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Image: Open Internet of Things Lab notes, Mozilla Open IoT, Anstruther Scotland Design Sprint, June 2016 Image: Open Internet of Things Lab notes, Mozilla Open IoT, Anstruther Scotland Design Sprint, June 2016

Openness – Privacy

Jayne Wallace & Michelle Thorne

A conversation between Jayne Wallace (Reader in Craft Futures at Northumbria University) and Michelle Thorne (Lead, Mozilla’s Open Internet of Things Studio at Mozilla Foundation) following The UnBox LABS: Caravan, NID, Ahmedabad, India, February 2016 and The Mozilla Foundation: Open Internet of Things Lab, Anstruther, UK, June 2016.

J – What kind of experiences did you have in India and Anstruther that made you reflect on what the IoT could be?

M – I did like how over those two events there was an openness with knowledge… there was also a real willingness to share knowledge or support across multiple projects – so if someone was like I need someone who can programme code… I thought it was quite fluid and supportive and I think that same openness with knowledge was also true in our interactions with all the crafts people we met in India. They were very generous with showing the process and showing what they made, even in Anstruther too. Your experiences on the boat it seemed that people were very forthcoming with just the knowledge of how a boat works and again on the farm it felt very generous with sharing how that process is. I think that openness to share knowledge wasn’t in the way that, you know, we’re trying to take that on as a profession, but rather, look into this world of mine, this is something I know a lot about and I see you are curious so I’m gonna share – I think that spirit took shape in a lot of different forms in the events.

J – Could you see, I’m trying to think how would IoT map onto that and where would the spaces for digital be in places like Indian craft? Because one of the tensions I felt was that with development, and with new ways of making and ways of living, a lot of things were being lost. It’s a really tough question – how could the digital open up vistas for people who are in rural locations to have new channels to sell their work? That being one thing and thinking about the kinds of things that the craftspeople make – it’s not a template, but definitely a series of designs that have been made for decades and patterns that are reproduced meaning that there is a limited market for that if we’re thinking about how this could be something to export for example, new ways for them to make money – Sean1 and I have been thinking about pottery that feels quite western, but that has the traditional Indian oil lamps or diyas as part of them. And by sending these back to India we’re starting a conversation about what this could mean and I can see there would be a place potentially for IoT there to aid communication and nuanced exchange of information about how things are being made, maybe.

M – Yeah, like what are the craftsman to craftsman exchanges that are there if you and Sean represent a different location? Maybe there’s new ways for IoT to become a bridge to share that knowledge if it goes back to this idea of genuine interest and exchange of practice and approach and methods and all that. I can imagine it being a way to facilitate that, I don’t know what shape that takes, but…

J – That would be really nice in an educational setting as well wouldn’t it? You know, maybe the way that a craftsman works… For instance when we watched the potters in India throw pots they did it in a completely different way to the way that we’re taught how to do it in the UK – we take it (clay) out and then up (when throwing pots)– they were taking it flat and then bringing it right up, which is one of the hardest things to do, but it means that by taking it flat first it’s not all full of water, making it a much more efficient process, and it worked with the clay that they had in a way that it might not work with the clay that we typically use, but it was different.

M – Just to be able to exchange those practices! I’m always amazed by how many videos I can find on YouTube. If there is anything I want to learn how to do, be it how to chop an onion or fix this or that, apply make up, whatever, there’s always a YouTube video for it and not only that there’s seven or more.

J – It’s amazing, but, I can remember one evening I was looking up how you do makeup and trying to copy and I just looked like a mess afterwards – I just couldn’t do it, which makes me think you can watch all of these videos, and lots of the way we learn is by observation, but could the IoT give us more multisensory ways of experiencing someone else’s craft or knowledge base in some ways, I wonder?

M – That’s a really nice question – multisensory and also interactive. I was also thinking, there is this video of an onion getting chopped, but you know I may not be aware enough of my technique. My knife holding technique maybe is already so off that… So what are the ways that the knife or the object could guide me? Is there a way for technology to help with these other types of adjustments?

J – Yeah, because if we think, taking the rural craftspeople as an example, how could they, because a lot of them are having to give up their crafts as they’re not making money out of it anymore as what they make isn’t wanted anymore by a population that wants to be more western – and you think ‘OK, so how could we find other markets or how could they assimilate some of these western qualities while retaining some of the very Indian qualities’? But you’re right, imagine if you had a learning situation where you could hook up with a master in India who could be getting feedback of what a child or adult learner was doing and be able to correct them then that would be a direct way for them to use their craft in a different way.

