Negative space of things: a practice-based research approach to understand the role of objects in the Internet of Things
Shingleton, Duncan James
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This is a practice-based research thesis situated in the research context of the ‘Internet of Things’, and critiques contemporary theoretical discourse related to the 21st century turn of connecting everyday objects to the World Wide Web. In the last decade we have seen the ‘Internet of Things’ articulated predominately through three commercial design fictions, each a response to the shift towards pervasive”, “ubiquitous” (Weiser 1991), or “context-ware” (Schilit, 1994) computing; where we inhabit spaces with objects capable of sensing, recording and relaying data about themselves and their environments. Through reflecting upon these existing design fictions, through a new combination of theories and practice-based research that embodies them, this thesis proposes a recovery to understanding the role of objects in the ‘Internet of Things’, which this author believes has been lost since its conception in the mid 2000s. In 2000, HP Labs presented Cooltown, which addressed what HP identified as the ‘convergence of Web technology, wireless networks, and portable client devices provides’. Cooltown’s primary discourse was to provide ‘new design opportunities for computer/communications systems, through an infrastructure to support "web presence" for people, places and things.’ (Anders 1998; Barton & Kindberg 2002). IBM’s Smarter Planet followed this in 2008 and shifted importance from the act of connecting objects to understanding the value of data as it flows between these objects in a network (Castells 1996; Sterling 2005; Latour 2005). Finally, Cisco presented The Internet of Everything in 2012 and moved the argument on one stage further, identifying that the importance of connected objects lies in the sum of their communication across silos of networks, where data can provide potential insight from which you can improve services (Bleecker 2006). Despite these design and theoretical fictions, the affordances of the Internet of Things first proposed in the mid 2000s has regressed from data to product, driven largely by unchanged discourse argued by those designers at its conception and also the enticement of being the next Google acquisition; instead of pigeons reporting on the environmental conditions of a city (Da Costa 2006), we have thermostats controllable from your smartphone (www.scottishpower.co.uk/connect). Therefore the aim of this thesis is to re-examine the initial potential of the Internet of Things, which is tested through a series of design interventions as research for art and design, (produced as part of my EPSRC funded doctoral studies on the Tales of Things and Electronic Memory research project and also whilst employed as a research assistant on two EPSRC funded research programmes of work Sixth Sense Transport, and The Connected High Street), to understand how we use data to allow an alternative discourse to emerge in order to recover the role of a networked object, rather than producing prototypical systems.
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