Hello (more-than-human) World. Prototyping an Internet of Things for water with the project wildthings.io
Departing from the concept of an Internet of Things as a means to give voice to non-human ‘things’, this thesis examines the development of experimental prototypes for grassroots, community-run digital networks and DIY electronic devices as artistic interventions, as an exploration of how design communities can learn from the more-than-human world when building networked media. Since its emergence in the early 1990s, the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT)—which imagines a global network infrastructure, in which physical ‘things’ are connected to the Internet—has mainly developed around human, market- and technology- driven concerns, where ‘smart’ devices are employed to make daily lives easier. While the current vision of an IoT is largely dominated by human intentions, this design research reconsiders an IoT which amplifies the voices of non-human ‘things’, and proposes avenues to shift focus from a human-centred to a more-than-human-centred design paradigm.
With a focus on wai/water, this design research engaged with local stream ecologies in Pōneke/Wellington that have largely disappeared from the cityscape, having been piped underground due to urban development. Data collected during fieldwork combines a variety of knowledges through interviews, observations, and immersions, as well as audio and video field recordings and sensor data, such as GPS, humidity, conductivity, and temperature. This intersection of knowledges inspired and informed the creation of design artefacts to learn how the more-than-human world can inform and inspire the development of networked media.
Creative outputs were openly documented in an online repository and concluded in the network installation “Papawai Transmissions”, which imagined novel ways of understanding and (re-) connecting with disconnected streams, their communities, and their ecosystems in urban Aotearoa/New Zealand. The research narrative of this thesis is presented in a combination of written word and audio-visual materials to make audible the many voices recorded during the lab- and fieldwork.
The research revealed how methods of slowness, seamfulness and openness—despite standing in contrast with the domination of quick development cycles in industry—provide opportunities for unheard voices to contribute towards more sustainable ways of designing networks within a more-than-human context.