M – The knowledge and expertise in teaching becomes a form of service. It also makes me think of the things that I’m learning to do, I guess a clichéd example from India is yoga, but it’s so interesting – there’s this kind of yoga that I’m doing called Ashtanga in which you get a lot of adjustments, there’s this one sequence and you always have a sequence, but you have this teacher who is there adjusting you, they don’t just give a command they are always watching you and they adjust you and there’s a parallel with crafts.

J – It’s really similar, it’s that kind of embodiedness.

M – Yeah and you can really ‘feel’. I can see somebody doing these moves and I understand conceptually what the pose is supposed to be, but it’s not until they push you or adjust you that you’re like ‘oh I get it!’

J – You can then actually feel what that looks like! I think for a lot of making activities it’s really the same. When it starts to work it’s an embodied knowing that you can feel happening and can replicate.

M – It’s interesting the different ways of knowing, right? You have that embodied knowledge or the muscular knowledge even, right? I think it would be a really beautiful way or area of exploration of embodied craft learning.

J – Completely. With things like wearables you can imagine all kinds of ways that

M – That you could get adjustment or feel the feedback

J – Yeah

M – Even this might be an interesting space where VR or AR becomes and interesting technology. Not to over do it, but there’s already pretty rich and immersive environments where you can ‘feel’.

J – True, but it’s difficult, I can’t imagine what these things would be without them being really clunky.

M – You know, you have these remote surgeries – that’s at a very high end of technical possibility and robotics and really fast connections and stuff, but if technology follows the current trend then technologies we have now, that are incredibly expensive - prohibitively expensive for a layperson to use, will in 10, 15, 20 years be the kind of robotic telepresence that might actually be much more commonplace – so that kind of precision and complexity of movements might mean we actually have something we’re able to use in that kind of way. So today what we could build might be quite clunky and imprecise, but it’s also interesting to think about what’s down the road where that might be more accessible.

J – It would be a really beautiful project and having tangible outputs like pots – what does the pot look like where you start to get this kind of feedback from a master in India? The story would be there in the pot, that’s quite interesting because clay is such a fluid medium, such a plastic medium and it’s just using your hands, that you know…

M – These are the algorithmically assisted pots… these are the…

J – That would be such a great project to do in India and see how the craftspeople would take to it or not and how they would bring their expertise to defining what the technology would be, what the wearables would be…

M – I can imagine doing something cool with them where there’s different modes, and I’m jumping to all these different technologies it’s interesting to see what would be available. We have this 360 degree recording like what Rory2 was doing, we have 3D scanning and all the different haptic tools that seem to be coming together – actually there’s quite a lot of accessible technologies that you can probably do in a low cost way with the crafts people there.

J – We should pursue this, it would be so exciting to have IoT that would do something in these spaces where it isn’t just an addition to all the tech people have already got, but it would be something really different for people and could potentially make a real economic difference.

M – And there was something I found interesting when we interviewed farmers on Tobie’s estate3, it was like the thing they were looking for wasn’t more efficiency or more technology to go with their farming equipment, they were already covered there, but they were really looking for genuine ways to connect to the sea orientated village and that I found quite interesting. I’ve seen that come up in other kinds of research and projects where neighbourhoods have been asked to design smart solutions etc. And what often comes up is that we don’t want more efficiency we want more social connection or more social character.

J – More poetics probably a lot of the time too.

M – I do think it would be great to think about IoT aesthetics – something that explores that.

J – It’s usually quite problem orientated, rather than human orientated. That makes me think of a submission we’ve just had to a journal I’m involved with, where one of the writers talks about Tim Ingold’s work – the writer was proposing that we shouldn’t just be designing for human centredness, but also thinking about how we extend to the animals around us and the environment around us and design for this…

M – An ecosystem centric thing.

J – Yes – the writer had dedicated the paper to the family dog. But it’s true isn’t it. And in Anstruther we saw how people live with the sea and the land – that felt really tangible – and that was really tangible in India as well wasn’t it?

M – I was going to say in India remember how many dogs and cats were there and elephants and cows and the animal life was very present.

J – It was amazing, and I guess we really miss out on a lot. I’d love to see elephants walk past and think nothing of it.

