IoT is a new politics

IoT is a new politcs

The key element for design guidelines of IoT is to leave all the technology dashboards that are being currently build intact but override their protocol by widening the notion of end-users to encompass all citizens. This will allow small artisans and SME (as we see now happening to the i-phone model) to make new kinds of slow business with all that data enabling, for example real-time individual threat analysis (which will show 0,00001 threat from terrorists and .5 slipping in your bathroom).  Why don’t give intelligence 3.0 a chance and open up all the data from satellites, readers and intercepting for Facebook and Twitter style data-mining? Surely we can give it a try if the old style dashboards keep failing?

As ordinary citizens, we in principle have the possibility of making combinations of open source software, network algorithms and hardware.In the code, which we ourselves could administer down to the lowest level, lie possibilities of building in forms of solidarity and making them part of applications and services. For why couldn’t we also code social variables into the dominant protocols? With the Internet of Things, the big challenge for designers, thinkers and makers is to play a part at the lowest level, to determine what the protocols will look like, what kind of wireless frequencies go to users, and what kind of data goes from users to the database. Specifically for this purpose, we have set up the Council think-tank: ‘We believe the “winning solution” to making the most open, inclusive and innovative Internet of Things is to transcend the short-term opposition between social innovation and security by finding a way to combine these two necessities in a broader common perspective.’19

This new perspective ultimately can be nothing other than a guideline for bringing policy in line with reality. In addition to constants that have functioned well in every age, such as delaying, arbitrating, negotiating and finding a balance between short and long term, it is particularly important to allow for conflicts, just like in any other frontier community.[1] Robert Dykstra writes in The Cattle Towns: ‘Social conflict was normal, it was inevitable, and it was a format for community decision making.’ 20 The sociologist Lewis Coser advises: ‘Instead of viewing conflict as a disruptive event signifying disorganization, we should appreciate it as a positive process by which members of the community ally with one another, identify common values and interests, and organize to contest power with competing groups.’21

In a country like Holland there is a range of about 470 years in between the first printed book (1455) and the first Dutch public library in 1917. What does this mean? It tells us that power was able to stall, to distribute, to slow down this technology until it found that every citizen was ready for reading the books he or she wanted to read in a public library (and also there the moral education of the masses reigned). We can safely say this is too long a period. But we can also see the need for a society to be inclusive. This means that it facilitates innovation and new technologies. It does not welcome disruptive innovation, breaks and things that seem so sweet yet turn out to be very addictive and unproductive. Now imagine telling an i-phone owner that he or she has to wait for three years before being allowed to download that app.

In this day and age both the government and the activists can see, because of the wide range of data available, that in an age of acceleration, there can be no more revolutions. We are in a permanent one. We live it. The key now is to transcend these oppositions and our own priorities into simple things and mundane applications, generic infrastructures for everyday life.  For that we need all the data we can get. It makes no sense to block some and not others as you do not control the moment that it can become relevant. All you do as a censor is help whatever you want to censor to gain momentum as by your act you annotate it with the most precious gift in the network: timing.

Breaking bad or be steered

It is inevitable that vertical institutions all across the world will break under the weight of the internet based decision possibilities of ever growing groups of people organizing themselves on all kinds of specific topics. The organizational structure of taxes and fines, one men one vote every four years, cannot harness that kind of change. The scandals we are witnessing today of simple people becoming powerful and having no moral scruples or strong inner faith, no notion of sacrifice or of serving somebody, are secondary but will hasten the downfall.

We have become used to small numbers of people making decisions. If you examine the historical turning point of the beginning of WWII, you’ll find authors like Richard Owen who shows in Countdown to War (2009) that the decision to go to war was made on both sides in a “growing state of irrationality.” Protagonists on either side were dead tired. All we know is that a handful of human beings found themselves in such a mental cul-de-sac that the others lost the chance to lead their lives.


