The Internet Of Absurd Things

The Internet of Things refers to a collection of networked devices, that receive and send data [Oxford English Dictionary]. These devices are usually marketed to us by Startup Culture, as a way to make our lives easier, or to give us a sense of control. But not being able to open the garbage bin because the wifi is down, or turn on the lights because you don’t have an app is the exact opposite of ease or control, which makes the whole situation a technological comedy of errors.

The purpose of this proposal is to formulate a critique of the Internet of Things, and people’s relationship to their devices and environment, by subverting a collection of smart objects into new scenarios to highlight how their intended functionality is absurd. By doing this, I will inform designers and technologists about the wider societal effects of the connected objects they create. The project will cumultate in the output of the devices, a paper, public code repositories, and instructions on how people can subvert these items for themselves.

Context / Background
My background and training is in web design and development. This has been augmented with my involvement in the maker community. I have experience doing physical computing, networking, and fabrication which will come in useful during this project. The maker world has also provided me with a framework regarding The Internet of Things, as it is quite critical of Startup Culture’s offerings. Asking why we produce these Things, and what is the purpose they serve, is an on-going conversation in that community and has informed my thoughts around the production of “smart objects”.

Theoretical Framework
In 2005, Bruce Sterling coined the term SPIMES in his book Shaping Things. SPIMES were defined as “manufactured objects whose informational support is so overwhelmingly extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system. SPIMES begin and end with data.” [Sterling, Bruce, 2005,11]. Sterling voiced that true SPIMES do not yet exist, but their speculative existence would trigger a world full of objects that “tend to take on a pervasive flavor of gizmo”. Gizmo is defined as something just smart enough to bother you. [Sterling, Bruce, 2005,15]. In a way, the current reality of The Internet Of Things is a lot like Douglas Adams’ Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser from Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy [Adams,Douglas,1978], and less like the Enchanted Objects coined by David Rose [Rose,David,2014]. But stuff can sometimes have secret lives. And when it comes to smart objects, these units exist not only on their own, but in large support systems that influences their existence. [Bogost, Ian, 2012]. Because of this you could argue that these smart things don’t really know what they are, and if “the essence of a thing is considered to be what the thing is” then what is The Internet of Things? [Heidegger 1977].

The time period for this proposal is the current day and age, and is geographically focused on North America. I will conduct a survey into the most used Internet of Things devices, and also ones that people tend to laugh at. I’ll combine these findings with everyday human needs using a combination of technology and human activity as a basis for subverting these constructed objects.

Contribution to the Advancement of Knowledge
There’s a beauty in these absurd “smart objects”, and through this project, I will be able to contribute critical, and practical knowledge, about how to subvert these items for more open source explorations.

References Cited

  • Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Series 2 (radio program). BBC. 1978.
  • Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Univ Of Minnesota Press. 2012.
  • Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology. Garland Science. 1977.
  • Rose, David, Enchanted Objects: Innovation, Design, and the Future of Technology. Scribner, 2015
  • Sterling, Bruce. Shaping Things. The MIT Press. 2005