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.

Northern Sweden

Dear Diary,

I arrived in Umeå this morning for HUMlab‘s Critically Making the Internet of Things conference, which starts tomorrow and has a really interesting line-up of presentations and workshops that I’m looking forward to. I don’t actually have an abstract for my talk, but will post my slides online afterwards.

I also spent the afternoon with Anna Croon Fors and had fika (my new favourite cultural ritual) with her colleagues in the Department of Informatics, discussing everything from gender and technology to how GPS equipped dogs are changing the experience of moose hunting.

The restaurant we originally went to for lunch was closed because the owners were fighting (or so a sign on the door said!) but that meant I got to see more of the city, including timber industry sites on the river and new residential suburbs. I also got to meet a super cute Norwegian Forest kitten, who was sleeping on a gorgeous Gotland lambskin. (I have to see if I can get one to take home. Skin, not cat. I already have one of those.)

The weather is mild, only -4 or so, and there is only a little snow on the ground, but the sun set around 2pm and it’s hard not to get tired after that. The upside to the darkness is that you can see lovely Advent stars and candles lighting up everyone’s windows, and the trees are strung with fairy lights that you can see for half the afternoon as well. It will be strange to return to NZ summer after this!

But it’s almost time for dinner, so I’d better go get ready now.

More soon,

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

The Show!

Fieldwork–or more specifically, participant observation–has always been what I love most about my research, and event-based fieldwork has been an important part of my current project. This year’s National Agricultural Fieldays gave me a thorough introduction to agricultural technology and rural computing in NZ, and the Merino Shearing and Woolhandling Competition showed me a new dimension of human-animal relations. But I’ve been waiting all year for the 149th Canterbury A&P Show, and that’s where I’ll be Wednesday-Friday this week.

Today’s NZ Herald has a story about The Show that does a great job of conjuring the event:

“Look at the power in this Angus bull. It looks like a Mac truck and there’s a tonne o’ meat in him. He’s got a nice expression on his face, a calm temperament, a fine pair of testicles. This is a helluva good-looking bull.”

“This South Devon cow, she’s bright-eyed and feminine. And she has nice feet, firm on the ground, and a pretty, chubby calf. There’s a good udder set on her, too.”

Six judges for the Beef All Breeds competition have made their winning choices. They talk about the animals with knowledge, enthusiasm and humour. I’m a city slicker and had no idea that an Angus bull could be so interesting or cattle judges such showmen. The judges, and most of the male onlookers, wear their R.M. Williams boots and belts, their best jeans and town-shirts – cotton, ironed nicely, sleeves rolled up and the top two buttons open showing a tuft of chest hair.

I’m at the Canterbury A&P Show. A&P means Agricultural and Pastoral so this show is all about things rural; the country comes to Christchurch. There are no competitions for sewing, baking or growing and arranging flowers that some shows have … The focus is animals.


In the livestock pavilion, a vast, covered area, I inch between myriad pens, starting with cattle, moving on to goats, pigs, llamas, alpacas then, finally, sheep. It smells of hay, lanolin from wool and coconut sunscreen from the people walking by. Some animals have rows of ribbons tied to their pens. Others haven’t been lucky and sit, blink and chew, waiting to go back to their fields.

The show is on for three days and these hundreds of animals must be fed and watered; 30 tonnes of grass is trucked in and an enormous amount of hay. There is even a milking machine to which dairy-cow owners dutifully take their prize cows twice a day. The logistics behind this (and the mucking out that must go on because the pens and animals are all immaculate) is impressive.


I find a shady seat near farmers who are drinking Speight’s and yakking with their mates in a low-toned rumble. Some hold their winning certificates and happily accept congratulations. It’s convivial and friendly in a blokey way. As I leave I notice I’ve had a nice sit-down in the Sheep Exhibitors’ Club.

The Sheep Maternity Ward is nearby and I, with a flock of wide-eyed children, watch a lamb being born. It’s a grunty, messy, bloody process and the floppy, dazed lamb that slides out seems to be yellow. Mum is licking it in a jiffy and when I return half an hour later the smart wee thing is staggering around its mother’s wool looking for a nipple.

I, too, need food but the A&P Show is no place for a vegetarian. Avenues of food stalls are selling pies, hot dogs, burgers, beef sandwiches, beef noodles and lamb kebabs; nothing, anywhere, that is remotely vegetarian. I settle for a ham roll and pull out the ham.


The Canterbury A&P Show has delighted visitors for 149 years; the first one was held in 1862. It’s a fun day out and a rare insight for townies – these days that’s most of us – into heartland New Zealand.

Yes. My animal and meat-loving self is super excited. Stories and photos to follow!

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