Casa Jasmina

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“We must put human values into things, we must beware of the clashes among things. A smart house can clash with a happy house. The thoughtless convenience of seamless design can clash with the need for control and dignity. The users clash with the people. Our geek hood clashes with our personhood.”
Bruce Sterling

Casa Jasmina

Casa Jasmina, the first connected home built totally open source, celebrated its grand opening in Turin, Italy, on Saturday.

The Internet of Things

Smart homes -interconnected household appliances and domestic technology controlled by computer, connected cars -the automobile as cybernetic system, driving partly or even fully autonomous, wearable technology probes that we carry directly attached to our bodies, as smartwatches, wrist bands, or smart textiles, and finally smart cities, a pervasively networked communal administration – this is the IoT, the Internet of Things, which is about to enter our daily lives, and will maybe change it even more than the World Wide Web and the smartphone has done.

Smart Home
Smart Home

What is it like to live with connected technology? More than two billion people already access the Internet via their smartphones. A smartphone is in fact a platform to support some twenty different probes, sensors that continuously track our movements, whereabouts, connectivity, and many other dimensions. However, this is not how people experience using their devices. Phones and tablets appear quite similar to books with just a bit more functionality. We use our mobiles as media, and we hardly ever see them as part of some Internet of Things, of course. Thus is it far from trivial to make a truly connected life visible. So this is one aspect of what Casa Jamina is about: It is a showcase for living with connected technology at home.

Digital technology has changed almost everything in business as well as in our everyday lives. However, even if I recognized something would happen, I was never able to convince people of the consequences, that in my view had become unavoidable. Then change struck, and left its victims bleeding on the field, often enough lethally wounded. I love digital technology. I love social media, search engines, and wikis. But I moan about how easy we give away the public space, our people had been fighting hard to achieve. I moan loosing social and political control to economic reasoning. I don’t want to give away one other bit of what is left of our public goods. This is why we wrote the Slow Media Manifesto five years ago, this is why we argue to have Slow start-ups instead of more disruptive technologies. Demonstrating open alternative to proprietary platforms in the IoT is the second task, Casa Jasmina was conceived for.

Casa Jasmina

At Wired Nextfest 2013, I heard Bruce Sterling suggesting a possible strategy to counter the “Silicon Valley way” of doing technology, that with good cause is called “platform capitalism” by some: Bruce suggested Open source luxury. Instead of harvesting network effects, scalability, and winner-takes-it-all economics, he advocated for economic value, based on craft. Open source, he said, would be no contradiction to luxury, at all. It would rather foster craftsmanship as point of differentiation. Instead of forcing people into an operation system, to lock-in the users to subscription plans, open source luxury would offer convenience as well as freedom of choice. And from September 2014 on, Bruce announced how this idea would be rendered tangible: The Casa Jasmina. Named after Jasmina Tešanović who would originally came up with the idea, the first open source connected home would root into the Turin Fab Lab, and its Arduino ecosystem. It would be a field trial for technology which will pervade our homes one way or the other.

Casa Jasmina will be a connected home with real people living in it. It will be not just another corporate showroom with fancy displays that nobody will ever really use. No jetpacks, no flying cars, no talking refrigerators enhanced with silly home entertainment displays nobody had asked for.

Casa Jasmina is based on two foundations. First, the Arduino, open source hardware that has become the leading platform to control the IoT. The Arduino is a genuine Piemontese invention. Started at the Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, it is developed by a team around Massimo Banzi in a small office above the Fab Lab in Turin. While open source, the Arduino is partnering also with traditional consumer electronics suppliers like Intel or Samsung. A huge community of people commits to the development of Arduino based applications. Together with its English counterpart, the Raspberry Pi microcomputer, the Arduino now provides the strongest support for the Internet of Things.

The second foundation is design. How things look, how things interact with us and with other things, what materials are used, and what story they tell, this is as important to what things are, as is their technical functionality. Casa Jasmina is somehow design fiction, design that shows, what would be possible, to let us experience, how that feels. But other than the regular design fiction, Casa Jasmina will have objects that really work, that can be used, or if not, to be replaced by other things that would do the job. Designing things that really work is different from doing a display to just show off. Thus the things to see at Casa Jasmina might be edgy, but they will have to work with the inhabitants, and not just preveil until some trade fair’s doors close.

