The Mediology of the Smart Home

For another course I’m currently taking at CCT, we are required to come up with a product that we will shepherd through the development process. I’ve decided to use the Smart Home as my idea, and as such, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the form and function of interconnected devices. How they “speak” to one another, how we speak to them (literally and figuratively), how we conceptualize “smart” technology, etc. After going through this week’s readings, I can now see the role mediology plays in acquiring a deeper understanding of our socio-technical landscape and the technical artefacts that populate it.

According to the Debray reading, “What is Mediology?”, mediology “…is a question, in the first approximation, of analyzing the ‘higher social functions’ (religion, ideology, art, politics) in their relationship with the means and mediums/environments [milieux] of transmission and transport.” This consideration is at the crux of the Human-Computer Interaction design concepts one must explore when looking at creating a Smart Home. Questions such as “How do we conceptualize the kitchen space?” and “What do we need and/or expect from the bedroom space?” are necessarily dealing with the relationship between “higher social functions”, such as social organization and community, and the environments of their instantiation. In Product Development, we are required to study Maslow’s hierarchy of needs because in order to develop a good and useful product, one needs to have a holistic understanding of both the individual user and the society they live in.

Due to its nature as the centre of so many activities, the space in which a multitude of needs are fulfilled, and as a construct containing a plethora of use-spaces, the home is one of the best examples of where this holistic thinking can, and needs to, be applied. Mediology’s focus on this nexus makes it a very useful companion to the traditional design disciplines and principles of the home. For example, the idea of the kitchen becomes mediological when we connect it to the “higher-level” concept of food politics. The idea of the bedroom becomes mediological when we connect it to the “higher-level” concept of intimacy and privacy. The bathroom becomes mediological when we connect it to the “higher-level” concept of waste disposal politics. The living room becomes mediological when we connect it to the “higher-level” concept of the socio-political ramifications of the burgeoning entertainment industrial complex. A smart home is looking to technologically mediate all of these spaces, and as such, must grapple with these “higher-level” concerns if it is to be designed efficaciously. Only once we approach this issue from a mediological lens can we see their true potential for both social and individual change.

 

References

  1. Regis Debray, “What is Mediology?” (Also as PDF.Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.
  2. Martin Irvine, “Understanding Sociotechnical Systems with Mediology and Actor Network Theory (with a De-Blackboxing Method)
  3. Pieter Vermaas, Peter Kroes, Ibo van de Poel, Maarten Franssen, and Wybo Houkes. A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. San Rafael, CA: Morgan & Claypool Publishers, 2011.
  4. Werner Rammert, “Where the Action Is: Distributed Agency Between Humans, Machines, and Programs,” 2008. Social Science Open Access Repository (SSOAR).