The Impact Machine


This project was done in collaboration with the Humanities Action Lab. The intent was to design a piece of a traveling exhibit that would engage the public in a conversation around incarceration. I was specifically interested in making participants think about how they personally are impacted by the system, and to have to therefore begin to think and talk about the ways in which the system is broken. The main question we were looking to ask is “How does the incarceration system impact you?”


In our research, we found that people need a probing question that is less intense, before they can answer a seriously intense question. We made the question two parts. The first one asks“Where in your life do you see the impact of incarceration?” and then the second question asks how they are impacted by it, in that space. The first question is multiple choice. We found that when we gave the option of “other”, the majority of people chose that option. When we did not give that option, people were forced to think about the places in which they were actually impacted, and they answered accordingly. It is for this same reason that we did not want to ask “are you impacted by incarceration” because people would say no without thinking, and we did not want to give them that option. The answers that people gave when forced to actually think for a moment were quite interesting, and it did force people to think about the topic.


Once the viewer submits their answer, they receive an answer back from the machine, which was submitted by someone from a different city. This creates a connection between people in various cities that the exhibit has traveled to, and shows the various impacts of incarceration – nationwide, in a personal way.


Collaborators: Ava Burke and the Humanities Action Lab