Interesting article on the Guardian website this weekend, which highlights what seems to me not so much either the genuinely socially revolutionary or the threatening aspects of the ‘Internet of Things’ and smart everything, but the general lack of inspiration in so much of what developers are presenting as visions. But why does the Internet of Things frequently look so banal and so… crap?
There seems to be a pervasive failure of the imagination in many popular portrayals of the future, as if imagining the future is always an exercise in nostalgia. The future really ain’t what it used to be, back in the day when energy was going to be too cheap to meter, when we wouldn’t need to work and everything menial would be done by robots, when we’d all have our own personal helicopter (or even spaceship) and, of course, when there would be an end to war. The breakdown of that post-WW2 optimism and with it the faith in either (actually existing) capitalism or communism to deliver, hasn’t been replaced by revolutionary fervour or a brave new visions, but pathetic ideas like toothbrushes that tell us how well we’ve cleaned our teeth. The future is being created by an unholy combination of committees of marketing hacks and security wonks and we need to take it back…
I’m far from the only academic studying smart cities and big data-driven urbanism. One of the people who’s most inspired my work (in many ways) over the years, is Rob Kitchin – sometimes I even spell his name right! Rob has this fantastic new book, The Data Revolution, coming out in September from Sage, and very helpfully he has put the bibliography, and a lot of other stuff, online. This is the way scholarship should be. Too many of us still guard our ‘secret’ sources and keep our work-in-progress close to our chests. But if we want people to read what we do, think and take action, then more open scholarship is the way to go.
I’ve written here in the past about British blacklisting organisations that compile lists of ‘troublemakers’ (mainly union activists) and sell them to building firms and share them with police. This has led to people being unable to get jobs and all kinds of hassle. In theory, the notorious Economic League which started this activity back in the 1920s is now disbanded but their mantle was taken up by a number of other private bodies, including the Consulting Association, which was the subject of an unusual raid by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) back in 2009.
Now it seems that in the era of transnational information sharing for ‘security’, such lists have found their way to the US Homeland Security complex. According to a report in the London Evening Standard, his certainly seems to be the case for major British mainstream environmental campaigner, John Stewart, formerly of the anti-road building lobby, Alarm UK and now of the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN).
If such private politically motivated lists are now circulating internationally and being treated as reasonable grounds for refusing entry to other countries, it makes a mockery of the fact that they have already been found to be in breach of British and European laws, and it is likely that such data will continue to circulate entirely decontextualized from the circumstances and motivation of their collection. So an illegal anti-democratic trawling operation to stop legitimate political activity becomes the basis for security decisions to err… safeguard democracy. It would be funny if it wasn’t already so common and will continue to be so as security relies increasingly on risk assessments derived from the indiscriminate mashing together of information into ‘big data’.