Spencer Wells[2] shows in his Genographic Project through our shared DNA how we are -in all our diversity – truly connected. He argues that it is a 1000 generations ago – 50.000 years ago (in evolutionary terms relatively recent) that language and non domain related expression (arts) kickstarted toolsets that led to the cultural social and artistic intricacies that we have today. Before that the cognitive tools and material toolsets appear to be quite constant over a long period. The difference was made by language acting as a tool for cooperation and negotiating. Both the explosion of variety in practices and tools as well as many of the crises we have today have their roots, as he argues in the dawn of the Neolithic: “We spent an enormous amount of time as hominids and as primates living as hunter-gatherers. That is the natural way for us to live, and we’re suddenly living in this profoundly unnatural way, and we’re still in the process of adapting to it and working out how to live with it….We were once used to living in groups of no more than about 150 individuals. Now we live in cities of millions and the cultural cacophony creates a feeling of unease and we are seeing evidence of that with the rise of mental illness.” Spencer Wells believes there is hope – what he calls “Pandora’s seed”[3]: “ When Pandora opened the box, she at least had to slap it shut fast enough to contain hope. “The hope is that humans are innately innovative and that we can innovate very rapidly when we’re forced to.”

Reading Ancestral Roots, Julie Myerson’s novel ‘Then’ and a lot of Eurostat statistics, lead to one sound reasoning and to a very depressing conclusion about my own role as naïve optimist, always hijacked by the poetic potential of situations.

The key observation that rose from the reading (not that much, as I was basically ill all through the holidays with a bad ‘viral infection’ cold), was realizing that in terms of systems I systematically overestimate agency and cooperation over overt competition, free riding and virtually disregarding unethical behaviour by default. This is very strange as I can only posit the idea of IoT bringing transparency and more balance, a political an-archy – based on the assumption that the current systems (single currencies, financial capitalism, erosion of resources, poverty, loss of biodiversity…) can only exist by virtue of this anti-social and selfish behaviour. So I have to conclude to that so far I have overestimated the capability of ‘change’ itself by rational arguments and ‘common sense’, as I have posited that within the current openings in the system(s) in order to gradually see that IoT can be accommodated within the current formats and frameworks. In a way I knew that of course, as I have been looking for soft trajectories for the past ten years. Still up till now I have thought I would be able to play more then one card in the deck. Now I am not so sure of that anymore.

If we take evolutionary biology into account as among the driving forces of human behaviour[4] we have to be prepared “to learn that modern living is, on the whole, disappointing and dissatisfying. Modern living is clearly problematic. Although providing many of the things we would list as crucial to our physical and psychological well-being, the modern world does not cater for all our needs.”[5] The key argument thus goes:

If the modern world that can be characterized by the increasing ability of men to master the environment with tools leads to an decrease in psychological wellbeing as it caters only to ‘convenience’, not to ‘excitement through discovery’ or ‘excitement through satisfying curiosity’ (and…), then IoT and the smart city as the epiphany of IoT will lead to more and perhaps even a dramatic rise in mental illness – fragmentation on agency and capability of individual human beings, as the smart city is a) a place where all potential interaction with the system as a whole has been made invisible-seamless, and b) all things in the immediate vicinity are controlling, updating and eventually power scavenging themselves and no longer in need of ‘supervision’.

The more successful IoT then is as the seamless interaction between data coming from the body (BAN), the home (LAN), the car (WAN) and the smart city (as ‘services everywhere: a passport at the supermarket)[6] the more fragmentation we can predict in individual agency of human beings in a way that hitherto has been regarded as ‘normal’, ‘rational’ and ‘sane’.

So far IoT applications have focused on providing support for physical afflictions such as blind and deaf people, diabetes and regular drug taking support. If the above argument is sound than

the next wave of IoT applications will be focusing on balancing the very effects it is fuelling itself; a perceived loss of ‘meaning’, a perceived fragmentation of the ‘self’

the capability of an individual to deal in a meaningful with reality is inevitably and necessarily getting smaller

  • the next wave of IoT applications will be focusing on balancing the very effects it is fuelling itself; a perceived loss of ‘meaning’, a perceived fragmentation of the ‘self’
  • the capability of an individual to deal in a meaningful with reality is inevitably and necessarily getting smaller
  • capability itself then becomes a mix of human and machine (IoT application) potential[7]

data testifying to a rise in mental illness

The European Alliance Against Depression (EAAD), an international network of experts, estimates that 18.4 million Europeans suffer from depression.

