Context

“Spimes are manufactured objects whose informational support is so overwhelmingly extensive and rich that they are regarded as material instantiations of an immaterial system. Spimes begin and end as data. They’re virtual objects first and actual objects second.”

Bruce Sterling, Shaping Things, (2005)

The TOTeM project is located within the emerging technical and cultural phenomenon known as ‘The Internet of Things’. The term is attributed to the Auto-ID research group at MIT in 1999, and was explored in depth by the International Telecommunication Union who published a report bearing the same name at the United Nations net summit in 2005. The term, ‘Internet of things’, refers to the technical and cultural shift that is anticipated as society moves towards a ubiquitous form of computing in which every device is ‘on’, and every device is connected in some way to the Internet. The specific reference to ‘things’ refers to the concept that every new object manufactured will also be able to part of this extended Internet, because they will have been tagged and indexed by the manufacturer during production. It is also envisaged that consumers will have the ability to ‘read’ the tags through the use of mobile ‘readers’ and use the information connected to the object, to inform their purchase, use and disposal of an object.

The implications for the Internet of Things upon production and consumption are tremendous, and will transform the way in which people shop, store and share products. The analogue bar code that has for so long been a dumb encrypted reference to a shop’s inventory system, will be superseded by an open platform in which every object manufactured will be able to be tracked from cradle to grave, through manufacturer to distributor, to potentially every single person who comes into contact with it following its purchase. Further still, every object that comes close to another object, and is within range of a reader, could also be logged on a database and used to find correlations between owners and applications. In a world that has relied upon a linear chain of supply and demand between manufacturer and consumer via high street shop, the Internet of Things has the potential to transform how we will treat objects, care about their origin and use them to find other objects. If every new object is within reach of a reader, everything is searchable and findable, subsequently the shopping experience may never be the same, and the concept of throwing away objects may become a thing of the past as other people find new uses for old things.