I’ll use this post to comment on the readings for this week.
The first is written by Rebecca Johnston for FirstMonday, and it fits nicely into the binary set up by the course facilitators: “Salvation or Destruction: Metaphors of the Internet.” She looks at discussions of the Internet (and Web, to a lesser degree) and the metaphors by which those writing about it characterize the space. As with most of these discussions (the Annalee Newitz discussion linked on the course home page for instance, but I’m biased, since I have loved Newitz’s work on iO9 for a long time), sci-fi keeps popping up (Gibson’s ‘consensual hallucination’ was brilliant for many reasons, but its durability is perhaps its most impressive feature). She uses Lakoff and Johnson’s argument about the importance of metaphor in understanding how our brains understand abstract concepts, and she catalogs the metaphors she finds in op-eds and other artifacts of the mainstream press.
Johnston does some impressive ethnographic research, not unusual for FirstMonday. She looks through mentions of the web and characterizes them according to the descriptive metaphors used by the various authors, and this sort of quasi-quantitative approach is what we need to do more of, in my opinion.
The second is by Julian Bleecker and is posted in Scribd, which caused some consternation among the MOOCers (note to self – again, think about how easy it is to disappear or give up on this course, especially when the articles take a long time to appear). It’s titled “Why Things Matter: A Manifesto for Networked Object, Cohabiting with Pigeons, Arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things.” It starts by referencing Sterling, Haraway, and Latour, so it hits some of the pantheon of Wired rock stars, and that alone makes me want to read it, because I’m a sap.
He argues, as a geeky engineer-type, that Sterling’s idea of spimes – things that can be recorded, and tracked, and be searchable – is an important ‘scifi design agent’ that he as an engineer can use as he connects objects to the Internet in what to him seems the next evolution of technological devices. He coins the term ‘Blogjects’ – objects that blog – and extends the definition of blogging to one that is essentially a sort of Burkean parlor view (and thus my use of steampunk imagery).
He mentions the Pigeons that Blog project, tracking pollution in San Salvador, and he runs through a litany of other projects in which objects (including us – he’s not all ridiculously anthropomorphic) add information to the Internet. And he finishes with this challenge:
Forget about the Internet of Things as Web 2.0, refrigerators connected to grocery stores, and networked BarcaLoungers? I want to know how to make the Internet of Things into a platform for World 2.0. How can the Internet of Things become a framework for creating more habitable worlds, rather than a technical framework for a television talking to a reading lamp? Now that we’ve shown that the Internet can become a place where social formations can accrete, and where worldly change has at least a hint of possibility, what can we do to move that possibility out into the worlds in which we all have to live?