Objects that blog

On: October 7, 2008
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About Tjerk Timan
During the last couple of years, I have been involved in Industrial Design at the Technical University of Eindhoven, both on the theoretical as well as the physical/practical side, always working on the boarder between the digital and physical. After an internship at Mediamatic, I wanted to get more involved in the digital side of new media. Currently, I am investigating the complex realm of new media [at] the master course New Media, UvA. With a thesis focus now on ‘objects that blog’ within the context of an internet of things, the challenge is to investigate the agency and influence of things. Especially when these things, being digital or physical, are capable of sharing, posting, editing, deleting content. And on who’s account? Within that same line of thought, the digital is often taking itself for granted maybe too much, where often the step towards WHO and HOW data is manipulated is left out of the loop. Taking these things back into the (design) loop is one of my missions, with the statement in mind that the way content is created and consumed has at least as much importance as the technology driving it. Furthermore, I am currently active within the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam. Also, I do some occasional freelance work, where disciplines differ from web-design to workshops to product design.


In his ‘manifesto for networked objects’ Bleecker argues another view on an internet of things. The conceptual framework of an internet of things is about understanding how physical objects, once networked and capable of information sharing, will behave and occupy space. Bleecker starts off with the claim that ” that once “Things” are connected to the Internet, they can only but become enrolled as active, worldly participants by knitting together, facilitating and contributing to networks of social exchange and discourse, and rearranging the rules of occupancy and patterns of mobility within the physical world.’
“Things” in the pervasive Internet, will become first-class citizens with which we will interact and communicate. Things will have to be taken into account as they assume the role of socially relevant actors and strong-willed agents that create social capital and reconfigure the ways in which we live within and move about physical space: a blogject.
So, blogjects/spimes/other-than-computer-networked objects will exercise agency and will intervene in space and place. They will spread, save, download, upload, shift and delete data. Questions of agency, protocol and according to Bleecker, even citizenship have to be projected upon these ‘things’.
In comparison to the coined ‘Spimes” by Sterling, the blogject is a first step towards these scenario. If things become networked, there reason for being networked will sharing and communicating data; they will be blogging.
In explaining what Bleecker means exactly by blogging, he states that “blogging is reporting what you see, know and think about, always with a semantically weighty thing to talk about. In the same sense blogjects will participate in the meaning-making apparatus; the social web. The most peculiar characteristic of Blogjects is that they participate in the exchange of ideas. Blogjects don’t just publish, they circulate conversations.” Three peculiarities of Blogjects are mentioned:

– blogjects track and trace where they are and where they’ve been;
– blogjects have self-contained (embedded) histories of their encounters and
– blogjects always have some form of agency — they can foment action and
participate; they have an assertive voice within the social web.

Bleecker continues by showing examples of object in current society that already blog; most of them can be found in mobility. Luggage that leaves traces and aircraft that log their travels digitally. A conclusion of this logging is that “in the Internet of Things, it is not human agency alone that shapes the way we occupy and move through space.”
As objects are blogging, they gather a history, and a trace through time. This gives blogjects the consequential character of telling a story about their making, about their past. For Bleecker, this is not enough; blogjects should have the property, like their ephemeral, software kin, to be self- describing, they need to let us know what they are, what their API touch points are, how to construct them and how to destruct them. The Blogject capacity for producing effects is powerful because “it has always been pervasively, ubiquitously, everywhere tethered to the far reaching, speedy, robust network of social exchange and discourse that humanity has every constructed” . In the Internet of Things, that kind of agency happens within the ecology of networked publics — streams, feeds, track- backs, permalinks, Wiki inscriptions and blog posts.” Bleecker is projecting everyday-web-based functionalities on the physical blogging object. Here he differs from Sterling in a sense that Sterling takes a starting point in the physical, while Bleecker takes natively digital technology.
Continuing on the importance of agency, the point Bleecker makes is that agency in this case is concerning with facilitating narratives; “Things could not care any less about their Turing Test report card. Blogject intellect is their ability to effect change.”
But how is this change taking shape? In the difficulty of creating meaningful scenarios, due the many variables and issues dealing with this internet of things, Bleecker asks some important questions:
“When it is not only “us” but also our “Things” that can upload, download, disseminate and stream meaningful and meaning-making stuff, how does the way in which we occupy the physical world become different? What sorts of implications and effects on existing social practices can we anticipate? How does our imaginary skew when we think about how we might move about and occupy future worlds alongside of objects that blog and other Spimey creatures?”
“Occasionally objects, things, non-humans, non-subjects step out of their thing- ness to become more than lifeless props. Things can learn to walk upright, too, so as to distinguish themselves as valued companion species, with something to say, something to effect our disposition and attitude about our (we humans) role in managing and maintaining, or mismanaging and terrorizing the world in which we live. “
According to Bleecker, the social and political import of the Internet of Things is that things can now participate in the conversations that were previously off-limits to Things. How these conversations will shape remains unclear, except that the method is described as follows:
“It means, in simple terms, that Things, once plugged into the Internet, will become agents that circulate food for thought, that “speak on” matters from an altogether different point of view, that lend a Thing-y perspective on micro and macro social, cultural, political and personal matters. “
Bleecker wants 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?

Quotes taken from Julian Bleecker, who wrote A Manifesto for Networked Objects — Cohabiting with Pigeons, Arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things

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