What’s inside?

The buildings at Via Egeo that house the Fab Lab and Casa Jasmina are the remains of Turins famous industrial past as Italy’s center of metall processing industry.

And now it is there, at Via Egeo No. 16. The architecture of Casa Jasmina is genuine Futurismo Italiano: Built in the 1920s, the floor of the Casa used to be the apartment for some managing ranks of FIAT, sitting right on top of a steel foundry, meant to tear down the walls between private live and industry; what better metaphor could there be for what we have today! Like the futurists demanded but had never fully realized, the Internet of Things will diminish our privacy, the bourgeois concept of private home. But instead of letting this lead right into fascism, as we had seen futurism end in 1930s, we have the chance to nudge the contemporary futurism onto a benign, democratic trail. “We must put human values into things”, as Bruce Sterling put it.

Bruce Sterling and Lorenzo Romagnioli in Casa Jasmina's kitchen.
Bruce Sterling and Lorenzo Romagnioli in Casa Jasmina’s kitchen.

The exterior of Casa Jasmina still looks a bit run-down for Turin standards, but it would very well pass for an average apartment building in say Naples. The staircase leading to the building’s Piano Nobile is rather narrow and I suppose it was originally ment for servants and deliveries. We enter the flat through a small hallway, painted in dark grey, with a programmatic text of Bruce Sterling to introduce the visitor to the project -like you would expect an arrangement at some museum’s exhibition. Opposite of this wall lies a very basic bathroom.

Bookcase by Caterina Tiazzoldi
Bookcase by Caterina Tiazzoldi

Straight on, a spacious corridor opens, painted all white leading along huge windows on the right giving view to a roof garden. Left is a small living room, not seperated from the corridor by a door or threshold, but by a bookcase, a design study by Caterina Tiazzoldi. A spacious kitchen, also open to the corridor, lies separated by a wall next to the living room. Behind that follow to more rooms with doors, to be used as bedrooms when Casa Jasmina finally will house its inhabitants. At the end of the corridor, a few stairs lead to a wall with an A0 sized poster displaying an allegory of “The Internet of Women Things”.

"IoWT - the Internet of Women Things
“IoWT – the Internet of Women Things

Behind that might have been a double winged door that was probably the original main entrance. The floor in the bedrooms, the kitchen and living room is covered by an expensive, arfully made oak parquet that somehow survived the long decades during which the building had been abandoned and degrading.

Great confidence in the durability of Open Desk's furniture (also used as makeshift stairs)
Great confidence in the durability of Open Desk’s furniture (also used as makeshift stairs)

Most of the furniture is designed by Open Desk, a London based design shop that publishes patterns for furniture, easy to be cut out from plywood. Open Desk’s way of distributing their designs for free is far less uncommon than we might naively think. It is rather something we used to have until very recently. If we would go to a carpenter, the artisan would show us different design examples from pattern books or catalogues. We would then commission the work based on a pattern, and the furniture would get made. So good quality in furniture is by no means connected to securing intellectual property. Rather the opposite: Only mass produced goods need protection because they can never meet artisan standards.

Things not-so-smart

Marco Biranza's '9 Random Spots' is nice piece of calm technology as art. The color pattern changes, whenever the connected Geiger counter registers an accidental decay.
Marco Biranza’s ‘9 Random Spots’ is nice piece of calm technology. The color pattern changes, whenever the connected Geiger counter registers an accidental decay.

Smart things in the Casa Jasmina so far consist mostly of works of art, playing with concepts of Calm Technology. Some off-the-shelf smart tech has also found its way into the house. A Roomba, not connected at all, however in a way autonomous, and a Samsung Smart TV set. Right on the evening of the Casa’s grand opening, Juventus Turin faced FC Barcelona in the Champions League’s final, a game not to be missed by anybody in Turin, of course. But despite all the nerdy and geeky people around, we weren’t able to get this Smart TV set . In the end, I plugged my Laptop into the Samsung set, degrading it into a totally dumb screen for the really smart and connected however totally 20th century device that my PC is. Trouble went on after that was done, and realized, that Mediaset, Italy’s dreadful broadcast trust, would only stream their content via Silverlight – a video technology so outdated, that even its inventor Microsoft had long ago stopped supporting. So I had to start a virtual machine with Windows on my computer, and run an ancient version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer in that.

