IoT Communities & modes of production


For Retune Festival 2016, I gave a quick overview of IoT communities and their modes of production. Heads-up, this is quite subjective: The IoT communities featured here are the ones I personally find most interesting and/or am most fond of.

The extra short version is this: Exploring IoT in its various facets can be done in many ways, from the often un- or under-funded (art) to the often highly funded (startup) and everything in between. I argue that startups, while currently a hugely popular vehicle to explore ideas, aren’t for everyone: There are some things and contexts that I think are better explored outside a startup context, through self-funding, third party funding, or as a sustainable independent business.

Hope it’s useful for you.

Apple’s responsibility – aka what can we demand from our gadget dealers?


“Apple is committed to ensuring that working conditions in our supply chain are safe, workers are treated with respect and dignity, and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible.” – Apple.com/environment

Last month, the New York Times published an article about the human cost of the iPad. It is a shocking, appalling and sadly an entirely unexpected report of the working conditions in Apple’s production plants in China, namely the one of Foxconn.

Up front, let’s be clear: This focuses on Apple, but similar reports could most likely be written about every single bigger electronics company as well as any of Foxconn’s competitors. Foxconn is one of the world’s largest producer of electronics. So while these two have been singled out, there’s a larger issue at stake here. Let’s also be clear that this doesn’t excuse anything.

All quotes are from the above-mentioned NYTimes article.

“Apple never cared about anything other than increasing product quality and decreasing production cost,” said Li Mingqi, who until April worked in management at Foxconn Technology , one of Apple’s most important manufacturing partners. Mr. Li, who is suing Foxconn over his dismissal, helped manage the Chengdu factory where the explosion occurred. “Workers’ welfare has nothing to do with their interests,” he said.

Just a few days before the article appeared in the NYTimes, …

(…) Apple reported one of the most lucrative quarters of any corporation in history, with $13.06 billion in profits on $46.3 billion in sales. Its sales would have been even higher, executives said, if overseas factories had been able to produce more.

“We’ve known about labor abuses in some factories for four years, and they’re still going on,” said one former Apple executive who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements. “Why? Because the system works for us. Suppliers would change everything tomorrow if Apple told them they didn’t have another choice.”

So who’s to blame here is a tough call to make. Yet, that doesn’t mean we should just go about our business. We as consumers are responsible — and that includes me personally, and maybe you, too — for buying all these gadgets and turning a blind eye on where they come from. The big production companies like Foxconn are responsible, because they work abuse their workers in the reprehensible way they do. And Apple (like their industry partners/competitors) is responsible, maybe most so. It is their management that decides to stick to these production plants and the way they operate, to not push them hard to demand better working conditions, to not be willing to give up a small chunk of their insane margin & profits and pass down a bit of it to the people building their products.

Just to be clear. This is Apple’s responsibility to be better than the bare minimum, or anything mediocre. If you claim excellence and a leadership position, you got to act accordingly. You’re the leading design company and know what’s best for you users, and you insist on providing the best experience out there? In other words, you demand the lead position from your designers? Then you better demand the same from your production.

At the same time, we as buyers need to ask ourselves: What do we demand from the companies that produce our gadgets?

Now, where all parties are involved and bear some part of responsibility, aka Any Real-Life Situation In A Global Economy, it’s easy to weasel out. “But it’s you, too, and they do it too, and these guys over there!” And by shifting and spreading responsibility around, we get away from the thing we discuss.

Let’s not do that.

We’ll never find one person/company to hold responsible, just as we often won’t be able to completely switch our personal behaviors radically in hope of some later change. On the one hand, everybody needs to do what they can, on the other – and I can’t overstate that – I think we should lean hard on these companies whose products we buy. In fact, I think this might sometimes be more effective than any boycott.

So yes, as a paying customer I demand that Apple takes the human rights of their factory workers seriously and goes way(!) beyond the market average in doing so. “But prices will go up,” the usual argument goes, “who’s going to pay for all that?” If those changes mean slightly higher prices for me, fine, I’m willing to bear some of that load. But I seriously expect a big chunk to come out of that hilariously high hardware margin and profit. A company that has higher revenues, margins and cash reserves than the rest of the field should well and truly put some of that money to good use. And I don’t mean a new, beefed up DRM. I mean some serious change of business.

Disrupting business? Fine, whatever. Disrupting production chains and post-consumer lifecycles, that’s the next frontier. It’d be nice to see Apple take the lead there.

Mass customization vs DIY?



Today I quickly stopped by Holy Shit Shopping, a medium-sized design and crafts fair that has been held in Berlin annually in the Christmas time for the last three or four years. The stuff I saw made me think a little, so here’s a few thoughts. (disclaimer: unfiltered and straight from the train.)

First of all, a few of the things I saw made me smile, in a way that reminded me of the first time I went to this market: A usb stick in concrete. a breakfast egg holder made from concrete but looking like a cushion. A kit to build lamps from used light bulbs. A lot of artsy and baby stuff that was pretty neat even though I’m not in the market for that.

But there was another feeling creeping up on me. Where I used to marvel at micro label apparel and wallets made from old bike tube rubber, I felt somewhat over-fed on most of this. Between dozens of silk screening tshirt labels and absolutely everything made from rubber (or its more recent offspring, firehose tube), the products lost their special appeal.

Now there’s two things to put this into perspective: where zu many small labels are clustered like this, perception changes, of course. In a different context their wares would still be more appealing. And also, I’ve been reading Cory Doctorow’s Makers, in which he also draws a picture of what mass customization and DIY might look like once the current (almost fetish-like) fascination wears off and we get more used to it all.

It feels like we’re in a transition period in which it’s being figured out what the rules and boundaries are in respect to maker culture, mass customization, home fabrication and (simple but creative) re-use of materials.

Or maybe I’m just making this up. You tell me.

A Swarm of Angels: Worlds Will Shatter


Ground-breaking collaborative film project A Swarm of Angels just released the first video trailer, and boy, I can’t wait to see more:

Worlds Will Shatter – The Unfold trailer from Nine Orders on Vimeo.

I’ve been a proud member of the Swarm for a while. And while it’s not always easy to find a good way to actively get involved in the process of shooting this massive collaborative open-source movie, it’s amazing to be part of something as grand as this could be. It is, seriously, what I think could be a glimpse at the future of movie production.

As of now, it’s again possible to join as a member. For quite a while registration had been closed while things were prepared to proceed. Click here to join for a donation of $47/€37.