experiments in more-than-human design ethnography

An Internet of Animals

My presentation was the last one in the last session. I’ll put my slides online as soon as possible, but this was the set-up:

Why study animals? In an era of “smart” cities and things, Donna Haraway reminds us that “animals enrich our ignorance.”

Sheep and humans have lived together for more than 10,000 years, but sheep have rarely been “brought into the open with their people.”

(Haraway: “‘the open’ is where what is to come is not yet—is not fixed by teleology or function, whether malignant or benign— and might still be otherwise…” i.e. a space of potentiality)

Our cultural and design research explores human + animal + computer interaction, or how we (can) be/come together.

I also think it’s fair to say that the audience’s favourite image was this one, taken during last month’s Canterbury A&P Show merino judging, where I learned that flipping a merino onto its back makes it go limp like a noodle.

And, actually, the difference between this image and the majestic Icebreaker merino ram on my first slide offers a way into design fiction that I didn’t talk about in my presentation but should follow up on….

Thanks to everyone at the Critically Making the Internet of Things conference. I had a great time!

Posted: December 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Conferences, Workshops & CFPs, People & Animals, Science, Technology & Society | No Comments »

Critically Making the Internet of Things, Session IV

Notes taken in real-time and subject to my brain’s filtering mechanisms. My comments in italics.

Social Memory within the ‘Internet of Things’
Chris Speed, Edinburgh College of Art

Real-time is deeply contingent. The space between where we are and where we think we are is open for discussion. For example, Google Maps was only two weeks behind during the Beijing Olympics rather than 12-18 months behind normally; and it is never an agreed upon “now.”

So what happens when you start to place things across this temporally contingent landscape? Ghosts and hauntings can serve as metaphor or example.

“When you scratch or mark-up a surface, be prepared for ghosts and traumas to surface.”

The Orphanage (2007)

Poltergeist (1982)

So. What does this have to do with the IoT?

Tales of Things – but the website is only an archive; tagged objects in second-hand stores allow people to hear the objects’ stories or past lives. “Listen to the pink jumper … It’s good for short-turn love affairs.”

Washington, DC Ghost Bikes – when the original bike was removed by the city, it was replaced with 22 more bikes by citizens. Is the lesson that when you scratch the surface, be prepared for ghosts?

A slip and a rub.

Very nice!

Good audience comment about how tagging objects might actually devalue them by providing too much information. Chris responded that it points to how buying is under stress. Sweet.

Narrative and Agency in PostSecret Postcards
Stephanie Hendrick, HUMlab

PostSecret postcards as physical things re-presented on/in the internet.

Narratives by, and about, victims of domestic violence.

“Until someone abuses me, I can’t love them.” (Image: Tina & Ike Turner.)

“I accepted my childhood molester’s friend request.” (Image: Two happy girls holding hands.)

“Every time a childhood friend of mine posts to Facebook, I have an urge to message them and ask if they had ever had any idea that I was being abused.” (Image: Baby with confused expression but no signs of physical harm.)

Collage as juxtaposition of image and text changes and extends the definition of abuse and violence.

Transformational agency. The postcards transform the person and their experience.

Interesting. But no questioning of whether these secrets are “true” or “simply” public performances of self.

Posted: December 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Conferences, Workshops & CFPs | No Comments »

Critically Making the Internet of Things, Session III

Notes taken in real-time and subject to my brain’s filtering mechanisms. My comments in italics.

Random Walks on the Internet Side of Things
Christian Lindholm, Fjord

“We design for all the glowing rectangles–and beyond.”

Walks: design evolution; digital-physical; affordance; applications; contextual design

Mail boxes as services and adverts; you pop in an envelope and it pops out somewhere else.

Physical triggers to access the network.

“Designing the ‘of course!'”

simplicity > implicity (“I, the service, want you, the user, to touch me here first.”) — reduces random noise, creates liquid experiences

How do you create applications that scale to things? Contextual integration, surprise, entertainment… Mobile design must adapt to context.

The context dilemma: “In digital services you might be one click from creepy.” Ha!

Just thinking… Supervising PhD students reminds me how valuable it is to not only talk about what to do, but also how to do it. (Method, process, whatever.) It takes longer, but I think it’s worth it. Maybe a conference on how, in practice, to critically make the Internet of Things? Surely we’ve gotten to that point…

Who? Me? Augmented Subjects/Objects
Johanna Drucker, UCLA

“Reality was never consensual … It’s time for criticism to become science fiction, so don’t expect an argument.”

What a beautifully written/spoken presentation! So very hard to take notes…

On AR, “Who speaks these signs hanging in the air? They know who I am without knowing me.”

Augmentation: “Imagination becomes a consensus making machine. The lines between produced subjectivities are shifting. New techniques. A vector of to-ness, toward-ness.”

Blurred boundaries and Lynx’s Fallen Angel Ambush

(The fallen angel advert was the first Lynx promo that didn’t make me throw up in my mouth, because an angel does something that other subjects/objects can’t…)

I, agency vs. me, self-absorption

Augmentation/images not from a point of view, but aimed at one. Systems creating themselves. Subjects imploded into an objectivity. An “I” is made in dialogue. A “me” is an undifferentiated self, infantile. Dialogue becomes not monologue but autolog.

Not a moral argument but a social inquiry. The question of who speaks is relevant. The objects begin their new regimes because they can. When a culture deceives itself, is it different from when a person does? The augmentation of self through objects changes individual agency into narcissistic amplification.