“Rates of serious mental illness among university students are drastically rising, and universities are struggling with how to respond to students who show symptoms.”[8]

“Mental illness is one of the biggest challenges facing the welfare state, and one which we’ve only really begun to explore….The numbers who can’t work because of mental health problems (1.1 million) are not much off the total number claiming unemployment benefits (1.5 million), and the mental health charity mind argue that it mental health problems cost the economy £77 billion per year in England alone…Between 1995 and 2005 about half a million extra people registered for Incapacity Benefit (IB) because of a mental illness, taking the total to about 1.1 million. Claims for mental illness grew even faster than other Incapacity Benefit claims.”[9]

“With mental illness ranked as the number one cause of adult disability in America, affecting 1 in 5 adults, the mission of IMHRO (International Mental Health Research Organization) is to alleviate human suffering from mental illness by funding scientific research into causes, prevention and new treatments.”[10]

“…SAMHSA (The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) issued the results of their national survey on mental health in the United States.   A closer examination of the survey’s data revealed some alarming findings.  First and foremost, the survey evidenced that over 45 million Americans – approximately one in five adults – suffer from some form of mental illness.  Among those adults, the percentage having a serious disorder was 4.8 percent (or 11 million individuals).  Perhaps most alarming, however, was the fact that 62 percent of those individuals failed to receive health services for their illness.  As Pamela Hyde, a SAMHSA administrator, stated, “Too many Americans are not getting the help they need and opportunities to prevent and intervene early are being missed.”[11]

“Most common mental disorders can get better, and the employment chances be improved, with adequate treatment. But health systems in most countries are narrowly focused on treating people with severe disorders, such as schizophrenia, who make up only one-fourth of sufferers. Taking more common disorders more seriously would boost the chances for people to stay in, or return to, work. Today, almost 50% of those with a severe mental disorder and over 70% of those with a moderate mental disorder do not receive any treatment for their illness.”[12]

“The number of disability support pensioners with mental health problems has risen to a staggering 252,392 people. Maree O’Halloran, of the National Welfare Rights Network, told The Australian that 45 per cent of people aged 16 to 85 will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. “It is not surprising that the proportion of people receiving the disability support pension whose main medical problem is (a) psychological or psychiatric condition is increasing,” she said.”[13]


 A novel of course is not a newspaper.[14] Yet literature is written in and builds contexts and can be used with a wide variety of other sources. In Julie Myerson’s, Then[15], a post apocalyptic world is sketched. It is not clear what has happened but the world has become Mad Max. However, contrary to the possibility of plot, action and survivalism that we know from other post-apocalyptic novels and movies what keeps the protagonist from going ‘mad’ is being ‘mad’.

Graham. He stares at me now and shakes his head. I ask him what he wants.

What do you mean, what do I want?

Why are you following me?

I’m not following you. I came to look for you. And you’re lucky someone else did not find you first.

What? I say. Who would have found me?

He takes a breath. His finger right on my wrists.

Look. It is almost dark. What the hell are you doing out there on your own.

On my own? I try to think what the answer to the question might be.

Nothing comes. I am glad when he lets go of me. Now his eyes are softer. Seriously, he says. Why do you run away like that? We looked everywhere for you. We did not know where you’d gone.

Neither did I, I tell him, and for a moment or two the words do feel true. But then the face of the child comes back at me, and with it confusion.” p. 2.

I stand by the lifts for a moment, shut my eyes, take a breath. I smell some things that should not be there. Apples. Ink. A blown-out candle. Blood. I think I hear voices, laughter. Far away, a siren. I know that none of this is possible.  p. 30

I look down at myself to see if I am still there? I am. My heart is hammering and my legs have lost whatever it is that keeps them up and I have sunk down on the floor, but I am – I’m there, I’m here, here I am.” p.81

The logics of IoT support systems

It looks then as if we do not really have a choice. Either we continue to create more and stronger forms of mental disintegration by counting only on ‘ourselves’ to keep making ‘sense’, or we allow for other intelligences to support us in the real digitally enhanced hybrid territory we have embedded ourselves in. Three particular kinds then are foregrounded:

1. animal support systems: Giving input for the European Parliament Resolution of June 2010 for the Internet of Things I delivered a series of propositions, among them was “

the impact of electromagnetic fields on animals, especially birds in cities;

