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August 03, 2006

iDC: Architecture and Situated Technologies


the "internet of things"

Dear all,

Welcome to the August edition of the Architecture and Situated Technologies installment. Thanks Trebor for warming up the netwaves. I wanted to pull together a few threads that were begun in July and steer the discussion towards the objects that we as producers of things will be making. In light of the "internet of things" I thought it would be worthwhile to collectively characterize through examples the nature of these things. Will their mode of production differ from the way we have previously made things? Will they have agency beyond immediate service to users? What are some of these? How will these objects work at the scale of architecture? technically and socially? Will there be a further individualizing of ownership or will new types of public access/ownership to these objects emerge?

Bruce Sterling in his brief pamphlet manifesto Shaping Things …a good summary of the whole thing which unfortunately lacks a bibliography… it would be nice to come across a manifesto with a bibliography…calls these objects "spimes". Setting aside the proselytizing Sterling makes a lucid observation of how information and the material object will become so enmeshed that: "you care little about the object per se; that physical object is just a material billboard for tomorrow's vast, digital, interactive, postindustrial support system."

The other useful insight he makes is that the confluence of material objects (atoms) and information (bits) will give us incredible insight into an objects mode of production. We will be able to track its entire life cycle…construction from raw materials, uses and misuses and finally its obsolescence and post-existence. This will provide us a means to properly manage resources ultimately leading to a "sustainable" society.

An extraction from Rob's post:

"The most interesting thing about it will be that you won't be able to see it all at once because all these data structures, computational devices, digital networks and cyberspaces that are built upon those components will be invisible unless you have the password or unless you are a member of the group that is permitted to see them”.[iii] In such an environment, - a truly magic one - people themselves become information spaces. Building, cars and people become information spaces."

Access to these information spaces is especially interesting. The carving of the network through group membership and password protections is inevitable as people are drawn to creating collectives. But what about "non-biological" things? If agency is to be given to them what kinds of collectives might they (in)(de)form? What would characterize their performances? Purpose?

From tiziana's post:

"the October symposium interesting because it addresses exactly this feature of this type of communication that I am interested in - communication not as an exchange of messages between subjects, but communication as an environment - a field of interacting effects. There is a whole set of terms that have been used historically to talk about the many - peoples, mobs, masses, crowds, populations, publics, multitudes. I have come to believe that the interconnection of bodies/minds present some really interesting features which are biological without being reducible to what we might call a 'human nature'. An inorganic biological, feeling, sensing, perceiving, intelligent mass (?) - a biomass that constitutes on the one hand the field of interacting effects with an autonomous logic not reducible to individual actors and also a surface for experimenting with strategies of manipulation of affects, percepts and ideas (for publicists, marketing experts, but also activists, artists, engineers, architects, designers etc)."

The topology of self-organization to understand the behavior of these "things" is helpful. Parts and wholes are related but not easily reducible from one another. But with totalizations like these the specter of surveillance and control as pointed out by Grant is not far behind. As an architect I find the "biomass" visualization helpful, some way to grasp the "you won't be able to see it all at once". Also I think it points to the spatial turn the these "things" which on one level are conceived as tools but instantiated themselves as environments:

From mark's post on cellphones:

"Kenichi Fujimoto refers to the devices themselves as "territory machines" capable of transforming any space -- a subway train into "(one's) own room and personal paradise." While late 20th century (and predominately western) notions of the Internet promised to unlock us from the limitations of offline relationships and geographic constraints, keitai space flows in and out of ordinary, everyday activities, constantly shifting between virtual and physical realms."

And tiziana’s:

"The problem for me is that these new technologies are not tools which can be used by autonomous agents in one way or another depending on context and will. They constitute an environment, a milieu, a field of effects, an assemblage a zone of indistinction between natural, social and technological components and effects. Can you say an environment is liberating or oppressing depending on how you use it? Is it a legitimate question to ask of an enviroment?"

Is this fluctuation from tools to environments simply a consequence of digital technologies? Or is there a paradigm shift in our expectations of the objects we produce?

Usman's post:

“This way of thinking about architectural systems is not necessarily technological: it is not about making your online shopping experience more efficient, or your apartment funky and interactive. Nor is it about making another nice piece of hi-tech lobby art that responds to people flows through the space (which is just as representational, metaphor-encumbered and unchallenging as a polite watercolour landscape). It is about designing tools that people themselves may use to construct (in the widest sense) their environments and thus to build their own sense of agency. It is about developing ways to make people themselves more engaged with, and ultimately responsible for, the spaces that they inhabit. It is about investing the production of architecture with the poetries of its inhabitants.”

And john’s response:

This is the key: what tools? Can we look to rapid prototyped houses like those being designed/proposed by someone (name escapes me). Are we talking about the company in Calgary (again, blanking on the name) that lets you design your house online from a wide selection of elements and then they ship you the parts, a cross between prefab, lego and simcity? Or about responsive emotive materials (i.e. Oosterhuis' Hyperbody?) Or other stuff entirely? I'm very intrigued by the possibilities but if you're going to promote do-it-yourself space design in the physical world you have to deal with hard realities like materials, costs, durability, the elements, bylaws, lived use, walls falling down – things that simply don't have the same urgency in virtual space. So the question is whether the comparison with p2p media is apt given the constraints of actualizing that fluidity in the material world. What is the material-world architectural equivalent of an mp3 - or of this listserv? I have a feeling there are some really interesting answers available but I'm not sure what they are.”

Thanks for the question john. Perhaps the architects among us may want to take a crack at it.

I look forward to this discussion.


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Posted by jo at August 3, 2006 08:34 AM