chapter
Things
WithSteven E. Jones
Pages 23

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If, as William Gibson says, cyberspace, having everted, has now “colonized the physical,” one thing that means in practice, in terms of everyday experience, is that the objects around us are increasingly data objects, in one sense or another. 1 Sometimes they are “live” with transponders, such as RFID tags, beaming signals about their identity, location, ownership, and history. Sometimes they are tagged with barcodes or QR codes meant to be read by machines. But even if objects are tagged in more conventional print form, with strings of characters or serial numbers, these can be read using OCR and then incorporated into, or verified as part of, larger data collections. One way or another, an increasing percentage of things in our environment—human-made things, but not only human-made things—are being made into what author (and friend of Gibson's) Bruce Sterling has named “spimes,” objects + data, things that are tagged so that their data, their history, can be accessed, aggregated, and mined or processed, and so the objects are physically trackable over their lifecycle. 2 The logical result is really the eversion looked at from another perspective: not only an Internet of Things but a revelation of the material nature of the Internet. Given such a world, the long experience of the humanities, on the one hand, in dealing with the artifacts of human culture as primary objects (manuscripts, books, pictures, paintings, sculptures, collages, installations, performances, recordings, films and videos, software programs, etc.), and, on the other hand, in addressing the theoretical problems of objects and things, realism and materialism, would seem to amount to a calling. The idea of the Internet of Things, and ubiquitous computing in general, stands as a challenge, an exhortation to the humanities to, as Ian Bogost says, turn “toward the world at large, toward things of all kinds and at all scales.” 3 for the digital humanities, such a turn seems imperative. At any rate, the Internet of Things and ubiquitous computing helped to form the context out of which DH itself emerged.