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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.

CFP: Digital Creativity Special Issue on Design Fictions

Digital Creativity is a major peer-reviewed journal at the intersection of the creative arts and digital technologies. It publishes articles of interest to those involved in the practical task and theoretical aspects of making or using digital media in creative contexts. By the term ‘creative arts’ we include such disciplines as fine art, graphic design, illustration, photography, printmaking, sculpture, 3D design, interaction design, product design, textile and fashion design, film making, animation, games design, music, dance, drama, creative writing, poetry, interior design, architecture, and urban design.

This special issue of the journal invites papers, projects and reviews exploring and developing the notion of Design Fictions. One of the early proponents of Design Fictions, the author Bruce Sterling, said that design: “seeks out ways to jump over its own conceptual walls – scenarios, user observation, brainstorming, rapid prototyping, critical design, speculative design” (Sterling, 2009). Despite the current burgeoning of this field and its various histories and antecedents, the coming together of design and fiction, as ‘design fictions’, remains relatively underexplored.

Design Fictions might also be sensed as a ‘speculative turn’ in design practice, founding a new engagement in ‘prototyping’ conjectural projections of designed futures. In the context of ever-present near futures, projected as scenarios that threaten radical ruptures of the real, digital creativity expands into a post-digital cybernetics. Design Fictions speculative design methodologies take their cue from science fiction, Sterling however would also have it the other way around, saying that: “design and literature don’t talk together much, but design has more to offer literature at the moment than literature can offer design” (Sterling, 2009).

This issue seeks to put design and literature into conversation. The journal wishes to ask how Design Fictions and related methodological work have mutated or glitched across art, design and architecture, for example in response to ‘design fictions’ (Nokia/Bleecker); in ‘critical design’ (Dunne & Raby); in speculative and visionary architecture (Spiller); in science fiction as prototyping (Intel/Johnson); and in ethnographic work on design and prototyping (Kelty). Papers are invited from three broad areas:

·      Papers offering critical reflections on post-digital futures rendered as Design Fictions.

·      Papers that illustrate what contemporary design provides as an alternative to the structural orthodoxies of mappings of the ‘hard’ science fictional to the ‘engineering of creativity’ (Altshuller).

·      Papers that reflect on Design Fictions as a methodology and on the ways in which fictional constructs and diegetic prototypes might open design discourse on cybernetic futures.

Initial proposals should be extended abstracts in English, between 800-1200 words. The categories for final submission are Short Papers between 2500-3500 words, and Long Papers, between 5000-7000 words. The papers will be selected through a blind peer review process. Upon acceptance of the abstract, you will be sent further authors’ guidelines based on the Digital Creativity guidelines (Instructions for Authors) at

The extended abstract should include the following information: 1) Name of author(s) with email addresses and affiliation, if applicable 2) Title of the paper 3) Body of the abstract 4) Preliminary bibliography 5) Author(s)’s short bio(s) 6) Indication of whether the submission will be a short or a long paper.

Important dates:

Initial proposals (extended abstracts) deadline: March 5, 2012

Notification of extended abstract acceptance (by editors’ review): March 26, 2012

Final papers are due on: June 04, 2012

Blind peer-reviews due on: July 30, 2012

Revised final papers are due on: September 3, 2012

Special issue published: Winter 2012

Recipients: Please forward your abstract as a PDF attachment in an e-mail addressed to the special issue and Digital Creativity editors below:

Derek Hales, special issue quest editor <>

Digital Creativity editors <>

Truths, Fantasies and Other Tricky Things

UPDATE 07.02.11: Paddy Stevenson posted some notes and thoughts on my talk, and it’s pretty wonderful to see that if you leave your stories unfinished, people will indeed finish them for you. I mean, I could make a few minor corrections or clarifications but I don’t want to take away his story and force it to be mine. Maybe I’ll post my own reflections later?


I’m in London this week, and hope you’ll join me in thinking out loud about critical design, truths, fantasies and other tricky things.

When: Wednesday 30 November @ 6pm
Where: Royal College of Art, Research Seminar Room, Stevens Building, London SW7 2EU

It is often said that one of the benefits of critical design is its dedication to asking “What If…?” but less attention has been given to explaining why these speculations are important, or how they actually work. In this seminar, Anne will discuss how different genres of storytelling – from classical ethnography to contemporary urban fantasy – evoke possible futures and potential relations amongst people, science and technology. Then, using specific examples of critical design, Anne will open discussion by asking who these projects are for, and what they hope to accomplish.

It should be fun!

Background reading
Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels Series & The Edge Series
Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson Series & Alpha and Omega Series
Jennifer Estep’s Elemental Assassin Series
Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Series
Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changling Series & Guild Hunter Series
Rachel Vincent’s Shifters Series

and TV binging
Joss Whedon’s Holy Trinity: Buffy + Angel + Firefly
HBO: True Blood
Showcase/SyFy: Lost Girl

Lecture Series: My Best Fiend. On the Productivity of Intellectual Enmities.

