Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
 
Spime Wrangling

I told my sister that I had a funny dream last night*, wherein Google combined with RFID tags (radio frequency identity tags) meant you could search your house. Anyone who knows me knows why that might be useful. She responded by sending me this fascinating speech by science fiction writer Bruce Sterling at a SIGGRAPH conference in LA this last August. (Finding out what Siggraph stands for is more difficult than its worth, but suffice it to say, they're professional computer graphics geeks.) A lot of it seems a bit handwavy in the way that only good science fiction writers can make words seem simultaneously vague and precise, but I think he might be onto something. He wants these people to make Spimes, his neologism for not-yet-created precisely documented and interactive objects.
Scenario: You buy a Spime with a credit card. Your account info is embedded in the transaction, including a special email address set up for your Spimes. After the purchase, a link is sent to you with customer support, relevant product data, history of ownership, geographies, manufacturing origins, ingredients, recipes for customization, and bluebook value. The spime is able to update its data in your database (via radio-frequency ID), to inform you of required service calls, with appropriate links to service centers. This removes guesswork and streamlines recycling. . .So -- as long as you could keep your eyes open -- you would be able to swiftly understand: where it was, when you got it, how much it cost, who made it, what it was made of, where those resources came from, what a better model looked like, what a cheaper model looked like, who to thank for making it, who to complain to about its inadequacies, what previous kinds of Spime used to look like, why this Spime is better than earlier ones, what people think the Spime of Tomorrow might look like, what you could do to help that happen, the history of the Spime's ownership, what it had been used for, where and when it was used, what other people who own this kind of Spime think about it, how other people more or less like you have altered or fancied-up or modified their Spime, what most people use Spimes for, the entire range of unorthodox uses of Spimes by the world's most extreme Spime geek fandom, and how much your Spime is worth on an auction site. And especially -- absolutely critically -- where to get rid of it safely. . .By making the whole business transparent, a host of social ills and dazzling possibilities are exposed to the public gaze. Everyone who owns a spime becomes, not a mute purchaser, but a stakeholder.

Dealing with a Spime would be called wrangling. I have to read the whole speech again, slowly, and extract from the hyperbole and dramatic flourishes interesting information. But it caught my eye particularly because it seems that Sterling wants to take what was previously known as a consumer of an object and make that person an active participant in the object's entire lifecycle and being. Which reminds me a bit of discussions on TheParticipant and Snarkmarket. Transform the New Media Revolution into a Complete Stuff Revolution?


*The dream also involved some friends juggling torches on a Shakespearan stage set inside a magnificent library, while other friends and I watched and flitted about the mezanine with billowing scarves tied to our wrists--nanofabric scarves that were catching information from the WiFi network and displaying it to us as we danced. That, I think, will stay in dreamspace for a while.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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