Poetic IoT

How can poetic interaction benefit the design of the internet of things?

Thesis proposal draft

 

Field of research

This research will look at the current uses of the Internet of Things (IoT). I would like to approach this subject through the notion of poetics building on works from literature and design to propose alternatives to the dominating trend in IoT design.

 

Context

 

Smart objects are inviting themselves in our cities, our homes and on our bodies providing us with guidance on how to live our lives efficiently and healthily. In Gartner’s Hype Curve for 2016, IoT platforms figure within the peak of inflated expectations. Indeed, the benefits of IoT is a very debated subject prompting simultaneously the most optimistic and pessimistic commentary. Despite the first prototypes of connected objects appearing around since the 1990s, it is still too early to decide whether said innovation is truly ground-breaking. Marketing may be one step ahead excitedly advertising the potential of a technology who struggles to define itself and its objectives.

 

The development of IoT has faced a lot of scepticism in the public realm, notably around questions of security and control. These ecosystems of connected devices collect substantial amounts of personal data that are shared and stored most times without our knowledge, unless one might be willing to scroll through pages of unreadable terms and conditions. Smart devices no longer require our input, relying on algorithms to autonomously make decisions and anticipate our needs. This circumstance invites to reconsider the concept of user and its implications in defining who sets the goals.

 

Philip van Allen and Betti Marenko (2016) welcome the opportunity to redefine human-machine interaction as a system of collaborators. Drawing on animistic design they imagine an ecosystem of objects whose personalities are defined by differing protocols of data gathering. Rather than provide tailored recommendations, they compete with your objectives by curating data according to their distinct goals. Philip and Betti argue that the uncertainty brought about by friction offers tremendous potential for discovery and open-ended ideation.

Where the previous approach made humans and object equal users in a network, Simone Rebaudengo in Addicted Products (2012) turns human centred design on its head. Her speculative project depicts an alternative world where you need to prove your worth as an owner to be granted an appliance. With sustainability in mind, these appliances share data with comparable products in order to determine if they are sufficiently used. If neglected the object will ask to be shipped to a new owner. From the perspective of my research, this project questions the agency within the internet of things. Who is the object and who does this decision-making benefit?

 

Superflux highlights this issue in Uninvited guests (2015) as they portray an elderly man trying to find peace amidst the constant probing by his children and smart objects they have given him to monitor his health. The introduction of IoT disrupts his daily routine leading him to resort to hijacking to

 

 

 

retain his preferred lifestyle. This friction in our relationship to IoT and its alleged benefits illustrates how connected objects are being developed to solve problems in ways that are out of phase with

our personal motives. Being useful requires establishing norms, restricted possibilities and a specific objective. Even in the animistic experimentations developed previously these objects are designed to make us more efficient and productive even in the intimacy of our home where our priorities lie elsewhere.

 

 

Rationale

 

Through their connectivity and ability to thrive on the wealth of data we produce every day, the Internet of Things have the potential to play a vital role in constructing our preferred futures. However, consumers lack the understanding of the extent to which data is shared, manipulated and commercialised. Relying on pattern identification means singling out abnormalities as deviations to be corrected, and predictability means influencing decision making processes through reduced possibilities. Even with the best intentions, it is problematic that the social consequences of IoT’s interfering in the most intricate details of our intimacy cannot be questioned through lack of transparency.

 

Poetic interaction or aesthetic interaction offers rich opportunities for design centred around individuals. It considers the user not just as a person with a goal but aims at creating experiences that appeal to the user’s sensitivity. Poetic interaction draws on references to local culture and the ambiguity of shape and information allowing space for interpretation and flexibility in use. Applying poetic to IoT may be an interesting way to experiment with the subjectivity of data interpretation and explore how we can exploit information in a meaningful way at our consumer level.

 

The internet of things is intrusive, normalising and production driven. My aim with this project is to shift the debate focus to understanding the impact of IoT’s normalising tendencies. I believe we should be discussing what the intentions of IoT are and how to make them clear and suitable for our intimate life. I do not want to address this problem through object centred design but through the question of meaningfulness.

 

 

Methodologies

 

First, I would like to explore the problems raised by the mode of interaction with current IoT enabled devices. I plan to conduct a series of case studies of existing IoT products to identify the best and worst practices.

In parallel I would like to conduct secondary research on aesthetics and poetry through writings in literature and philosophy. This first part will be heavily research based to identify the opportunities in the application of poetics to IoT.

I am also interested in the way we physically interact with objects. Enquiries about gestures and how we respond to certain shapes and textures could be lead in the realm of performance and role playing. I am interested in drawing on methodologies for the co creation of narratives, which include hacking and repurposing, to experiment with the possible co-design of IoT.

The final resolution could take the form of a series of small critical IoT experiments much like the Objects of Research (2015) by Iohanna Nicenboim but far more focalised on poetical agency.