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Understanding the Internet of Things as a Cultural Agenda


As an IT research agenda, the Internet of Things (IoT) is often framed according to technical and economic issues, such as protocols, standards, job-creation potential, etc. We argue that IoT also constitutes a cultural and aesthetic vision, that is, a projected image of urban- or region-scale beauty, in which lives are pursued in more meaningful and fulfilling ways than before. Aesthetic IoT is not a matter of making device surfaces more pretty, but of thinking deeply about the ways it will shape how we live. In this project, we analyze a policy intended to beautify a major city in Asia alongside aesthetic interpretations of two design initiatives contemporaneous with it: an agricultural IoT project that proposes a computationally enabled new intimacy between humans and their land, and a kitchen design company that innovates not only on manufacturing materials but also on the aesthetic conventions needed for consumers to recognize those material properties as beautiful.


  • Multi-sited ethnography

  • Design inventory

  • Design criticism

  • Close reading


  • Increase consumer adoption and acceptance of IoT devices by reflecting their cultural values and regional needs.

  • Support cultures of making, hacking, DIY, and crowdsourcing to encourage product ownership, expand product lifespan, and reduce consumer waste.

  • Advocate for traditionally underserved and marginalized communities to support inclusion, accessibility, and social justice. 



Shaowen Bardzell, Jeffrey Bardzell (both research managers). 



*This project was funded by the National Science Foundation (US) and the Ministry of Education, Taiwan. 

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