My laptop, running Windows XP in a VirtualBox, attached to the "Smart TV" ...
My laptop, running Windows XP in a VirtualBox, attached to the “Smart TV” …

This funny anecdote illustrates, what’s wrong with how the smart home business is implemented by the traditional consumer electronics companies. The design of the TV set is still the same as when there were just a couple of stations to switch between and no need for a keyboard to type in complex commands. Even worse is Mediaset’s online video service. Driven by the station’s wish to maintain control over the “digital rights management”, they built their proprietary system of content distribution with tools crippled for the very same reason. If such outdated software would run critical infrastructure, it would easily become a security risk. You wouldn’t even want to run your laundry with that.

Consumer electronics has the reputation to be an industry with the worst user interfaces and the lowest understanding of people’s behavior. If you have ever tried to program the clock of your stove, you know that CE engineers must be living just at the opposite site of the universe than their customers. Household technology was always outdated, obsolete electronics refurbished to once more generate some money. This is really not the industry you would want to resign your private data to. Neither are utility companies, which are among the main drivers of Smart Home, famous for their customer care.

On the other hand, we are becoming more and more used to doing things mobile. Services that are not accessible via app feel outdated and inefficient. People once having experienced the mobile convenience, will benchmark all electronic things accordingly. And why not? Just because the legacy providers of our services and products are not delivering according to our demand, should we take abstention? Should we give in, and keep to outdated, inefficient products that waste our time, energy and other resources?

Open Source

Will my home be run by Google Nest or by Apple Home? Imagine the ridiculous situation, when you decided to buy some smart device from one provider, and that would require all your other stuff to run the same proprietary operation system. You’d have to either give up your smart home functionality or to restock everything with the matching system. There might be some brand purists that want to mindlessly live in a monoculture. For most people, this seams not really practical.

cj9To become successful, smart appliances will have to be seamlessly interoperable with each other, too, no matter who manufactured them. This is not the business model of companies like Google or Apple. Open standards for interoperability is what open source stands for. The Arduino is the most advanced and most stable IoT technology anyway. But open source technology is not only better in making things work together. Open source means, that people can hack it, dismantle it, understand, how the thing and more important, its software really works. This is the only way I now that helps to make things secure. Only what can be hacked gets thoroughly tested. Only when there is a vivid discussion going on potential security flaws and how to patch these, we will get safe technology. This has been lessen we should have learned by now.

The Internet of Everything

“As Warren Ellis said at ThingsCon, we may be living in the last days when nobody knows where we are — when the home is still like an aristocrat’s castle, distinct from the rest of the world.”
Bruce Sterling

The Internet of Things is not just about machines talking to each other. The sensors on our devices generate and collect data that is directly linked to our personal lives, to our behavior, our actions, and the environment around us: “Data is made of people”

Privacy, informational self-determination, and algorithm ethics become even more important with the IoT, “the Internet of Things and Humans” as Tim O’Reilly calls it, or what might be even clearer, the “Internet of Everything”. Concepts like Big Data or the IoT bear the danger to get killed by overexposure and buzzwordization. The marketing and tech babble disguises, how pervasive the influence of digital tech on our lives already is. A human-scaled model of the smart home will help to make that visible. We will be able to explore how to get the best from the truly remarkable development, that could realy help us, not only to make our daily lives more convenient, but even more meaningful, more social, and more sustainable.
And this is why I belief Casa Jasmina is a very important project.

