I’ve been tangentially involved in consumer aspects on what’s known as the Internet of Things, so when SICS announced the Internet of Things Day 2012 I thought it was interesting enough that I took the day off to attend the presentations.
Professor Kia Höök, whom I otherwise much respect, argued in her introductory presentation that applications for the Internet of Things need to be emotionally attractive and to function in everyday life. However, “everyday life” turned out to specifically mean “leisure activities of affluent Westerners”. At some point I’ve had it deeply embedded in me that my task as an engineer is to make the world a better place and at the end of the day I don’t think computer games are a high priority in that respect. In fact, as far as I could tell, the proposed applications were explicitly geared towards increased consumption, probably with the assumption that Expanding the Economy is a Good Thing.
Interestingly enough, the more technical presentations in the afternoon session did demonstrate e g environment-monitoring applications, but the wrap-up presentation introduced a training aid for the Swedish national ski team and it was obvious that a corresponding body posture monitoring program for, say, cleaning staff, hospital orderlies, or garbage collectors had never been and would never be even reflected on even though it would affect a lot more people who would be more likely to get longer-term benefits from such help.
Back in the day, when the students’ union was still organised along party lines, Socialistisk Kårfront (the Socialist Student Front) had a slogan like “Technical development for the working class”. I thought it was rather silly sloganeering at the time, but technical development that automatically excludes the working class is never going to be user-centred in my mind.
Professor Höök also spoke about making “desirable” applications, which I find even more insidious. One of the keynotes was delivered by a Chinese official and I reflected that while dictatorships may use various means in order to coerce desired behaviour on part of the population, it is usually clear that this is imposed from the outside, whereas marketers manipulating our emotions make us believe that it is we ourselves that want to behave in the prescribed manner, making it that much harder to break free.