Naming things

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Bruce Sterling is doing the rounds in London at the moment: I caught him on Monday at a New Statesman event upstairs at the Grouse and Claret. Bruce gave a highly entertaining ‘cyberpunk exegesis’ of a bewildering array of contemporary issues and ideas: the UK’s surveillance culture, Web 2.0, Climate Change and of course the Internet of Things to name just a few. Good ‘names’ for things seem more important than ever now: Bruce mentioned that Tim O’Reilly – who coined the term Web 2.0 – has an English degree, so “he’s good at naming things”, and in his design/tech book ‘Shaping Things’, Bruce stresses that the ability to take on a name, an identity is one of the key features of a ‘spime’ (a Sterling neologism: an object that exists in space and time):

…the means of production [of third-stage objects] are re-engineered around a capacity for identity. The object becomes an instantiation of identity. It’s named, and it broadcasts its name, then it can be tracked. That’s a spime.

It used to be that we more often looked to sci-fi novelists like Bruce or William Gibson (who ‘invented’ cyberspace) for neologisms to help us track the tech world, but now it seems the industry does a pretty good job of this itself (think Web 2.0, or its sometime namesake Ajax which can be broadcast and tracked so much more easily now it’s no longer XMLHttpRequest). I guess this is also why Bruce describes himself now as an “industry booster” as well as a novelist and why he’s admits he’s had to keep rewriting his novel about spimes over the last few years, as reality keeps changing faster than it can be imagined.

Something that could really benefit from a new name though is ‘climate change’, a name that would go on to help create (Viridian’s) ‘irresistible demand for a global atmosphere upgrade’, in the same way that merely the idea of Web 2.0 (or any other technology that “sounded good on a golf course”) is fuelling so many irresistible demands.

Some links: Podcast of the New Statesman event (and Dave Phelan’s notes). Bruce Sterlings’s ETech keynote on the Internet of Things. Julian Bleecker’s Manifesto for Networked Things (pdf). Ulla-Maaria Mutanen (of Craft Manifesto fame)’s ThingLinks.