"The mobile internet is the internet of motion, defined by mapping and directions, activity tracking, travel schedules, GoPro, Passbook and Uber. We have been given GPS receivers and three-axis accelerometers and proximity sensors for our pockets and purses, and the things we build for them urge us to keep moving. They are optimised to tell us that we’re not where we want to be: miles from our destination, steps from our daily goal, seconds from our personal best, an immeasurable distance from our rose-gold aspirations.
What, then, does the internet of rest look like?" Double thumbs-up for Nick Sweeney
17 February 2015
The door refused to open. It said, “Five cents, please.”
He searched his pockets. No more coins; nothing. “I’ll pay you tomorrow,” he told the door. Again he tried the knob. Again it remained locked tight. “What I pay you,” he informed it, “is in the nature of a gratuity; I don’t have to pay you.”
“I think otherwise,” the door said. “Look in the purchase contract you signed when you bought this conapt.”
In his desk drawer he found the contract; since signing it he had found it necessary to refer to the document many times. Sure enough; payment to his door for opening and shutting constituted a mandatory fee. Not a tip.
“You discover I’m right,” the door said. It sounded smug.
From the drawer beside the sink Joe Chip got a stainless steel knife; with it he began systematically to unscrew the bolt assembly of his apt’s money-gulping door.
“I’ll sue you,” the door said as the first screw fell out.
Joe Chip said, “I’ve never been sued by a door. But I guess I can live through it.”
This passage from Philip K Dick’s Ubik has been doing the rounds recently, following a tweet from Ian Steadman:
Philip K Dick's "Ubik" (1969) manages to explain in half a page why the Internet of Things will suck under capitalism pic.twitter.com/PPnGEH5AzX
— Ian Steadman (@iansteadman) February 9, 2015
Steadman’s tweet has been enthusiastically retweeted and picked upon. See, for instance, Slate’s article Philip K. Dick Warned Us About the Internet of Things in 1969. That Slate article, like much of the attention Steadman’s tweet has garnered, misses the point spectacularly; it goes on to explain how terrible IoT is, and how prescient Dick is being.
The important words in Steadman’s tweet weren’t “Internet of Things”; the important word was capitalism.
Joe Chip clearly lives in a connected future. We know his homeopape machine talks to some kind of network, requesting news in a particular tone and fabricating it for him.
We know that the devices that make up his conapt know about his credit rating, and hence can refuse to work without either a line of credit or cash money.
The question really is: why does the apartment and its devices know about his credit rating? Why should it matter?
The clue is in the word contract. Joe Chip has signed a Terms of Service (TOS) agreement for his apartment.
Terms of Service, or End-User License Agreements, are problematic because they tend to exist for things you don’t really own: things like software, where even when you purchase it outright you agree to endless EULAs about what you can and can’t do with it; things that have a client-server relationship, where even if you own one end of it – the client – the server is still inside the domain of the corporation; things like subscription services, where the nature of the service (or the content within it, for a service such as Spotify) can change at any time.
It’s that Terms of Service that makes Joe Chip’s conapt suck. It doesn’t suck because it’s connected; it sucks because Joe Chip doesn’t own his own stuff. The TOS/EULA turns everything into hire purchase.
Subscription services make the expensive affordable (the very problem that hire purchase long ago set out to solve). A $600 iPhone is “free” on a particular contract… which often works out more expensive than the airtime and total cost of the phone. But ‘free’ is tempting, especially as the future becomes more expensive to partake of, and when cash upfront isn’t available. How many people have been stung when their ‘free’ device breaks inside a contract?
Joe Chip might have been, because, as we discovered earlier in the chapter (Chapter 3), he is broke:
“Mr. Chip, the Ferris & Brockman Retail Credit Auditing and Analysis Agency has published a special flier on you. Our reciept-slot received it yesterday and it remains fresh in our minds. Since July you’ve dropped from a triple G status creditwise to quadruple G. Our department – in fact this entire conapt building – is now programmed against an extension of services and/or credit to such pathetic anomalies as yourself, sir. Regarding you, everything must hereafter be handled on a basic-cash subfloor. In fact, you’ll probably be on a basic-cash subfloor for the rest of your life. In fact-”
He hung up.
