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Shaping Things

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Shaping Things

MIT Press,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

How the nascent "Internet of things" will change the world.

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Editorial Rating



  • Innovative


Type a few words into Google and you can find a sushi restaurant, a movie theater, concert tickets or a new car. But if you misplace your car keys in your house, you still have to search the old-fashioned way: room by room, cushion by cushion, coat pocket by coat pocket. If Bruce Sterling is correct, though, one day you'll Google your keys. And your shoes. And your dog. This is the nascent "Internet of things" made possible by technology, including such items as radio frequency ID tags and traceable product life cycle management. That is where technology is going: to the interactive "spime," Sterling's term for objects that will arrive with data attached. In this visually arresting novella-sized essay, Sterling riffs on a number of scenarios, from customized-to-order cell phones to products that "know" how much carbon their construction required. His aphoristic prose seems at times like madness, but there's method in it: Sterling urges designers to make beautifully sustainable products rather than more proto-trash. getAbstract believes his book could reform your ideas about design and provide a stock of carbon-neutral insights you can deliver to your colleagues over a recyclable cup filled with shade-grown coffee.


Making Junk

"Men are born makers," wrote the poet Derek Walcott, with "that itching instinct in the criss-crossed net of their palms, its wickerwork." But what are designers today making? Mostly garbage. It's not garbage now, of course. Now it's called a tire or a shoe or a DVD player or a PlayStation or a wine bottle. Soon, however, when the utility of these objects is exhausted, their sheen dulled, their formats obsolete, they'll journey to the landfill. Then, they'll be interred until some future culture exhumes them and struggles to understand their ancient makers, like anthropologists today do with Neanderthal middens. Human history is told through trash.

But it need not be that way. While human beings may be not so much "man the toolmaker" as "man the garbage maker," products should be built sustainably. Today's approach to manufacturing is not sustainable in terms of energy or materials. Wasteful production is dangerous and obsolete. However, the makers of current technology can change this aged pattern. Industrial designers, in particular, can change the world by changing their aesthetic. If they handle this challenge properly, modern people can savor "life...

About the Author

Bruce Sterling is a science fiction author and journalist. He was "visionary in residence" at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

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