The spectrum of “thingness” is extended in an augmented environment. A new dimension of projection and illusion. Our narcissism leads us to believe that we have control, but there is a life to things.

Resisting a moral argument or privileged critique because of its naivety and complicity. An aesthetics or poetics is a production of knowledge rather than a prescription for behaviour.

Yes. But beware the apolitical.

A good question about whether a latent object can engage in the gaze, especially the gaze as a power transaction. Johanna reminded us that latency ends in the moment of engagement. Rather than asking in whose (other) interests, she wants to ask about the desiring systems in which we are all active parts. The ethical rather than the moral.

Ace talk and discussion!

Posted: December 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Conferences, Workshops & CFPs | No Comments »

Critically Making the Internet of Things, Session II

Notes taken in real-time and subject to my brain’s filtering mechanisms. My comments in italics.

smart cities / smart buildings
Nanna Gyldholm Møller, Bjarke Ingels Group

Amazing architecture. Browse their website!

Superkilen: “Taking our point of departure in Superkilen’s location in the heart of outer Nørrebro, which has a local population from 57 different cultures, we have chosen to focus on those initiatives and activities in the urban spaces that work as promoters for integration across ethnicity, religion, culture and languages.” (Dezeen + more images at ArchDaily)

I sure would like to see their design process for this project – especially the public consultation bits…

Good audience question about building new things and the problem of obsolescence. Could do with more of that around the Internet of Things discussions.

Zombies Ahead!
Jennie Olofsson, Luleå University of Technology

“A study of how broken, hacked and malfunctioning digital road signs subvert the physical space of roadways.”

Sign Hacker

eg. Zombie warnings dislocate drivers to the point where the actual threat to their safety (driving backwards, stopping to take photos, etc.) is more worrisome than the threat of zombies.

Good audience point about taking the zombie metaphor further...

Sacred Things: The Digital Bible
Timothy Hutchings, HUMlab

Online bibles and bible cultures.

First, personal bibles online being shown off as marked up, annotated etc.

Second, new bibles and bible zines (eg. Revolve, Refuel). Bible design: Quality design is worship; design inspires emotion; tools support religious work, design sophistication is relevance; relevance aids recruitment. But can competing messages be ignored?

Third, material technologies of the electronic bible: The Franklin Bible (1989) + Speaking Holy Bible: King James Version (2011 – check out that design!!) or Go Bible Voyager (2011)

Fourth, bible social media services like YouVersion are hugely popular. Bible reading as public and social. Reading subject to accountability/surveillance by multiple audiences. (“You’ve fallen behind in your reading.”)

The Bible, as the Word of God, has agency.

How does this impact how we think about material (non-human) agency? Horribly mean person that I am, I actually asked Tim and he very graciously – and rightly – responded “In many ways.”

Electronic bibles as games.

So. Much. To. Think. About. Now.


Posted: December 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Conferences, Workshops & CFPs | 2 Comments »

Critically Making the Internet of Things, Session I

Notes taken in real-time and subject to my brain’s filtering mechanisms. My comments in italics.

Matt Ratto

Critical Making: “A mode of materially productive engagement that is intended to bridge the gap between creative, physical and conceptual exploration.”

By way of background, Matt talked about his classes and an assignment in which students are asked to make a “moral technology” and explain what makes it moral. For example, one project was a box that screamed unless/until it was petted. The students said they couldn’t make a moral technology, but they could make something that encouraged moral behaviour. Another worked with traffic signals, which are moral because they already regulate behaviour through the social contract.

To ask why we need to “critically make” the Internet of Things, we might start by asking “What is the IoT?”

Technical definition: instrumentation of the physical world

Temporal definition: when interconnected devices out-number interconnected people

Socio-technical definition: increasing blurring of the line between the digital and the physical modes of engagement in the world

So why do we need a critical perspective? Because we need to come up with alternatives to continuing the rationalisation of the world, or offering a false return to a romantic past.


Bruce Sterling

* pretty much impossible to take notes but…

“All the gloss of wonder gets scraped off” when the dreams of science fiction become real and commercialised. But also, why is the design in science fiction so bad?

Theory Object for Anticonventional Products

Design fiction instead. See Postscapes’ Best Design Fiction 2011.

But what about real products? What science fiction can’t do.

RFID + Superglue + Object ≠ IoT

“It’s easy to be bewitched by the apparent beauty and logic of this. But the map is not the territory.”

Design fiction is a form of design, not fiction.

Lisa Gitelman

*even harder to take notes because of the extraordinary detail and precise language; would be very nice to read a transcript. excellent talk.

Paper is the Thing of Things. What if today’s electronic networks were understood as made of paper?

Telegraphs, as sending and receiving devices, gave printed words back to the person who said them as well as to the recipient. Reminds me of BERG’s Little Printer. Morse’s original idea was to replace each word with a number, leaving only proper nouns.

But telegraphy was never domesticated. It remained a logic of differentiation and expertise.

Looking at telephone, electricity, etc. poles as carriers of paper notices, we can see (the) technology grabbed by the “wrong end.”

Staples as hardware. Posted by unseen hands. An un-archive. Between storage and transmission. Poles surrounded by street trees in counter-point. De-natured nature, enabling infrastructure. Communications smuggled into public. Illegal communication. Owners and others. Stapled leaflets as electrical communications. Multiple copies. The proximal logic of here (Will Straw). “Hello World.”

Lots here.

Posted: December 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Conferences, Workshops & CFPs | No Comments »