Régine Debatty blogs on we-make-money-not-art.com, contributes to several European design and art magazines and lectures internationally about the way artists, hackers and interaction designers (mis)use technology.
Rob van Kranenburg: Moller Villas for everyone or IoT Can we have our cake and eat it?
One of the best and most apt places to think about Internet of Things is the French quarter in Shanghai, one of the few deliberately ‚messy’ spots featuring trendy cafés, hot couture and local arts, amidst a vast sea of tall building, apartment blocks and office spaces stretching out in every direction spilling over into the factories and manufacturing land of Wuxi, a 40 minute fast train ride, the home of China’s official National Sensing Centre and over five hundred companies gearing up for business. The key to what was once the French concession is the Moller Villa, the art-déco castle that Eric Moller finished in 1936 as a present to his daughter who describe him a dream she had of a beautiful building. And he built that for her. At that time, although of course even by those standards pretty eccentric, the political and economic elite was still able to draw up huge resources (just look at the picture of Eric Moller and the immense row of Chinese staff) when you enter what is now Hotel Moller Villas) and invest a huge amount of space in a small number of people.
Today we do not have one girl dreaming, but millions. But we do not have the resources, or the space to build them castles. Yet don’t they all deserve one?
Can we have our cake and eat it?
Looking at the outer ends of the spatial spectrum to Shanghai ‚Smart City’ Pudong and Moller Villa, Shaanxi Road, it is clear that we can if we take our ability to plan and to dream into two parallel but distinct realities.
We want to avoid a scenario where only an elite in a gated community becomes seamlessly smart with IoT. That would also be unsustainable as the vast majority that would be left out would find a way to break into the walls of that city, as history shows us.
So we want a scenario where everybody in Shanghai and preferably everyone in the world would have access to clean water, green energy, good food and clean air, a sound sewage system, good health, education and communication infrastructure. Not only people, also animals and birds, plants and trees.
It sounds quite utopian, I agree. Even more strange is the realization that this utopia will be realized through a strong cooperation between us humans and the tools that we have made from very old when we could still feel our hammers and hear that sound, or could still start the steam engine that drove its energy into the smaller machines. They are disappearing into the fabric of everyday life, as Weiser called it, but they are still there. The tooling itself has become a force in and of its own with every step along the way. We can no longer stop it. Or start the software processes that now run 24/7 and real-time. We still have some agency, but no more control. That is the price we pay in the attempt to make our logic global and inclusive.
We have to grow up as a species as we aim to grow into the convenience that IoT offers us. It comes with a process of feeling more uncertain about our control. We therefore tend to grow obsessive with every detail of the process and as everything around us changes we in a quite childish way cling to holding those elements constant that we thought were under our making and control. In the case of IoT that is: privacy and security. As we strive to keep these constant in a sea of change some part of the equation will break, either our own mental stability or the real resources in the world in yet another stone throwing protest or ‚revolution’. The result is always the same. Somebody else can pick up the pieces.
The world and its infrastructure can be quite mundane, uniform and generic, offering an inclusive potential to fulfill all basic human, animals and biodiverse needs. That calls for sound, solid, boring and drab engineering. No fuss. No ornaments. Get it up and running and show us how to maintain it. But it is not the view that a little girl has to have, or hat any of us have to have in our augmented reality that can trigger any response, whether auditive, visual or tactile. We can invest all our creativity in designing the ways in which we will interact with that reality and how it will interact with us. In the Cloud there are Moller Villas for everyone.
„Es wächst hienieden Brot genug
Für alle Menschenkinder,
Auch Rosen und Myrten, Schönheit und Lust,
Und Zuckererbsen nicht minder.
Ja, Zuckererbsen für jedermann,
Sobald die Schoten platzen!
Den Himmel überlassen wir
Den Engeln und den Spatzen.”