Internet of Nothings

I had the wonderful opportunity of watching this talk live at LXJS. Jonathan Lipps talked a bit about technology and our relationship with it. A great topic, topped with a well crafted story and finished with a song!

You should go read and see the talk (even if you don’t have a tech background). I found the concept of the device paradigm very interesting and I hope to read more about it soon. But for me what really bumped me is that we, as makers and users of technology products, need to start thinking about the unintended consequences of the products we build, the projects we support, the things we use and how we use it. When was the last time you asked yourself how the thing you made will improve/worsen somebody else’s life?

I took some notes during the talk and I left them below so I can come back to them later at some point.

There are always more questions to ask. It can start to feel
disorienting, when you’ve asked so many questions, like the rabbit
hole goes on forever, and we might as well get back to doing Real
Work. Sometimes, this otherwise praiseworthy pragmatism can leave
important issues unexamined. And as we know from Socrates, “the
unexamined life is not worth living”

We can define Internet of Things as the process of turning “things”
into “devices”

According to Albert Borgmann technology is characterized by the device
paradigm. The foundation of the device paradigm (and therefore
technology) is the process of making a certain good (e.g. food,
entertainment) available in a non-burdensome way. The four criteria
that characterize something being “available in a non-burdensome way”
are: instantaneous, ubiquitous, safety, easiness.

Everything technology touches is shaped according to this philosophy
of the device paradigm therefore, technology is not a mere neutral
tool – it has a character of its own.

Technology helps us separate the mechanism from the product: it helps
us to care less and less about the way things are produced. Back in
the day being warm required (chopping the wood, heating it, etc) the
two things were linked. Now it is a commodity and we don’t have to
worry about that. As products evolve we start to care less and less
about how things are made (their means) and focus more on their
function (their ends).

Through technological innovations like central heating and instant
food, we have figured out a way to deliver to ourselves what we
thought we always wanted in terms of the goods of heat and food, but
as a result of them becoming technological devices, we have ripped
them free of the things and practices that used to be necessary for us
to enjoy them. And it turns out that some of these things and
practices, like manual labor, engagement with and knowledge of the
natural world, the skill of cooking, or the celebration of a
community, are really important for us as humans.

The Device Paradigm encourages us to think more and more in terms of
means and ends rather than unified wholes, more and more in terms of
devices rather than things, more and more in terms of quantifiable
commodities rather than qualitative or unquantifiable goods, and more
and more in terms of individual consumption rather than collective

We have grown more like computers in our self-understanding and
self-description, rather than the other way around. Did it have to be
that way? No, I don’t think so. I have hope that once we stop lowering
our standards to deal with computers, we’ll develop apps that we’ve
put a lot more humanity into, so we can remain human while using them.

What I’m trying to do is to get this community to start looking at
technology, not just as a tool, not just as the obvious solution to
the world’s problems, but almost as an entity in its own right, that
has its own characteristic way of operating. We need to know ourselves
before we engage with technology, or we will find ourselves and our
creations unwittingly reshaped by it. We need to decide for ourselves
what it means to live well as a human being.

I think the minor variations and even missed notes in a live
performance can combine themselves into an unrepeatable perfection of
a totally different kind. – Jonathan