A Manifesto for Networked Objects - The Internet of Things

A Manifesto for Networked Objects — Cohabiting with Pigeons, Arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things

By Julian Bleecker, Ph.D.
Research Fellow, Annenberg Center for Communication
Assistant Professor, Interactive Media Division
University of Southern California

The Internet of Things has evolved into a nascent conceptual framework for understanding how physical objects, once networked and imbued with informatic capabilities, will occupy space and occupy themselves in a world in which things were once quite passive. This paper describes the Internet of Things as more than a world of RFID tags and networked sensors. 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.

The Internet of Things brings many vectors together — pervasive networks, the miniaturization of networked devices, mobile communication, the refashioning of physical space as we cohabit and co-occupy space with Things. When the network that has facilitated a profound, unprecedented knitting together of complex, multivalent social formations seeps into a space — the physical, geospatial world — which was previously void of such, what does it all mean? 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?

When we think of the kind of social networks that the Internet facilitates, we think of human agents participating in an exchange of ideas, centered around meaningful topics, whatever they may be. Until now, “objects" and “things” have been conspicuously absent from this sphere of making culture. When considered in the context of a pervasive, ubiquitous, everywhere Internet — an Internet that spills out beyond the tethered connections and local WiFi hotspots to consume nearly every corner of the physical world — the idea of objects in that physical world, now able to network, communicate and participate in the social web becomes a tantalizing consideration for novel designed experiences.