Joe Chip has been able to afford things he technically couldn’t – his apartment, his lifestyle – by sacrificing something non-monetary for the privilege. He gives up particular freedoms in order to own things. Insert endless variants of “if you’re not paying you’re the product being sold” here, but note that Joe has made that an active choice: he is selling himself to own things.
What’s more insidious than the future Joe Chip lives in is a future where that isn’t a choice. IoT is so often dependent on that client-server model – which in and of itself isn’t an issue – but the ToS/EULA that comes along with it can be used to sneak all manner of other horrors onto the unsuspecting customer.
And what’s worse is when the static object, the object that intuitively feels self-contained, turns out not to be – hence the outrage about the Samsung TV that might be ‘listening’ to you. In this case, the sacrifice is that voice-recognition is easier outsourced CPU power and large, constantly updated databases somewhere on the Internet, rather than stored, statically inside a box – but how many people are really aware that a TV, even a Smart TV, is more often a two-way device than not?
The Amazon Echo is obviously not self-contained; it is a parasite that lives in your home, has a nebulous and confusing set of functionality, and which never fails to have me screaming what is the catch?
Objects that talk are useful, but objects that tattle aren’t. Joe Chip’s objects ought to make his life better, but that clearly stopped a long while ago. The horrors described in that chapter of Dick’s novel haven’t come to be because they objects are connected; it’s because of design choices the manufacturers have made to support those objects, and the financial strictures they, and Joe Chip, operate within.
That’s the nugget to really think about: Joe Chip’s house, and Samsung’s TV, are like that because somebody decided to make them that way. Maybe not somebody; maybe many somebodies; maybe somebodies operating within other processes.
In another tale of a strange lock, Bruno Latour writes that “things do not exist without being full of people, and the more modern and complicated they are, the more people swarm through them.” The Berlin Key, or how to do words with things, explores how social relations and societal forces are rendered in technology – and also, in the other direction, how technology is coerced by society. You can’t talk about the object divorced from the society and cultures it represents, but you also can’t discuss it without some attention to the technology of the object itself. And, bound up in that object, are people and culture and convention and politics.
The Berlin Key is a cracking essay. (It’s also a fascinating object).
Like the Berlin Key, Joe Chip’s lock also represents the society he exists in, encoding interactions, assumptions, and economics. An SF novelist like Dick can uses this as a shorthand for the world he wants us to see in a single thing.
But the Samsung TV – or the August Smart Lock – aren’t fictional inventions that serve as scene-setting and dramatic devices. They’re really things we can have – I hesitate to say ‘own’ – right now. And they are full of people, swarming through them, and those people bring the culture the exist in, along with the cultures they’d like to exist in in future.
And that means they’re full of a whole boatload of late capitalism. It’s important to acknowledge that explicitly, even if I’m not quite sure what to do about that.
I am pretty sure, though, that Joe Chip’s problem was never his door.
"I don’t want a smart home, I don’t want home automation, I want things that work better because they understand the digital ecology they now exist in." So much that, and so succinctly put by Alex in this excellent post.
"There was also one late night when a stranger opened the door and walked into the house when August should have auto-locked the door. (The stranger was trying to enter our next-door neighbor’s house and didn’t realize he was at the wrong door.)" YOU HAD ONE JOB etc.
Rather looking forward to seeing this play out: thirty days of processing and spelunking CSV, from Paul Downey. Lots of new tools and tricks emerging already.
Really nice exploration of a small stack for poking data at the commandline. I'm a fan of jq and its ilk already, so this extends some of those techniques.
"…the general consensus was that some kind of concierge experience combined with a lot of physical interfaces roughly like we operate with today was what people wanted. But the general fear was that we’d end up with a bunch of dashboards and silo’d apps in perpetuity and ad infinitum." Tom's notes on his FOO session on connected objects.
"keep some parts of myself severely to myself, am thus able to maintain a deep fruitful disjunction between this real world & the real real world." (and: of _course_ the "Robin" commenting on MJH's blog is Robin Sloan)
"The lineage of luxury in art – from lapis lazuli, to bronze casting, gold plating or diamond encrusting – extends now to graphics cards, ray-tracing, skin rendering, reflection mapping and to processor speeds, hyperthreading, render farms and the complex world of outsourcing, government subsidies or mineral extraction. It’s important and interesting! Curators take note!" This is good / the Ed Atkins also sounds good.
Bookmarked for reference – Dan's lists are usually good.
Beautiful. (via Denise).
