If a thing fell in the woods and other things saw it

by Ted Mitew

Ian Saville, Deep in the Shed, Carcasi, Revelations (Battlestar Galactica), Church of St Julian, Wellow, El Torito, CT Chamaeleontis, Stanbridge Station, Quebec

Snake Bite Love, Les Reed (football coach), Josy Barthel, April 8, 2003 journalist deaths by U.S. fire, List of Python software, Jaffna Diocese, Delač, Venezuela at the 1980 Summer Olympics

Plunderer, Changchengopterus, 1768 Appenzella, Overseas Chinese restaurant, Mark Smeaton, Autonomation[1]

The above list, a Latour Litany, was generated through Ian Bogost’s Latour Litanizer – a proof of concept project using Wikipedia’s random page API to extract heuristic lists of things. What is interesting about it is that it is the result of an object-oriented taxonomy[2] where humans, events and various artifacts are perceived through a list documenting the results of documentation; an object-centered phenomenology [3]. I think of this project as a conceptual illustration of the machine-to-machine sensory exchanges forming the invisible stratum of the nascent Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT involves extending connectivity to daily objects and minute items, therefore allowing them to act as interfaces to internet functions. Once connected, for example through an Arduino board, things gain a network address making each discrete object uniquely identifiable; they usually have some sort of layered sensing capacity allowing them to dynamically register changes to their environment; they are often able to store and process that information, as well as independently initiate action (actuation); they are remotely localizable within their environment; and they may be provided with a human interface.

The sensory data stream at the intersection of a thing’s location, identity and state forms the thing’s context. This context is a dynamic document of that thing’s state in time. Dynamic, because it is a data flow; document, because it is a sensory taxonomy of a setting – what is documented is always already sorted. Often this data travels to, and is stored and interpreted by, a remote database for which the physical thing is the dynamic document. Something strange happens however when things acquire connectivity, semantic depth, and the powers of computation and memory – they immediately and drastically transgress the ontological borders assigned to them. The thing, its setting, and the record of that setting become a dynamic aggregate which, from the perspective of other things, is identical to the Latour Litany above.

The provocation: Just recently a cemetery in Denmark started offering a new service [4] allowing visitors to access enhanced memories of their deceased relatives by pointing their smartphone cameras at a little QR code embedded in each gravestone. The enhanced memories can contain potentially unlimited amount of data, sorted from a database containing documentary evidence of the person’s life. A Latour Litany?

  1. ^The Latour Litanizer is at http://www.bogost.com/blog/latour_litanizer.shtml
  2. ^See Harman, G. (2011) The Quadruple Object, Winchester, UK: Zero Books.
  3. ^See Bogost, I. (2012) Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to be a Thing, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  4. ^Brabant, M. (2012)’ Denmark pioneers hi-tech graveyard memorials with QR code’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-19267930