Reading: Rething-ifying the internet of things / Jennifer Gabrys



Jennifer Gabrys In Sustainable Media: Critical Approaches to Media and Environment Edited by Nicole Starosielski and Janet Walker (Routledge, 2016)


Selected quotes // Notes from Reading 

“Things, within the Internet of Things, are the curious creatures to which I turn my attention in this chapter…

  • What are these things in the Internet of Things and what are the characteristics of their emerging materialities?
  • How, as newly electronicized objects, do they manifest distinct material and environmental effects?
  • And how might an attention to these material and environmental effects provide an opportunity for generating new areas of environmental intervention in relation to sustainable media?”


“Alongside theorists like Lisa Parks and Matthew Fuller, I have argued for a consideration of what lies beyond the screen, of how hardware unfolds into wider ecologies of media devices, and of how electronic waste may evidence the complex ways in which media are material and environmental, despite our tendency to overlook these interconnected infrastructures, supports, and resources.”


“What are these things within the Internet of Things and how do they influence, challenge, disrupt, or reroute discussions of materiality within media studies? What consequences do these things have for thinking about the environmental effects and relations generated through the Internet of Things?”

    • “ubiquitous computing = central to new environmental practices
      • ex: monitoring pollution / citizen science
    • sensor technologies are also entangled with proposals for new efficiencies to be gained, as well as new opportunities to achieve sustainability through ongoing monitoring of resource use. Yet on the other hand and as will be my focus here, the projected rise in computational objects and applications is sure to generate new modalities and distributions of electronic waste
    • How do these specific applications and imaginaries of the Internet of Things inform the materialities—and things—that are generated?
    • And what implications do these materialities and things have for media theory and practice?”

“The Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive of the European Commission documents a bewildering array of items—from laptops to toasters—for treatment as a special category of this hazardous waste.”Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics // Jennifer Gabrys


“the things within the Internet of Things consist of a growing list of intelligent devices that would augment, optimize, and interconnect every aspect of our daily lives. To what extent might this expanding array of digital things generate different modalities, materialities, and environments of computation?”

“The Internet of Things is just as often referred to as the Internet of Everything, since networked and programmed capabilities are meant to inform products, bodies, environments, and systems, where the world is connected through sensors, networks, and a steady flow of data.”

“The number of devices connected to the Internet is currently estimated to be approximately one and a half to two billion. By 2020, however, this number is forecast to grow to up to fifty billion devices, with many more set to follow.8”


“the Internet of Things as a concept is often dated to Mark Weiser’s work on ubiquitous computing at Xerox Parc in the 1980s and 1990s,9 and as an actual term is dated to 1999,10 another pivotal moment in the concept’s elaboration is 2008, the year when Internet-based machine-to-machine connectivity surpassed that of human-to-human connectivity.1”

Connected toaster exaple:

“Cerf opines, but he draws a further connection to how such a “feedback loop is going to be important from an environmental point of view, because I would say that we don’t always understand the consequences of our actions.” He concludes, “this kind of feedback loop may actually help us do a better job of managing our response to environmental problems including global warming.”

Thingification as Enabling and Ennobling Technology

“electronic environmentalism,”

MIT Trash Track project from Sensable Cities Lab


Keywords: technomateriality, e-waste, sensor actuated

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