My Best Fiend. On the Productivity of Intellectual Enmities.
Lecture series, Autumn 2011

The Center for the Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP) / the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London
Organised by Michael Guggenheim

“My best fiend” is a lecture series, which invites scholars to reflect on their academic enemies (from movements: Marxism, to persons: Talcott Parsons, to disciplines: anthropology, to concepts: “the other”). The goal of the series is to investigate the productivity of intellectual enmities.

Science and Technology Studies has highlighted the productive role of controversies to produce epistemic objects and sort the world. Controversies align scholars with methods, theories and schools of thought, they produce orientation in otherwise confusing seas of research. But controversies also pigeonhole people into camps. They undeservedly identify complex research identities with schools and theories and create guilt-by-association. The lecture series is calling for an analysis of such constellations by the protagonists themselves.

Enemies are productive. They spark interest, they draw energy, people care about them and they care about us. Why else would people spend time denouncing this badly formulated concept of an esteemed colleague, decrying the neighbouring discipline that keeps misunderstanding the world, or keep on writing bad tempered footnotes about this mistaken theory – and thereby become complicit in this very unproductivity? Why do scholars choose this enemy and not another?

Enemies also often involuntarily direct ones thinking, researching and theorising. If an enemy posits a, people feel compelled to posit b. If she writes approvingly of c, we need to denounce it. An enemy can have more power over people’s thinking than they would probably like to have it. It is as if people are guided in their thinking not only from their research object, but by an unknown field of do’s and don’t’s, accumulated since the time of their studies, of where to go and look and where not to look.

The lecture series calls for analyzing the productivity of intellectual enemies. The speakers choose an enemy of their choice, and analyse his, her or its productivity for their own thinking, their research and their career. Doing so, they contribute to a new sociology of sociology. They revisit controversies and analyze them from within and beyond to engage in a sociological celebration of what they usually denounce.

All Lectures Tuesdays, 4.30-6pm, RHB 137

1st Nov.: Liz Moor (Goldsmiths)
Reflections on the Genesis of Intellectual Fiends

8th Nov.: Harry Collins (Cardiff)
Good and Bad Arguments With Friends, Idiots and People Without Integrity

6th Dec.: David Oswell (Goldsmiths)
Dances with Wolves: Latour, Machiavelli and Us

13th Dec.: Steve Fuller (Warwick)
Bruno Latour and Some Notes on Some Also Rans.

Conference CFP: Taking Animals Apart: Exploring Interspecies Enmeshment in a Biotechnological Era

Taking Animals Apart: Exploring Interspecies Enmeshment in a Biotechnological Era
Sponsored by the Robert F. and Jean E. Holtz Center for Science and Technology Studies, University of Wisconsin–Madison
May 31-June 2, 2012
Madison, WI

Deadline for proposals: December 15, 2011

In our globalized, highly-industrialized society, human and nonhuman animals are enmeshed in surprising and often troubling ways. “Pharm” goats are living factories for the production of pharmaceuticals; honeybees are explosive-detectors in the “War on Terror;” and household pets – clothed and escorted in strollers – have become humanized companions. What do these sorts of enmeshments mean for us and our “human condition” as well as for our non-human animal counterparts? What do they mean for relationships among species?

The Robert F. and Jean E. Holtz Center and Program in Science and Technology Studies (STS) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is sponsoring a three-day conference to bring together advanced graduate students in animal studies, science and technology studies, and allied disciplines (English, History, Anthropology, and Fine Arts among others) to discuss the relationships between animal studies and STS. We welcome papers or projects that explore the overlap of humans and other organisms as well as their mutual interaction with technology. Each participant will present a pre-circulated paper, article, creative composition, or dissertation chapter for constructive feedback in a roundtable discussion with peers and with scholars from the University of Wisconsin.

Our keynote speaker will be Susan Squier — Brill Professor of Women’s Studies and English at The Pennsylvania State University; acting director of its Science, Medicine, Technology in Culture program; and author of Poultry Science, Chicken Culture: A Partial Alphabet.

Mornings will include facilitated discussions on animal studies and STS as well as sessions on participants’ written work. In the afternoons, participants will attend field trips to sites of human-animal enmeshment in and around Madison. As part of the conference, artwork on the conference theme will be on display in a juried exhibition and honored at the keynote reception. A free public film screening of a movie on the theme of human-animal relations will conclude the conference weekend.

Modest travel stipends may be available from the Holtz Center at the University of Wisconsin to offset the costs of lodging, meals, and travel. The option to stay with local students will be available, should participants wish to do so.

Please send a paper proposal of 250 words and a curriculum vitae to Peter Boger at or Jen Martin at by December 15, 2011. Accepted papers will be due April 30, 2012. Visual artists and creative writers of fiction, nonfiction or poetry should contact Heather Swan for more information at

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