ThingsCon15 – A (personal) recap

It happened. After months of planning and scheduling it finally all came together for ThingsCon15 this weekend. It was the second installment of a community-driven conference on the IoT & future of hardware. And it was amazing: More than 40 speakers and so many partners, participants, friends, and just really clever minds gathered in Berlin for two days to talk about connected products, how to build and design them. We had a lot of input in all kinds of formats: talks, workshops, project demonstrations, pitches, manifestos, readings – and bar-talks. In the end this all made for two wonderful days, brimming with ideas, new friends, and new questions. And the emergence of a very interesting overarching question.[[MORE]]

What kind of world do we want to build?

While we will share all, photos, talks & write ups, and a nice little video wrap up of ThingsCon15 very soon, I wanted to share my personal take-aways on ThingsCon. Note: I was bound at the main stage for most of the conference for moderating duties, which led me to miss most of the workshops – but that way I got most of the talks which is nice. So here goes a rather partial and recap of ThingsCon from my personal point of view:

A critical take on Things – discussions far from gadgetism

ThingsCon was kicked off by a thought provoking keynote from Sci-Fi Author Warren Ellis, who early on framed a recurring theme: A very critical (and sometime almost dystopian) take on a connected world – and a deliberate distance from Gadgetism or Tech-Talk. I’m still haunted by that front door who has an 404 and won’t recognize me. That’s terrifying.
In this was joined by many speakers across the board – from Claire Rowland and an interesting outline on design principles for connected products, to Scott Smith and his human centric take on a culture that is drenched in interconnected products. We heard some very interesting learnings by the good guys at Rural Spark, locally designing and building a smart, decentralized energy grid in India – and a refreshing Keynote by Bruce Sterling to wrap it all up, nicely linking back to Warren’s door vision, by presenting his and his wife’s work on Casa Jasmina, a fully connected house.

While Warren repeatedly highlighted the need to go all the way, to not just design the technical aspect of a product, but also the human-centric side to it, in some cases this evolved into an almost philosophical, but certainly sociological discussion on a connected world and its implications. I was amazed by the deep, theoretical insights on concepts like ‚embodiment‘ and abstract vs. object-centered thinking and design by Prof. Andrea Krajewski. And I was literally blown away by Matt Gorbet’s reading of a beautiful essay by Rich Gold, titled ‚How smart does your bed have to be before you’re afraid to go to sleep at night?‘ an on-point and humorous collection of thoughts and questions dealing with a potential future world where everything is smart, connected and active in itself. Written in 1991! It was one of my absolute highlights of this years ThingsCon, and if you have the chance to should definitely check it out, here’s a brief excerpt from it. (More to be found here)

How is an intelligent house different from an intelligently designed house? Given a choice, which would you rather live in? How about a basically stupid house, but one that is quite pleasant if you live in it intelligently? Do smart houses prevent you from watching dumb TV? Do smart houses take part in the action of TV shows, by say, adding lighting and special effects? If you don’t have children but would like some, do smart houses add the patter of little feet to the background? Does the patter get louder as the children grow up?
How smart does the bed in your house have to be before you are afraid to go to sleep at night?

Responsibility, Education, and the IoT

It became very obvious throughout these two days, that implications of the IoT matter very deeply for our lives, and the questions why? and how? ought to be answered by everyone in building this new connected world: designers & entrepreneurs, consultants & clients – and engineering students & universities. These questions shape the very way how we work and force us to find our own answer to them – as open or irritating they might be. The situation is that in many cases, we’re just at the very beginning of merely asking them. It’s a matter of education, of taking a step back from the breadboard and reflecting on what we’re building, and why. Turns out, an indie-conference is a wonderful place to do so.

Because we had the chance to go beyond the theoretical and conceptual part and actually produce hands-on and tangible take-aways that have the potential to not only keep this discussion going, but to actually feed back into our day-to-day work and projects. One of these wonderful outcomes is the launch of the IoT-Manifesto, a 10-point document that takes a stand for creating meaningful products designed for a world that we all would want to live in. It’s a joint effort of four studios (The Incredible Machine,, Frolic, Afdeling Buitengewone Zaken) and some good folks from the TU Delft and serves as an interesting starting point for a discussion around vision, reality, and realism on building IoT Products. Another tangible tool to understand the implications of connected products we’re building was introduced by Scott Smith: Thingclash is a dive into what happens to our culture and lives, once we start connecting things to the internet.

In the end, we are all human beings

In a way, this year’s ThingsCon was way more about people than it was about things. And that’s a good thing. It was inspiring to see question like What world do we want to live in? And how can we shape it in a way that makes sense for us, people? What are the dangers and pitfalls when in comes to designing products for the IoT – and what can we, as designers, entrepreneurs, researchers, consultants do, to make sure we avoid them? discussed in the audience – and somehow surfacing on pretty much every talk I had the chance to see. As Andrea Krajewski put it nicely:

The object is not the object. The object is an extension of ourselves. It’s an extension of us, our homes, our lives.

Let’s keep that in mind when we talk about the future of hardware. It’s the future of ourselves.

*With ThingsCon* [*a crazy week*]( *is ending – and an interesting transition phase for myself is starting to which I am looking forwrad to. I’ll keep this outlet going and of course I’m very looking forward to continue all these wonderful discussions we had over the past days in all kinds of future settings. Thank you all for taking part in making this happen.*