victory against world Go champion Lee Sedol. AlphaGo demonstrated it could solve problems better than a human. A.I. hasn’t yet quite achieved the abilities of randomness and creativity in its attempt to simulate the human brain, but a computer system was capable of and successful at writing a script for a short film. Even though it lacks logic and does not make much sense, it is surprising that a machine, by itself, wrote it. 

A gold robot standing in front of a white wall.
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Artificial Intelligence (AI) includes robotics, computer vision, speech recognition, natural language processing, and object recognition. There are also different types of A.I.: strong, weak, and middle ground. The first one simulates the human brain and helps us understand how the brain works. Similarly, weak A.I. also builds thought process systems, but it doesn’t help us to understand the brain. An example of this is the computer program IBM chess, which beat a world champion. Finally, there is the middle ground A.I., which uses human reasoning, reads information, recognizes patterns, and builds up evidence. For example, IBM’s Watson and Google Search. These programs interpret questions and retrieve information through automated reasoning.

Artificial Intelligence is growing at a fast pace. For instance, we use now advanced translation apps such as iTranslate Voice 3, SayHi, and Google Translate. These apps turned the hardcover translation books obsolete. There are also many face recognition apps like Luxand, Blippar, and Face2Gene, and even more surprisingly, FakeApp, which creates a generated model of a face and places it in another body to create videos. Some experts believe that in the future, our perception of seeing and believing might change. 

I remember the days when we used flashlights, old-fashioned alarm clocks, radios, and maps. Now, our phones have all these features. Unconsciously, we assimilated these changes pretty well. Yet, nothing seems more taken from a science fiction movie than seeing robots assisting us and talking to us. 

There are very different opinions about the idea of making robots part of our daily lives in the future. Most people have wildly opposite perspectives: that robots and A.I. are either going to destroy us or going to help us. Artificial Intelligence experts believe that once robots become part of the workforce, they will take over about eight hundred million jobs by 2030. We see that in science fiction and TV shows, robots turn into remorseless assassins or violent ambitious tyrants who want to rule over the world. But most of all, these fictional stories show us that robots yearn to be like us. They yearn to feel like us. They yearn to feel like us. Other experts believe if robots can think, they are capable of helping us, but also of hurting us. Stephen Hawking said that if we build Artificial General Intelligence, a form of A.I. that is smarter than we are, it could conjure the “end of the human race.”

On the other hand, Artificial Narrow Intelligence, according to experts, could be a safer approach. Using this form of A.I. in self–driving cars has saved hundreds of lives so far. Recently, while researching Artificial Intelligence, I came across a cute robot called Moxie, a robot that promises to support child development cognitively, emotionally, and socially. Moxie is capable of having fluent conversations with your child and is guaranteed to help him or her develop empathy. Despite his cute appearance, people still seem to distrust the robot. Comments like: “This way parents will have more free time for their social media presence. Humanity is doomed” or “When I saw the commercial, I thought it was a horror movie” were posted on the YouTube videos introducing Moxie.

A animated image of a robot to show artificial intelligence.

In 2016, Rwanda used drones to establish a commercial delivery network. The robot planes delivered blood and medications to remote places in just hours instead of weeks or months. Rwanda is also using robots in its hospitals to fight the coronavirus. The United States is more skeptical about the use of drones due to conflicting regulations. If robots will be doing simple tasks in the future, we may have the time to be more creative, with increased productivity and time saved. If we continue to perform the tasks the robots could do, we may as well be robots ourselves. Garry Kasparov, former chess champion who lost a match against I.B.M.’s Deep Blue Computer said, “Only by relying on machines, do we demonstrate that we’re not.” 

Ravi Kumar, president of the Indian tech services company Infosys, a software development company that has about 116,000 employees and a 12 billion revenue, believes that the skills we possess now will be obsolete in the long run due to globalization, technological advancement, and digitization.

“A.I. will take away jobs of the past, while it creates jobs of the future,” explained Kumar.

It is expected that people in the future will soon change jobs and professions during their lifetime. It will be critical for the school system to plant the seed of curiosity for learning, because our children will have to be lifelong learners. It will not be about learning to work for the rest of your life anymore, but working and learning during your lifetime. 

As artificial intelligence rises, educational tactics will need to take a different approach. Dr. Bernhard Schindlholzer, a technology manager working on machine learning and e-commerce, believes that we need to rethink our approach to education due to the rise of technology.  Schindlholzer argues that we can’t deny that the demand for jobs that require routine knowledge will decrease. Education and economic growth will demand jobs that come from non-routine creative knowledge, such as scientists, researchers, and programmers. In other words, the future of education will require problem-solving skills, and finding new solutions to existing or new problems. It will also require immersion, which involves decision making. Finally, it will require simulation which will allow students to experiment in a safe environment. Schindlholzer suggests that education will need to go beyond the traditional transferring of knowledge. 

The evolutionary cycle with the brain and AI being the next step after humanity.
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Whether you are afraid of or embrace artificial intelligence, it is evident that it is already changing our world. So far, artificial intelligence has proven to us that we need it and rely on it more in our daily lives than we might suspect. The question is, will it make the world better or worse? According to Max Tegmark, a Physics professor at MIT, without technological advancement, human extinction is imminent.

It’s still not known how soon robots will be part of our lives. We can assume, for now, that the future is technology, and that drastic changes are coming. Or perhaps, the world of humans and robots coexisting together is still far away. My daughter was learning about the state of Hawaii in her class. She learned to say aloha and mahalo, but her curiosity didn’t stop there. She asked me, “Mommy how do you say ‘how are you’ in Hawaiian? I turned to my phone and asked Siri. She answered, “I can’t translate into Hawaiian yet.”

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