If I can gesticulate at the Internet of Things concept it’s something about taking objects normally considered purely physical and giving them digital expression. Examples: lamps, fuck-yeah-fridges, NFC, manufacturing things digitally with 3D printing.

So thinking of it backwards means taking something we consider mainly digital and treating it more as physical object. I’m thinking of our computers. Rather than using them as generic,  multipurpose, solipsistic digital experiences what about recasting them as manufacturing plant: as the lathes and injection molding machines of an industrial shop floor.

Central St Martin's metal workshop from Frazer Nash - click for his annotations

In the standard office each individual sits at their own computer all day and does every task on their own (meetings aren’t for doing, they’re for talking). Everyone is locked into their own world, and the work of the office is invisible: the whole room could be on YouTube and it would look exactly the same as if we were all working flat out.

What would happen if computers were instead matched to tasks, and people moved to the computer that was designated for the task they were currently doing? Just as workstations in a workshop are set up for specific tasks.

Example – you are making a presentation, so you sit at the computer that has Photoshop and big screen and Keynote. It’s set up so several of you can sit round it. Perhaps it has projector set up too. If you are doing some extended writing there might be a quiet spot, and this computer always has WriteRoom ready to go. This means:

  1. Fewer distractions – the computer you are using is not the same one you use to browse YouTube, so that’s at least psychologically important. Perhaps it doesn’t even have a browser.
  2. Looking around the room would let you know what other people are doing. Who is sat at the presentation computer? Who is doing some writing?
  3. Would you perhaps start doing things at computers in groups or pairs? If I say social you think Facebook, but what about the lo-fi version – two people using the same computer?

There are some activities that are already done collectively on a single computer, for example audio and video production often involve two or more people sitting in front of some tech and doing something creative. Why not more activities?

It also happens with development, with a technique called pair programming. Two programmers sit next to on another and write code together. This is often thought to produce better code – though at a higher cost. I’m told it’s also extremely tiring: no stopping to check your email or look at Reddit, which I think supports the thesis here – it’s an aid to focus.

In big companies this might also solve the software problem. When I worked at the BBC, life was a constant battle with IT – could we have Photoshop? Could we install Chrome? Could I install my own software? An endless nightmare. Rather than trying to get IT to buy more licenses, perhaps it would have been better if there was a communal computer that had Photoshop on it.

There’s a massive conceptual framework behind the idea of the Internet ‘leaking out’ of your computer that supports the IoT thesis. But I think there is also an intuitive appeal: I’m bored of looking at the same device all day every day. If I could access the power of my laptop through some different interfaces I’d much happier – and more productive and creative.

 

 

 

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