[iDC] The Internet of hypocrisy

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Fri Sep 22 01:42:02 EDT 2006

Brian Holmes wrote:  ³But one can ask whether artists, intellectuals,
and cultural operators in the more well-policed cities are not just
using technological brain-candy to divert their attention from the
absence of any perspective for a change in the things that matter?²

I¹m with you, Brian (³the absence of any perspective for a change in the
things that matter²). I responded to Sterling¹s Shaping Things asking
how networked objects could teach us mutual aid, free cooperation and
reach beyond the usual corporate optimization drill. How can
technologies make life more spontaneous, disordered, unpredictable and
emotionally rich? 

What is at stake in this debate? Situated technologies or networked
objects or The Internet of Things will not rid the poor in Mexico or
Brazil from ridiculous oppression. Technology is not the world savior.
There is no Che-Guevara-in-a-box. Don¹t ask for bread in the Mac store. 

Giving up on all networked ³pieces of metal and silicon,² however, is
equally unproductive. We had this exchange for a while, Brian. For me,
it¹s not an either/or. Technology and possibly even these damn networked
objects or relational artifacts may well have some role to play in
addressing the ecological crisis (e.g. tracing disposed car tires) and
the way we live together. 


Cardiologist's 'living chip' changes science of disease monitoring


My personal stake in this upcoming symposium is the attempt to mess with
the techno-social imaginary. Instead of deserting the field of tomorrow,
I am curious to occupy the imaginary of networked sociality before the
commercio-military default kicks in. Today, networked sociality expands
in the city, the moment we take our online friends with us when leaving
the house.

Global mobile phone connections hit 2.5bn
Ulises Mejias wrote: ³I fear that our technophilia is obscuring the
politics of these virtual-actual assemblages, obstructing the need to
critically assess how agency is distributed amongst things connected
through.² Nick Knouf and others resonated with Ulises¹ concerns and
Tobias c. van Veen referenced Andrew Feenberg.

Langdon Winner (1977) thought about the question of agency in relation
to technological development. He asked if we can, in fact, insert our
critical agenda into the development process or if technologies are out
of control in the sense of this process being an autonomous process
within the social-technical web that leads from one invention to the

³In the present discussion the term autonomous technology is understood
to be a general label for all conceptions and observations to the effect
that technology is somehow out of control by human agency.² (p 15)

Brian Holmes: ³Isn't there a strong chance that the discussion of the
Internet of Things is just an excuse not to talk about, think about,
touch the things that aren't connected to any kind of professional
fetishization, ... any kind of corporate payoff for the shrinking of
your self to a normalized and gadgetized ego-on-a-leash.²

Your critique of the hell of the networked life style has deeply moved
me throughout the recent years. I feel and intellectually share much of
your worry and disgust for what network technologies do to labor
practices and time management. 

While I don¹t think that anybody here tries to propel the teleco market,
perhaps you are right and some of this discussion is professional
fetishization of the terms du jour. This list brings together people
from many different professional contexts and that alone should demand
crystal clear translation of concepts and less technocratic jargon.
Just take the artist and technologist Julian Bleeker for whom ³things
... cannot help inflicting local and global change² and cross-check this
quote against Langdon Winner¹s ³Autonomous Technologies² (1977):

³Understood in its strongest sense, technological determinism stands of
falls on two hypothesis: 1) that the technical base of a society is the
fundamental condition affecting all patterns of social existence and 2)
the changes in technology are the single most important source of change
in society.² (pp 75)

Winner is interesting because he tries to open a critical middle-way
that allows for opportunities. I do not think that ludic is ludicrous
and the designer¹s productivity should not be curbed by valuable
³European-style² critique.  

In "Why Things Matter" Bleeker inserts himself into the techno-social
imaginary of networked objects. He argues that "design agents should
think hard about the opportunities for creating more lively engagements
with things." 

Bleeker assigns the importance of networked objects mainly to their
engagement with the sociable web and not with each other. For him,
networked objects are soon to arrive conversation partners on the dinner

Making customers of pervasive technology superior 

Youngsters 'reliant on mobiles'


The examples with which Bleeker spices the manifesto are rather common
and his anthropomorphizing of networked objects is odd (e.g.
"inter-species dialogue"). There is little else but consumption on the
hardware-side, unless you are, like Bleeker, a technologist/programmer.  

It is hardly realistic to project the future use of miniaturized
networked objects as core opportunity to make a better world. Networked
video cameras that report rape and torture to the online many? ("A
different kind of witness upon the world, and a witness to events that
are of interest to the other blogging species-- people.") Yes, recent
police excess in Malaysia was documented with cell phone video cameras
but just think of Woomera or Abu Ghraib-- networked objects would be as
welcome there as GW Bush was in Lower Manhattan on 9/11. 


How real are these possibilities?

-Trebor Scholz


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