Bruce Sterling is known as science fiction writer, in particular as father of the cyberpunk genre. Cyberpunk is mostly about a highly technological world, ruled by large corporations, where people struggle to survive in poverty and chaos; “High tech, low life”. Virtually as if he wanted to save us from this fate, Bruce over the last decade has less been engaged with fiction, but more with the technology-driven changes in the real world, however not only as a writer or speaker at conferences like Transmediale or Things Con in Berlin, but by taking action in the first place: One year ago he started ‘Casa Jasmina’ in Turin in Italy, a showroom for the domestic Internet of Things, together with the Serbian singer and activist Jasmina Tešanović, the eponym of the project. Casa Jasmina is about living comfortably with connected technology. This is by no means a matter of course. Although most people use a computer at home (today more likely smartphones or tablets than the ‘PC’), digital tech has not really become part of our home’s outfit. Most household appliances and other domestic stuff are not digital, and even less likely to be connected. Despite the industry’s promising for years to deliver domestic tech for the ‘smart home’, the offers don’t really pick up pace. The ‘intelligent fridge’ automatically re-ordering groceries has become synonym for technology that nobody would want. Bruce in contrast thinks that there would very well be room for digital and connected domestic technology; however not as presumed by Apple, Google, or Amazon. For this technology effectively becoming part of our home, it has to grow much more friendly, and less nerdy. And this is what is fathomed at Casa Jasmina. The Casa is located on the first floor (second floor in American counting) of an old industrial structure, right above the Fablab Turin, the first Italian Maker Space, and also home of the Arduino, which set standard for open source Internet of Things technology. The Maker movement has been demonstrating for a while now, how complex technology can be developed using up-to-date manufacturing methods, without the huge financial capacity of big industrial corporations. At the Fablab Turin, all kinds of furniture, tools, or devices are built with 3d-printers, laser cutters, or their own industrial robot; all open source, i.e. free to be copied, forked, and to be further advanced. The Arduino is also a technology that makes it easy to realize ‘smart things’. Together with Massimo Banzi, one of the inventors of the Arduino, Bruce has recently published a manifesto setting three criteria for a good IoT: Openness, sustainability, and fairness. While we simply accept that computers or smartphones stop working after two years, this wasteful conduct with technology will hardly work in our home. A LED lamp can shine for twenty years, but this is of no avail if the software making it ‘smart’ is outdated after two years already. That this is not just theorizing was once more demonstrated by Google lately, who rendered devices of their ‘Nest’ brand useless via remote maintenance to force their customers to buy new ones. The third postulate, fairness, is probably the most important: not to spy on people, not to turn their data against them, to leave people the sovereignty over their data. Maybe something else is also key for domestic IoT to succeed: good Design. In May, Casa Jasmina was venue for the ‘Share Art’, an international competition for electronic art. A prominent jury with members such as MoMA design curator Paola Antonelli or star-astronaut Samanta Cristoforetti appointed ten out of some four hundred submissions. All pieces were about domestic tech, about the Internet of Things at home. Projects like the Share festival help to open the perspective on the design, the aesthetics of the things of everyday digital life, beyond the slick, shiny cases that we usually find our digital gadgets closed into. Hopefully, Bruce’s efforts catch on, and we will soon find copies of Casa Jasmina in other parts of the World. At SXSW conference at least, a Texan variety of the Casa was announced to arise in Austin.
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