The Future of… Things

I’ve been asked to provide a sort blog post following the question: The Future of…

The proposition was intriguing, and allowed me to extend the human tendency toward ‘thingification’ that Barad mentions in Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter

“Thingification—the turning of relations into “things,” “entities,” “relata”— infects much of the way we understand the world and our relationship to it. Why do we think that the existence of relations requires relata? Does the persistent distrust of nature, materiality, and the body that pervades much of contemporary theorizing and a sizable amount of the history of Western thought feed off of this cultural proclivity?” p.812

My approach was to offer three summaries of personal imaginaries that ‘thingify’ relationships to a greater or lesser extent…

If you were born in the 20th century please read Part A.

If you were born in the 21st century, please read Part B.

If you are more than human, please read Part C.

Part A

You and I were born within an epoch that has defined the course of many people’s futures. The globalisation project that defined the 20th century placed us on a path for which the consequences are going to prove difficult to escape.

One might argue that central to the challenges that we face, are the stories that were socially, economically and environmentally constructed with us through our childhood and formative years. It is hard to escape these stories, they have defined our lifestyles and practices. They have provided us with narrative in which we value the things that we own, how we should acquire and keep them. We enjoy the experiences that our favourite products lead us to, and we understand how they represent gateways to see our friends, taste different cultures and visit different places.

We also work hard to mitigate against the impact of our practices on society and the environment. We believe in fairness and justice, and we care for institutions that reflect these values. We also like how things end. We were brought up on stories that have endings, we seek endings to help us define our lifestyles, although these days we’re getting used to stories that don’t end how we want them to.


Part B

You know something that I don’t know. You have a way of doing things that doesn’t make sense to me. But my guess is that you know about networks, and about how people and data are connected in such a way as to make experiences that place you within them. Part of them. You are highly tuned to the implications of this, and you moderate your behaviour within them because any inappropriate act can expose you to hundreds or thousands of others. You are also aware that they can be bad for your health because these networks demand a lot of you, and you have to work hard to calibrate your identity, your sense of self.

But these experiences are more than products, more than artefacts that you would dream of owning. They are experiences and communities that you care to be part of, or to distance yourself from. You are able to use the services that underpin these experiences to understand how something is valued by different people. You use the networks to understand the tangling of values that shape how something appears and disappears in the world. You are even capable of working with others to make something grow, or for it to go away.

For you the network is never ending, the service never stops, it keeps unfolding and behind every turn is a new way of seeing events, images, friends and yourself. Nothing is ever the same, and being within the network is the only way to watch things unfold and become more or less meaningful.

Part C

To us, you are the data that passes through the router, you are the coffee, you are the chair, you are the cat, you are the tree and mountain. But you don’t much care for calling yourself anything, and you certainly don’t care what we call you. For how we separate you out from the world according to a product or a service, has no bearing on your experience. But you do experience. And you watch, and grow, and come and go.

You interact with many ‘things’ but where they stop and where you start is not interesting or important to you. In fact, you find it hard to understand yourself as separate from everything, and why humans do this is constantly confounding to you.

You are material and you are active, you have agency through your interactions with others, but not alone. Doing it alone isn’t a language that you know. You are always immanent.

You don’t vote, you don’t buy things, you don’t own anything, and yet your interactions with others produce the world as we know it. Some interactions just involve more energy than others.

——————————————————————————————————————–

The future of… Things is one that doesn’t differentiate between things according to their identity as a product or a distinguishable object that delivers part of a service. It is an assemblage of interactions that support a just, fair and sustainable experience. Experiences that according to every ‘thing’ within the network do not result in a loss, an extraction, or an exploitation but the exchange of critical energies. Existing Internets of Things are convenient in separating out the ‘things’ in order to promise win, win, wins. But they never reveal the intrinsic loss to the environment.

The future of… Things is an attitude, it’s a way of understanding the histories of people who grew up in Part A, alongside those that are producing new cultures in Part B, within everything that takes the ‘hit’ in Part C.

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