Let’s create the Internet of Our Own Things #IndieIoT

CoverBruce Sterling penned a marvelous, impassioned essay titled “The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things” a few months ago. ($3.99 at Amazon). He pulls no punches, right from the beginning:

The first thing to understand about the “Internet of Things” is that it’s not about Things on the Internet. It’s a code term that powerful stakeholders have settled on for their own purposes. They like the slogan “Internet of Things” because it sounds peaceable and progressive. It disguises the epic struggle over power, money and influence that is about to ensue….

In the Internet of Things, [the user] lacks those privileged positions, “user” and “customer”. An Internet of Things is not a consumer society. It’s a materialised network society. It’s like a Google or Facebook writ large on the landscape. Google and Facebook don’t have “users” or “customers”. Instead, they have participants under machine surveillance, whose activities are algorithmically combined within Big Data silos…

The standard IoT pitch – about the reader’s smart, chatty refrigerator – is a fairy tale. It’s like the promise of a talking chicken in every pot. Politically speaking, the relationship of the reader to the Internet of Things is not democratic. It’s not even capitalistic. It’s a new thing. It’s digital-feudalism. People in the Internet of Things are like the woolly livestock of a feudal demesne, grazing under the watchful eye of barons in their hilltop Cloud Castles…

… and so forth and forth. Powerful, and very scary stuff, and he tells it well: the dystopian society that has started already, the replacement of the market by court intrigue, and how much more of that we’ll get.

Magna Carta plaque in Bury St Edmunds


It scares me, and should scare anybody who who thinks it was a good thing the Magna Carta came into force 800 years ago, who likes democracy, the rule of law, and a level playing field, that there is a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and all of those kinds of things.

For me, the question becomes: So what are we going to do about that? As commentator, Bruce identifies and describes, and that’s great. But we need more, at least all of us who want a better future than dystopia. We need to take action.

What about we build our own internet of things? The internet of things that we — the “users” — own, instead of some unaccountable “barons in their hilltop Cloud Castles”?

I postulate that everybody who bought one (or several) of the millions of shipped Raspberry Pi’s and Beagle Bones and Arduinos for some home automation project, did that to build their own internet of things. An internet of things that is independent of the overlords. An “Indie IoT”.

That everybody who buys parts from Adafruit, or goes to a Maker Faire, does that because they build, or would like to build their own internet of things instead of inviting Big Brother into every corner of our homes 24 hours a day.

That almost anybody, given a choice, and all other things being equal, vastly prefers their own internet of things over somebody else’s. The “all other things being equal” is the hard part as the barons have many billions to spend with which to dazzle us. So we, in the “independent”, “indie”, “maker” community, need to get our act together so we can compete. But compete we must. If not us, who will? Do we really want us, and our friends, to end up in the dystopian society that Bruce paints so well?

That is not an easy undertaking. As usual, there is too much squabbling, too much competing about the scraps tiny sub-markets, too much its-more-important-I-am-right than aligning our forces in the same direction.

But not trying is not something we can do IMHO. I’m trying, which is of course why I started the Indie Box Project and develop UBOS, an operating system for that IndieIoT. What will you do?

If you are up for cooperating in any fashion whatsoever, drop me a note?

(An earlier version was posted on the Indie Box blog)