"King Lear would have killed it in Silicon Valley." More Maciej, and yes, it's great.
A Comprehensive and Totally Universal Listing of Every Problem a Story Has Ever Had | Andromeda Spaceways Inflight MagazineThese are also good. And funny.
Seems like a reasonable set of tools to help out with this.
"MailCatcher runs a super simple SMTP server which catches any message sent to it to display in a web interface. Run mailcatcher, set your favourite app to deliver to smtp://127.0.0.1:1025 instead of your default SMTP server, then check out http://127.0.0.1:1080 to see the mail that's arrived so far." Useful!
"The reason I am able to make Twitter bots is because I have been programming computers in a shitty, haphazard way for 15 years, followed by maybe 5 years of less-shitty programming. Every single sentence in the big preceding paragraph, every little atom of knowledge, represents hours of banging my head up against a series of technical walls, googling for magic words to get libraries to compile, scouring obscure documentation to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do, and re-learning stuff I’d forgotten because I hadn’t used it in a while." This paragraph also represents my experience of both programming and how I write my toys; a slightly round-about set of experience to get to where we are now, with lots of reading the manual and doing things in dumb ways occasionally. Programming!
Yep, this all seems like a very good list to me. Filed away for the next time I have to do anything with maps.
Enjoyed this a lot: Kim Stanley Robinson on California, SF, and the relationship between the two. For me, timely.
"In this film I wanted to look beyond the childish myth of ‘the cloud’, to investigate what the infrastructures of the internet actually look like. It felt important to be able to see and hear the energy that goes into powering these machines, and the associated systems for securing, cooling and maintaining them." Looks beautiful: Timo's customary look in enveloping, three-screen 4K. Gosh. Also: the uses of stills-as-film is really interesting to me at the moment.
"One-thousand dollars invested at a 20% discount with 5% interest (calculating interest every 3 turns, but simple, not compounding interest) means a player will have starting debt of $1000. After three turns the debt is $1050, 6 turns is $1100, 9 turns is $1150, etc. Totally manageable. The banker is your friend and wants you to succeed."
A lovely game – almost a poem, but definitely Enough Game – by Holly Gramazio, about being a blackbird in a city. It made me feel many things, which is what the best writing does. Also, I shall now probably play it again.
"We foresee an amazing future where not only can your household devices communicate with each other, they can also communicate with us over the same Internet lines. How cool would it be if your fridge could post a Medium here on Medium every time it needed you to buy more milk? And that’s just one idea." There are many more ideas in this post.
"We learned that being first is important, but should not be the only factor when determining the viability of a project. If you have an evolved approach to a preexisting concept, you are likely doing something original and the results have a good chance of being meaningful." So, in one sense, it's another physical mirror. But: I like this point, that sometimes, you have to do a thing for yourself to learn about it. And by learning about it, you might ultimately differentiate your own work. As long as you don't claim you were first, there is no shame in doing what other people do. How else do you learn things? Not by other people yelling "OLD!" at you, that's for sure.
"Gifsicle is a command-line tool for creating, editing, and getting information about GIF images and animations." Handy.
"These three frameworks — objects as portals, objects as subjects, and objects as oracles — propose distinct (yet related) structures for thinking about how connected objects might begin to contain their own narratives, seek their own history, develop their own perspectives, and become storytellers in a multitude of ways." Nice article about the various perspectives on Connected Objects (which namechecks Hello Lamp Post).
"These are clearly black market frankenproducts – made from a combination of surplus mobile phone components and car alarm key rings. I wonder how much they actually cost to manufacture. I wonder if the bits are stolen." Ben Bashford on the magic of Shanzai. And, of course, when a video camera is eight pounds, it's no longer precious, and you start doing weird things with it: Youtube is full of examples.
"Curveship is an interactive fiction system that provides a world model (of characters, objects, locations, and things that happen) while also modeling the narrative discourse, so that the narration and description of the simulated world can change. Curveship can tell events out of order, using flashback and other techniques, and can tell the story from the standpoint of particular characters and their perceptions and understandings." This looks both bonkers and brilliant.
"Data combined with narrative creates personality. It can be used to construct a larger and richer history around a subject.
The world is already divided in to two camps: People who are going to watch the Super Ball and those who aren't. This is an opportunity to delight the former and reach the latter, by providing a larger and more playful cast of characters to describe the events during the game." Nice!