[16]. I will approach the Commission soon with a request to set up such a study. I am sure the magpies that are gathering every morning outside my window on neighborly chimneys will be very eloquent about their experiences in cities full of new strange winds and pressure fields. Further investigation is needed into Rupert Sheldrake’s morphic fields that “continue to link members of the social group together even when they are far apart, beyond the range of sensory communication, and can serve as a medium through which telepathic communications can pass.” They “may also underlie the sense of direction. Animals are not only linked to members of their social group by morphic fields, but also to significant places, such as their home. These fields continue to connect them to their home even when they are far away, rather like invisible elastic bands. These bonds can consequently give directional information, “pulling” the animal in a homewards direction.”[17]

2. computer support systems: This basically is our IoT territory. At a speech to the Pittsburgh Technology Council in 2009, Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt focused on the negative effects on innovation and integration of (what he called) institutional fragmentation and wondered if governments – and the very process of policy and policymaking itself – could not benefit from the iterative cycles of measuring success and failure that characterize the engineering and design prototyping cycles. He argued that with this amount of real-time tracking, aggregated data and information – not heuristics, governing itself could benefit. In essence, particular laws can be effective for three months and evaluated, adjusted and on the basis of real data – not estimates, adjusted again. It is this process that can lead to combinatorial innovation and system Innovation.

3. new entities:

This will be the focus of a joint forthcoming text with Joachim Walewski who articulated the question of capabilities and objects

“What kind of capabilities and aspirations will these new entities possess? Will they look like ours because we conceived of them? Will they have a need to control, tell other resources (us, for example) what to do? ”

Clearly in the intuitive public eye it is precisely the fear for this ‘rise’ of the machines that testifies to the idea that they will look like ‘us’.

There are very few popular fantasies pointing to a peaceful and networked organization between these different types of intelligences, yet on which basis is there any reason to conclude that this might not be the case?


Ideally we would need a broad and public a debate about the amount, nature and very potential of emergence of new stakeholders in the process of ‘terraforming’ the connected world aka Sensing or Smarter Planet. We see that the most likely candidates that will knock on our door are sensory capabilities embodied by certain animals and things, in the definition of any physical object in combination with its digital representation. Humans have been confronted with such a process of new stakeholdership before and that it is in itself part of our journey as humanity.

It is not going to make us better or worse per se. It will not augment our capabilities in any trendy transhumanist or singularity way, as it is not inherently something outside of us, nor are ‘we’ the centre of the process. As a process it is not new, we have lived through it.

We do not take lightly to these journeys though, clinging as we are particular resources – humans –  to what we did grow up with as ‘normal’. We are so afraid of anything out of the ‘ordinary’.  We live most happily as if we were already dead. Nothing should happen that is not in our agendas. We never were meant to be alone. We do not like being alone. So do take that little step. Do take a giant leap of faith. We are not alone. All that we need is already here. Always was.

You just might end up on that ship after all.

Earth is a big round spaceship spinning its way through space.

She is a ship. The bridge got deserted somehow when the intelligences that steered it broke up over small differences and petty fights.

The bridge is reassembling itself.

Why now, you might ask? Most logically the bridge is getting ready to make contact with other ships. That is the most rational explanation.

You want a more poetic one?

[1] “Among those actually involved in building the new towns of the nineteenth century, the problem of community was understood in economic and moral  terms, and noth were faced with a remarkable sense of optimism. Those who saw themselves as reponsible for the moral environment of new communities likewise interpreted the problem as one requiring the quick construction of a proper set of institutions…. Central Illinois began attracting settlers soon after Illinois became a state in 1818…Soon after the creation of Morgan County in 1823, local politicians began coalescing into factions to contest which of twoi or three nascent settlements along the Illinois River would become the new county seat. ….A site for the proposed town was approved in the winter of 1825. ….The government land upon which the county seat was to be platted was sold at auction, and two nearby settlers were  quick to recognize a wise investment. They bought eighty acres at 1.25$ per acre and shrewdly donated half their purchase to the county. With this inducement the county quickly platted the town on the eighty-acre site. (19).. “The conflict which is to decide the destiny of the West, will be a conflict of institutions”, wrote Lyman Beecher in a Plea for the West.” (Doyle, Don Harrison, The Social Order of a Frontier Community, Jacksonville, Illinois, 1825-1870, University of Illinois Ptess, 1983, p.18.

