On the 8th and 9th of May, me and my classmates from the MA course Interaction Design Communication of UAL attended the ThingsCon Conference in Berlin and we had the great opportunity to exhibit our work to a really broad audience of IoT designers, developers, engineers and entrepreneurs from the technology ecosystem from Berlin and London.
“social Circuits” is an on going participatory artwork. Using conductive paint participants are asked to close a circuit by tagging a PCB canvas. Each tag generates a digital representation in the form of a cellular automata pattern triggered by touch.
Our exhibition took place in a quite familiar place for the european culture industry: old, industrial building refurbished for such purposes, however all the talks and workshops were held to places near this building with different character and were mysteriously distant form one another. We still appreciated the organisation which was quite good and the organisers really friendly.They welcomed us and were willing to see our work which they seemed to enjoy a lot. Even though the participants was successful professionals from the commercial tech-product world they seemed very interested in our projects. I was pretty happy to see my classmates presenting their work with passion and professionalism. Although “socialCircuits”, my project, was not the most appropriate project for this context and not exhibited properly because of lack of space, the feedback I received was really good. In my opinion, the strongest point of this project is the participation of the audience which, unfortunately, wasn’t possible to happen in half square meter, however people were really interested to know about it. As they said it caught their attention as in terms of aesthetics they found it absolutely well aimed and they were curious to see what was happening with this physical-digital drawings!
Participation of the audience. People drawing with conductive paint. socialCircuits, during the exhibition @ThingsCon | Berlin, 2015
During this conference I participated in two workshops and I attended a lot of talks. I would like to speak about the one that impressed me more.
“The house that knows too much” that Simone Rebaudengo has organised was areally interesting one and had to do with the exploration of the near future of things that observe us and the environment, that learn and are trained to take decisions. The aim of the workshop was to build a map of a home full of mundane objects that are smart and make decisions, but may not be completely neutral as «they know too much» or «not enough». We tried to speculate about the weird, awkward, and potentially ironic relationships that emerge with an object that knows partial, wrong or even biased information about us.
We worked in groups and followed a procedure of four steps during this workshop. At first, we started brainstorming by picking a room and some objects that are in there, that might be interesting to play with later. Secondly, we discussed about the inputs that these objects might have about us and what do they know about us. We were asked to think from local to global scale and try to speculate about them and think about possible uses in the future. The third step, questioned the main motives of the objects we chose as well as the goals and ideology that they should follow. The methodology that we were suggested to use was to thing first about things related to the object and then to think about the context, in which society we imagine them and the value that they would push. Lastly, we put our objects, inputs and ideologies on the wall and we were asked to make three big questions we felt might have some strong implications in the daily life of someone and we discussed on how life would change in this scenario.
Really interesting questions that came up had to do with the how much do we want things to know about us? how exposed do we want to be to this as users? what new conversations might emerge with these objects?
Now I would like to mention some ideas that were delivered through the talks that I found really inspiring and informative for the IoT world. Tina Aspiala introduced some very provocative problematics that had to with the ability of these things to embed to our lives in a useful way. She pointed out, that, in the case of the Internet of Things, there are many possible inputs — dozens of sensors of all kinds — but very limited outputs, because most IoT gizmos can only do very limited things to get any human attention: they blink, or beep, or vibrate. Blinking, beeping, vibrating things that demand human attention could get pretty annoying. Clearly this is a major IoT problem. Tina Aspiala recommends trying to think this situation through with some design perspective, instead of just hacking more components and attaching them to breadboards with soldering irons. That’s a point of view that makes some sense, though, let’s face it, people are gonna want to do it the easy way.
ThingsCon abounded in talks and workshops, more than I can describe here, but, in my opinion, the most interesting thing on offer at Thingscon 2015 was the “IOT Design Manifesto”. Its authors were Andrew Spitz, Ruben van der Vleuten, Marcel Schouwenaar, Harm van Beek, Kevin Verelst, Anner Tiete, Jan Belon, Marcel van Heist and Holly Robbins and I thing that these people are trying to confront quite a few of the IoT’s real problems. That’s why I’m placing the manifesto here in this post. The first declarations, one and two, “We don’t believe the hype, we design useful things,” singles out the ThingsCon crowd as people who are skeptical and yet also trying to get something done. The IoT field is in that stage that is trying to form itself and place the rules and perspectives that describe it, that’s why I think that this is a good attitude for a young industry. The other declarations are about about participation, security, privacy, data collection, association, personal agency, sustainability and humanity. These are some big, hairy issues which aren’t going to get solved easily but at least it is good that they are interrogated at this point.
Closing this post, I would like to mention the inspiring talk by Bruce Sterling who closed this event with his evocative ideas. Apart from his critical point on the IoT he introduced his idea about Casa Jasmina and asked from the people there to help him with his house! “Casa Jasmina” is a two-year pilot project in the business space of domestic electronic networking, or, “the Internet of Things in the Home.” According to his programme, Casa Jasmina showplace has three main functions: A real-world testbed for hacks, experiments and innovative IoT and digital fabrication projects, a curated space for public exposure of excellent artifacts and best practices and a guest-house for occasional visitors to Toolbox, Officine Arduino and Fablab Torino.
I found this idea really interesting! I am always fascinated by collaborative projects like that as I honestly believe that there in no other way to deal with this fast growing world better, rather than collaborating with individual experts! Despite the difficulties as the management and curating of such a place, I hope Casa Jasmina will slowly become a unique and interesting place, a true place of difference!
Casa Jasmina The Open Source way to the connected home