Links

Bruce Sterling on the Casa Jasmina
Video: Introducing Casa Jasmina
Transmedia 2015
Casa Jasmina (this was at least my first encounter with the idea)

Further reading
Slow Startups
Algorithm Ethics
Ethics for the Quantified Self
My socialist post-liberal techno-determinism

“Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”

[Original German Blog Post]

(1) “A Vernacular is like a crumbled street version of a classic language. Like Italian is a vernacular language and Latin is a classic language. What does actual vernacular online video sound like, that’s native to the Internet and speaks vernacular Internet ease? I’ll just read you the categories of an unnamed [Online Video Network] here: ‘LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy’. Those are actual terms, coined on the Internet. Now, you could think, to be classy, you would like to expunge that vernacular, and instead of them saying ‘LOL’ they should say something like ‘commedy’, instead of ‘OMG’ something like ‘experimental’. – Allright. That’s not how it works. It is a little hard to understand this, but the actual path to classiness is to upgrade the vernacular. You have to get through LOL, OMG, WTF, Cute, Games, Geeky and Trashy and somehow come out the other side. You have to make network culture classy on its own terms. You have to ennoble the vernacular – not by teaching people Latin, but by writing Dante’s Inferno!”
Bruce Sterling, Closing Keynote: Vernacular Video from Vimeo Festival. (My transcript)

(2) classic 1610s, from Fr. classique (17c.), from L. classicus “relating to the (highest) classes of the Roman people,” hence, “superior,” from classis (see class). Originally in English “of the first class;” meaning “belonging to standard authors of Greek and Roman antiquity” is attested from 1620s. Classics is 1711, and is the earliest form of the word to be used as a noun.
Douglas Harper, Online Etymology Dictionary

(3) “Modernism is our Classical Antiquity”
Roger M. Buergel’s mantra as curator of Documenta 12

“The idea to put together an international Exhibition on the art of the 20th century in Germany is so obvious, that there seems hardly any need for explanation.”, thus gives Werner Haftmann as introduction into the catalogue on the first Documenta 1955 in Kassel. Evidently the makers of this first mass-art-show were exactly clear about what would make the art of their century. After my tour around the Documenta 12, however I was clear about this being the last Documenta for me to visit. While the curators of the three preceding exhibitions would have tried, to draw a picture of today’s art – and would fail, everyone in his own way, 2007’s exhibition had abandoned to define something like “classical art of our time”. What could give the impression of negligence or of idleness of the mind of the curator, I would today take as a symptom for upheaval in visual arts, which will be shaken in a similar way like media, music industry, and all the other so called creative arts.

Modernism – modern art, like it has evolved during the last three centuries – is classical antiquity, exactly like Roger Buergel says. Like the scholastic adherence to the antiquity had governed thought and creativity in modern occidental culture for a long time, the modern-contemporary terms and categories are still seen as the measure for “classical” quality. Review and analysis of contemporary art either lead to anaemic formalism, like in the latest issue of Kunstforum, or end up in total randomness, just like the last Documenta.

Helpless we look around: isn’t there something to step in place of the old and venerable? A new generation? A new direction? Bruce Sterling gives the answer in his nearly hour-long closing-speech at the Vimeo Conference. The new is already there, and thus as vernacular, popular dialect, cant, in short: standing outside the classical culture. The new can be found in the vernacular culture of the Net.

You might argue, that this insight is neither new nor very inventive; the Internet rolling up culture out-and-out is told in whole annuals of Wired and thousands of hours of TED-conference. But Sterling says something different from that: To recognise the new, we have to be able to speak about it. The (professionial) terminology of cultural sciences and the critics is still the Lingua Franca of Modernism. At the same time, the vernacular of the Net-culture is not much more as a jargon yet.

The Shape of future art (as long as we still want to use this word, compromised by the “adoration of the genius” and by the bourgeois production process) could look like Urban Art or Generative Art – Favela Chic, to speak in Sterling’s words – or the eclecticism, peculiar to Net culture, the Bricolage, the Collage, Punk – Sterling’s Gothic High Castle.

This vernacular culture is distinct from classical contemporary culture particularly by its conditions of production. The classical author, artists or composer is remunerated by judicially sanctioned transfer systems like HFA, MCPS, SESAC – or he is directly employed by the state, as a university professor, member of the state orchestra or editor in the public broadcasting system. In opposite to that we find the much lamented “for-free-culture” of blogs, online video, the remixes and covers, and the so called “citizen journalism”, and so forth and so forth. And even if it might occur obvious to some, to just transpose the way of production of the classical culture onto the vernacular creativity of the Net, however this effort is doomed: the categories of the old world gain no longer traction; the people do not want to speak Latin anymore, because Italian now gives them the most fluent ability for expression.