[2] Spencer Wells, The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey, p. 75. Random House, ISBN 0-8129-7146-9

[3] ‘Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization’ is published by Allen Lane (£20). To order a copy for the special price of £18 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit

[4] According to Clack issues of modern living, such as environmental destruction, aggression, depression, obesity and the ‘isms’ (sexism, raceism, and ageism), “can only be understood in relation to our evolutionary past. If we understand why we are driven to self-destructive behaviour we will be better placed to work against our natural instincts and deal with them appropriately.”(p.3)

[5] Timothy Clack Ancestral Roots, Modern Living and Human Evolution, Macmillan, 2009; p. 2

[6] The success of the smart city lies in disentangling physical spaces from regulated services. Getting a passport now requires a real trip to a particular place. The place itself validates the action of handing over a new passport. Yet as all actions required to make one are in the ‘Cloud’ the pickup place itself becomes irrelevant.

[7] Which seems to be a kind of trans-humanist argument all of a sudden, but not argued from a positive view on technology but taking an evolutionary biology argument and extrapolating that into the current modern: IoT.

[8] Volume 60, Issue 1, 2012 of the Journal of American College Healthincludes publication of the first ever feasibility study on Psychiatric Advance Directives (PADs) for college students. PADs allow students who are living with serious mental illnesses to plan ahead with a support person, creating and documenting an intervention strategy to be used in the event of a psychiatric crisis. The study entitled “University Students’ Views on the Utility of Psychiatric Advance Directives” was conducted by Anna M. Scheyett, PhD and Adrienne Rooks, MSW.

[9] The remarkable rise of mental illness in Britain

By Neil O’Brien Politics Last updated: October 30th, 2012

[11] Mental Illness on the Rise in the U.S. New government data indicates 1 in 5 adults suffer from a mental illness. Published on May 18, 2011 by Tyger Latham, Psy.D. in Therapy Matters

[12] Employment: mental health issues rising in workplace, says OECD 12/12/2011 – Mental illness is a growing problem in society and is increasingly affecting productivity and well-being in the workplace, according to a new OECD report. More information about Sick on the Job at

[13] Patricia Karvela, The Australian December 07, 2012

[14] “Postmodern insights, however, suggest that fiction can have more substantive uses as historical source material. According to the postmodern model of history, a novel is just another text in a world of texts, a world where objectivity is unattainable, where distinc-tions between primary and secondary sources have blurred, where material reality and discourses are entwined. Some texts are, of course, more significant than others, and fiction requires more complex interrogation than “factual” sources, but all texts deserve scrutiny and consideration. There is something to be gleamed from even the most ephemeral sources. Furthermore, texts themselves have power. The text—what people read, be it a newspaper, a political pamphlet, or a novel—can shape and influence the reader’s viewpoints of the world.” Johnes, Martin: Texts, Audiences, and Postmodernism: The Novel as Source in Sport History, Department of History Swansea University, Wales.

[15] Julie Myerson, Then, Vintage Books, 2012

‘Heartless has become the law’. In the wasted ruins of London, a woman pieces together fragments of her memory. As her past emerges, her own apocalypse begins…


15.  Points out that RFID technology and other IoT-related technologies for the intelligent labelling of products and consumer goods, and for things-to-person communication systems, can be used anywhere and in practice are quiet and unobtrusive; calls, therefore, for such technology to be the subject of further, more detailed, assessments by the Commission, covering, in particular:

the impact on health of radio waves and other means of enabling identification technologies;
the environmental impact of the chips and of their recycling;
user privacy and trust;
the increased cyber security risks;
the use of smart chips in specific products;
the right to ’chip silence’, which provides empowerment and user control;
guarantees for the public as regards protection during the collection and processing of personal data;
developing an additional network structure and infrastructure for IoT applications and hardware;
ensuring the best possible protection for EU citizens and businesses from all kinds of online cyber attacks;
the impact of electromagnetic fields on animals, especially birds in cities;
the harmonisation of regional standards;
the development of open technological standards and interoperability between different systems;
and for it to be the subject of a specific European regulation, if appropriate;

[17] The Unexplained Powers Of Animals. Dr Rupert Sheldrake was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge University, and a Research Fellow of the Royal Society in biochemistry. His web site is This article was printed in New Renaissance, Vol. 11, No. 4, issue 39, Spring, 2003  Copyright © 2003 by Renaissance Universal, all rights reserved.  Posted on the web on March 22, 2003.

This text is the result of a dialogue with Joachim Walewski, who introduced me to the notion of ‘capability’.

Published in: on March 31, 2013 at 12:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

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