M – And it’s really nice to have an approach that’s human centric and India cow and elephant centric! And in Anstruther you also had cows and it’s a really nice philosophy to say let’s look more holistically at who were solving for or…

J – It’s making me think about risk and openness as well. Thinking about India where we were there was a lot of risk, monkeys for example, people telling us they aren’t very nice, they can be quite aggressive, keep away, but they were literally just across there, so there was a huge amount of risk in doing everything in India and in terms of thinking about open IoT and risk and being risk averse…

M – Yeah, how do you do responsible risk taking? I also think there’s a responsibility on our end if we’re initiating a creation process then there is a responsibility for us to not be disruptive or create failures for other people. What does the responsible creation process look like where there is maybe more informed consent around risks that are taken and awareness of the risks?

J – Without it being stultifying.

M – Without having to do ladder training!

J – You were saying an interesting thing in Anstruther about how you were getting more into the understanding of how you orchestrate things like these events to facilitate people to be creative – and often to be creative in groups of people they didn’t know before hand.

M – That’s risky!

J – But really fascinating.

M – I think I learned so much from India, from that event and I really have to thank Babitha4 for being a really great role model in an approach that is like self directed group creativity, because I came much more from this school of group facilitation where it’s probably overly facilitated. And I think there’s a time and place. There are groups where you need that level of coordination to get somewhere and other groups that have a sense of purpose and agency and more than anything you want to get out of the way! And so how do you like help to create that space and get out of the way? What’s the role to be supportive? Guidance where necessary, unblocking where necessary, but also out of the way for people to be full agents.

J – Yes, I see that you need to look to the person organising to give some structure to begin with, because structure can be useful as a ‘way in’ and then it’s how do you facilitate people feeling like they have an ownership of what’s happening I guess.

M – I’d love that feedback of where you’ve seen in other communities or events where you’ve seen that collective and individual ownership really come to bear – what are the indicators or conditions for that.

J – It was interesting how that worked across generations as well in terms of that. If there were things that you can actually leave behind and things that people actually want to keep using it shows you whether it was a genuine kind of ownership and value going on there – it could be genuine if it was fleeting and it only happened during that week of course, but…

M – I guess that’s an interesting question, let’s say desirability of the outcomes, of preserving the outcomes is a potential indication of success or stakeholdership maybe…

J – Is this part of your working practice going forward? To do these events?

M – I’d like to do more. I’d like to think of it more as a very circuitous journey where hopefully everyone who participates in it can take different approaches back in their own space as well. I mean I’m learning a tonne and hope to do more and see where other people are adding too.

J – I think it’s completely that and I think people couldn’t help but get something out of it. And it seems to be that thing of how much you put in seems to be proportionate to how much you get out of it as well, but I think again it’s that openness – people to be open to give their time and openness to see what happens without having any major agenda, I think it’s a really healthy thing.

M – That openness to the unexpected and trust as well I think. Now having participated in two of them and also having worked with Jon5 for many years do you have a sense of just personally where for you is an interesting place to explore next or try next broadly in these themes?

J – The thing I’m trying to think about personally is this notion of ongoingness through the digital. So, rather than us having these kind of pockets of periods of our life, or pockets where there are certain relationships with people – and this links to work I’ve been doing with people with dementia and people at end of life, but thinking about how, rather then seeing experience as before, current and after, how the digital can kind of weave these things together. So that’s definitely a lens that I’m looking at things through – so whether that’s in India, thinking about the crafts communities… So, it’s not about looking back, I’m trying to think how can the digital, I’m not making much sense Michelle I’m sorry!

M – No it does make sense.

J – For instance I was thinking if you think about mortality and the finite nature of things we have all of these digital trails that we are creating with all of our content, whether we’re doing it purposefully or not, that we could do so much with. So imagine if there is a husband and wife who used to jokingly argue about which song is better this one or that one, and then one of them dies then whenever that person who is still alive plays one of these songs on Spotify the other song immediately plays afterwards – you know there’s just ways that things about our relationships and sense of self and place with other people could still be ongoing…

M – That’s really nice, it’s also the affordances of digital to be a-temporal almost, or like a continuous temporality where you can have like, even if you just think about Facebook for example, it wants you to put your photos in this timeline, but actually all those photos are existing concurrently from ten years ago to now and you can access and experience them all in the same moment.

J – Yeah. There is an artist called Moira Ricci, she’s an Italian photographer primarily and she did a piece of work that took all these photos from her family archive when her mother had died6. She put herself at the age that she is now and dressed in the period of that photograph but she appeared as an adult in the photographs when her mother was a child, and the same age as her mother at parties in the 60s and she did it really brilliantly and she really looks like she is there.