Enhances
“Stand on the shoulders of Giants”
Accessibility of knowledge
Retrieves
everybody a publisher
oral tradition
dilettante / amateur

Non-Commodity-
writing

(Decay of Copyright)

Reverses
Bricolage (Ecclecticism)
Generative Art
New definition of Public Space
Obsolesces
Assembly-line book
mass-marketing for books
book-fairs

In the table on the left I tried to interpret this development with Herbert Marshall McLuhan’s Tetrad:

As this change’s consequence we will, however, see only few more big novels, only rarely someone will take the risk to produce an expensive, full-length movie, or to practise a symphonic work of Musica Viva with an orchestra. What we experience is the comeback of the dilettante, in the best sense, of the enthusiast; “Everybody a publisher” means: Non-Commodity-Production of Culture.

Read more:
“So literature collapses before our eyes” – Non-Commodity Production
The End of History – for creative professionals.

“So literature collapses before our eyes” –
Non-Commodity Production

Enhances
private authorship, the competitive goal-oriented individual
Retrieves
tribal elitism, charmed circle, cf. the “neck verse”

Medium:
Print

Reverses
With flip from manuscript into mass production via print comes the corporate reading public and the historical sense
Obsolesces
slang, dialects and group identity, separates composition and performance, divorces eye and ear

McLuhan’s tetrad-model: four aspects of the effect of media on culture and society. This example Print and the second one Xerox are quoted from “The Global Village” by McLuhan and Powers, Oxford University Press 1989.

The idea of copyright – the right to retain publication of one’s own words – is much younger than other forms of intellectual property laws. Patents to protect the economic exploitation of technological invention, for example, have been granted by the city’s sovereign since the times of ancient Greece. But not sooner than in the 18th century the perceived value added to a society and its economy by the written word would justify a legal concept to aliment writers. The first copyright law clearly formulates this goal in its title: “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned“, also called the Statue of Anne.

Yesterday, Bruce Sterling cried out his concern about the future of literature in three Tweets:

“*Economic calamity that hammered music hits literature. The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.
So literature collapses before our eyes, while the same fate awaits politics, law, medicine, manufacturing… finance and real estate…
Diplomacy, the military… we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.” (1,2,3)

The catch-all political party, trade unions, music industry, newspapers, advertising and even the production of art and literature – all are effected by this changing culture to the core. I think we can identify two main drivers for this change if we consider what the function of these mass-cultural phenomena had been in the past.

Enhances
speed of printing process
Retrieves
oral tradition, the committee

Medium:
Xerox
(could be “digital print as well”)
Reverses
everybody a publisher
Obsolesces
assemly-line book

The first I would call retribalisation (following the term used by McLuhan).
The concept of society was defined in opposite to community by Hermann Thönnies in his famous foundation of sociology “Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft” in 1887. A community is tied together by something held in common – normally the fate shared by living in the same village. People living in a community know each other in person and information is distributed mostly by word of mouth. Thus oral culture and a common set of allegories give the ground for communication. The mass-alphabetisation brought the mass-society. The man of the crowd was coined by Edgar Allen Poe in his famous short story of this title in 1840. The actor of this modern, industrialised society is no longer a person, it is the individual. The characteristics of an individual can thus be derived from objectives that can be observed from outside. In the modern society of the industrial age, nearly everything you had to know to measure someone would have been their job. The goods that people would exchange became commodities. Mass media – which I shall use as an umbrella for all these topics lined up above – homogenise a society by reaching out to everyone simultaneously. Since the 1950, this has changed dramatically. Social strata or milieu would no longer account for consumption habits. Two individuals of the same socio-demographic profile might have completely different styles of living, preferences in music or consumer brands. What brings people together is no longer social position but to have something in common – the return of the community, but no longer defined by common destiny but much weaker, by some common interest that is highly dependent to the momentary mood and situation in which people find themselves. The Web is the perfect means to organise, inform and entertain such loosely knit communities globally.