M – It really fits.

J – And that just really made me think we could be doing things where we cross each other’s timelines in ways that are meaningful for people or how you visualise your own future, whatever, I just think there’s so much potential there. The notion of ongoingness is something that’s been on my mind with all of these events and trying to look at what we did in the events through that particular lens.

M – That’s a really nice, that’s a beautiful way to think about it. Also those things like the event itself often has it’s own sense of beginning middle and end, but often it’s like as we’re experiencing it now as we talk, we’re accessing memories and insights and stories from the past and projecting future ideas of things we could be doing with the crafts people and how to feel that the event isn’t ‘done’.

J – Yeah.

M – It’s still vivid and still part of us, right. And it’s really interesting also, I’m just thinking from a perspective of documenting, learning and documenting where this sense of continuity is also really interesting. How does it not feel that what you did a year ago is over and not relevant? Or that the connections made there are gone cold? We have all these expressions…

J – Completely, and I guess there’s all the etiquette around that and use of the digital and how if you forget to email back when is it still ok to do so? And when do you feel that you couldn’t anymore?

M – And how much social stress that causes!

J – Completely.

M – We also had an event in Berlin7 and it was based on some research that one of Babitha’s colleagues had done where she visited four or five different homes in Bangalore and had got some stories that we responded to. Two of the four projects were about memory and recording and accessing and engaging with memory that happens in the home. One of the objects that was kind of inspiration was one woman had talked about this baby book that she had from her first born and had really recorded all the details of first words and first steps and scraps and then she had her second kid and had all this guilt for not archiving, but you could tell these books were some of her prized possessions. And her kids, now that they’re older really treasured them, which also makes you think ‘yeah, as a kind of object or inspiration, you know, I’ve really treasured the events in Anstruther and India and all those things’. How may we have ways to say that they (and Tommy’s8 book is one way), but how do we have other ways to say they were important? There’s something nice there.

J – It’s harder to think how you create that embodiment of the value that you felt in something when it’s transient isn’t it? But there’s a lot that we might not be able to touch but… yeah, interesting. I’m always keeping sketchbooks and notebooks where you finish them and move on to the next one – have you ever looked through old ones? These whole worlds open up in front of you of all the things you were thinking about and things that were happening and the things that you say ‘oh, why didn’t I do that idea?’

M – I know they come with their own set of like nostalgia and regrets.

J – Like you were saying in a sense with the ‘digital notebooks’, everything that we’re doing, all the photographs, recordings all the rest of it, if we thought of that as the same kind of ‘being ongoing’ then that could feel more like lots of layers rather than discrete events.

M – There was a really nice project that Google did actually that was a physical notebook9 that connected to the web and you could interact with the notebook and it would access different content on this site: videos and text and all that. I really liked it because you had the permanence of this one object, this little interface that felt very easy to use – it had a pen, this stylus, but then the content you saw was so layered. So you had the permanence of this one thing, but that let you easily go to see this richness of digital stuff. It made me think for the next event as a compliment or as a next version of having a book documentation maybe there’s a page in it that actually has a circuit in it.

J – That’s really nice.

M – A page that has a more dynamic archive or ongoing stuff with people still adding in stories as it continues.

J – It would be lovely to have some of the pages that have got some audio as well from the week. We could have Mike10 doing his conductive ink. Could have a load of things being captured over the event and you don’t know which one it is you’re getting in your book…

Images: please see text version with images incl captions/credits in folder

  1. Sean Kingsley, Potter and Collaborator, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee.
  2. Rory Hamilton, Interaction & Service Designer at Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design
  3. Tobie Anstruther, Balcaskie Estate, East Neuk, Fife. Host during the Open Internet of Things Lab, Anstruther.
  4. Babitha George, Quicksand Design Consultancy, India. Co-founder of Unbox and co-organiser of the Unbox Labs Caravan.
  5. Jon Rogers, Professor of Creative Technology at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, University of Dundee and Fellow at Mozilla Foundation.
  6. The work being referred to is ‘20.12.53 - 10.08.04’ by Moira Ricci.
  7. ThingsCon, Berlin, 2016.
  8. Artist and Designer Tommy Perman documented the Open Internet of Things Lab in a beautiful book.
  9. "Think with Google"
  10. Mike Shorter, Uniform Design. Currently completing a PhD exploring emergent technologies including printmaking with conductive ink.