The second was sketched by Bruce Sterling earlier: atemporality as he calls it; the end of the great narrative, end of progress, or even end of history. The consequences for creative artists that he sees are dire: the choice of re-arranging findings from the past, eclecticism or “the Gothic castle” as he calls this artistic approach, Punk, the bricolage. Or alternatively generative creation, aggregating small contributions of a large group of people; favela chic in Sterling’s words.

Both developments had been foresighted by some thinkers right after WWII. Most prominent are Herbert Marshall McLuhan and independently from him Vilém Flusser. Both see the decline of written word in favour of the rise of a new oral culture, globally organised in tribe-like structures, tied together by a common set of allegories. The breakup of copyright is the direct consequence to this.

The “solution” for writers? There isn’t one.‘ If we use the tetradic set of questions, shown above, on copyright we could get a glimpse on how copyright (and its projected fading away) may affect the publication process:

1. What does the medium enhance?
2. What does the medium make obsolete?
3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?
4. What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

Copyright enhances private authorship and leads to a ‘bourgeois’ creative who is paid for his word. The dilettante, the aristocratic amateur enthusiast are rendered obsolete. The professional writer however shares some aspects with the scriptor, the cleric scholar who was funded by the monastery to perform his art. Regarding the forth tetradic questions: by the ecstasies of claiming ownership on intellectual property as seen in the plethora of cease-and-desists fired into the crowed by some corporations to claim their intellectual property rights against bloggers, or the “three-strikes-out”-initiative into which the European Commission was driven by the publishing industry’s lobbyists, the copyright, originally made to foster broad accessibility of knowledge, makes this knowledge less accessible again and creates elites, that still want (or are able) to afford to buy the publications. – Just to make it clear: I personally am opposed against the notion of regarding everything in the Net for free; but to see the consequences of this cultural development, we have to take a neutral angle. – I am convinced that the decay of the royalty-system for authors based on copyright is even accelerated by this effort to defend it.

Some hope might be found in long-tail distribution-systems like iTunes or Amazon which cut out the publisher and in theory directly connect the producers with their clients. But I think, that we already see the margin left for authors as well as the number of possible sales are to be expected to stay rather small. And at the same time, there is so much that can be obtained completely for free in the Internet, that to buy something becomes even less attractive. “The dark side of the free and open” is the decline of the classic publication economy, as Geert Lovink remarks. This leads to the end of handling publications as a commodity. How to make a living from non-commodity-production, from giving your work away for free? On the other hand: how many authors, musicians, composers etc. have been able to make their living by their arts in the past!

Nevertheless: walking down McLuhan’s tetrad, we can expect to get back into a culture of more or less sophisticated dilettantism as seen in most parts of the blogosphere. Small contributions, often highly specialised, often collaged and Punk-style, like Bruce Sterling describes in his post. But on the other hand, we see the return of the scriptorium. Corporate publishing, PR, corporate or brand storytelling; authors, writing to support their consultancy-work and other freelance businesses I would also take into this category. Both live-forms of the future-author, the dilettante and the scribe do no longer support the individual “artist-creator” who can be attributed as the sole author of his work and thus gets paid by royalties.

We will see publications and creations of art, perfectly adopted to the preferences and needs of very small communities; new publications emerging fast, drawn to existence by monitoring, google alerts and inspiration to write something through tweets, just noted by chance.

A possible form of organising these micro-publications is a content network, doing for content, what an ad network does for ads. Bringing all together, corporate publishing, advertising and the user’s still existing desire to get entertained and inspired, might even lead to some monetary compensation for the participating authors.

A second path could lead into creating a new area of public space in the Internet, funded by tax-like fees as to be seen in Europe’s public broadcasting landscape. This public space should be curated in a way, ensuring to maintain cultural productions of high class.

All told, I truly acclaim to Bruce Sterlings speculation: “we’re not gonna die of this, but man, the deeper 21st century looks like nothing anyone ever imagined.”

Further reading:
Memetic Turn
Modernism is our Classical Antiquity
The End of History – for Creative Professionals
Virtual Broadcasting