Notes on working in the / Unlearning Open

The post will reflect on different aspects from open leadership training over tools and ways of working open, concrete action and impact on the own way of working, and how I relate my current research to the learning.

The Internet Health at Mozilla phase of the OpenDoTT project started with a training in Open Leadership [1]. I enjoyed the course getting to know a structure and strategy that helps to start open projects and support community engagement early on. The course is a good resource to get going and make projects actionable. But is it similarly suited for the kind of research I am in? Overall the Open Leadership Training material, our discussions, and the significant turn of open as a paradigm to justice has resulted for me in realising that un-learning open is the most interesting outcome.

How to unlearn then? I have only a slight idea. However, I would like to start to share more of my process, my insights, and ideas through notes, short posts, and making things. Sharing it as an accessible resource on the web. I feel I learned a lot by openly accessible literature, projects, or notes by others. Contrary to the Open Canvas I created as suggested by the training, wouldn’t it be good to contribute rather than to start a new project?

What to open and to whom? My fellow fellow Felipe made an important point, that working in the open is also about reflecting what to open and to whom. My learning from our discussion during the training is to balance well in which scopes material is made accessible. This is based on the fundamental basis that all material must be dealt with ethically respectfully.

Many more notes and questions have grown on my note-beds. How to open and make fair? Open as honest. What about an Honest design of Trusted Things then? Being in the open. How much open and honest is my current research lens, taking resonance as a paradigm to the relationship of ourselves and wearable IoT?

Before I reflect how my research is related to working (with the) open, I would like to take stock what I learned from the training. The main learning is to Unlearn open. I will attempt to do this by respectfully being in the open. The digital gardening and the tending of personal wikis I cam e across seems a good opportunity to do that. That is why I started a public space for field notes and other documentation: https://github.com/jens-a-e/working-open.

The bridge to my research are open-ended and generative devices vs internet appliances is a framing by Jonathan Zittrain [2] I was made aware of in a conversation with my supervisor Mehan Jayasuriya. With more and more products increasingly becoming appliances to access services and consume carefully considered bits of insights form the analysis of ones data, devices that enable us to generate and create outcomes on our own disappear. Our agency disappears with it. When Zittrain suggests to become better netizens, what does it mean for the space of the Internet of Things on and around the body? Should become better carers of things?

To reflect how aspects of open and working open are part of my own research I would like to introduce two of the concepts that have been developed as a response to a participatory research study. In the study I asked participants to use an object they can find at home as an imaginary wearable Internet of Things device. To document their ideas and reflections of what is was, how it would work, and why they had it participants had to (re-)create a folded manual which was supposedly lost before. The design of the study is based on the concept of Design Probes. Design Probes are objects literally probing the participants experiences, reflections and ideas on a prompt in order to generate new insights on a research subject. They are usually an unfinished—so to speak open-ended—piece which is completed through the response of the person or group.

Let’s start with the concept Haptic Memories is a response to one of the imagined devices a reminder for physical activity which turned into a musical instrument prompting the wearer to literally play in movement. The well-being device turned instrument sparked an open reflection between the participant and me why such utilitarian and optimising devices lack a joy and playful quality. Playing the device as a response to the physically unhealthy behaviour is open-ended. Most importantly the participant remarked the experience is made in time in contrast to looking at statistics of e.g. how many minutes of movement one has completed today and how good the ratio is for example. Even a beautiful rich visual representation is consumed passively. I responded to this idea with a concept of a pen where the ink is released in the rhythmic pattern of general health data, e.g. the steps taken within the last month. This results in a respectively patterned line. Ideally the ink would be physical ink but, well, a digital version should also work. To gain another rather unusual but equally ineffable quality in time the pen (or draing device) would vibrate during drawing according to the rhythms of the underlying data. The pen might seem useless as a utility to writing a note of course. I have no idea if writing a text would be readable in the end. Neither would it be reproducible. However, these are exactly the qualities of openness and resonance that are missing in the solutions created by the industry. Its purpose is a reflection of one’s own health data in an open and playful way in time. Its purpose is not to replace quantified analysis which is helpful in its own way. Drawing a daily sketch with the pen until the ink of steps runs out provides a way of keeping an open mind about data and the body, I hope.

The other concept described IoT Tailors as a normal shop in villages, towns, and cities. It builds on the classic example of open hardware, making, sharing knowledge through craft, and as such drawing on many already present initiatives, communities, and movements in a deeply respectful “remix”: a tailor shop for wearable internet of things … uhm … things. The concept consciously avoided to be innovative with a genuinely new thing but to ask what if institutions we already know would adjust to the technological advances and continued their practice in an open way. What would happen if wearable IoT would be make-able by many more than a few big corporations. Yes, this isn’t something new per-se. And it isn’t a spectacular concept. My hope is that in this space of unspectacular wearable Internet of Things a longer lived relationship towards sustainability and agency for the individual and communities can emerge. And, in a way it would be spectacular as of now to have an IoT Tailor open down the road, wouldn’t it?

The open fields ahead? What to un-learn in Open Technologies?

If I would describe the view from where I stand as a hike, a journey to respectfully visit and learn across open fields, what would I see now? After a long walk across the plains of design research with oasis, villages offside the trodden paths of products, big cities of spectacular technology, small islands of sustainability, strong winds, and all sorts of weather the hills of technology lie ahead. Taking a break and taking stock on the provisions I think of Hundred Rabbits the other voyagers of the sea of technology I saw from afar earlier in my journey. What can I learn from them?

1. Mozilla Foundation. Open Leadership Training Series. Retrieved November 30, 2020 from https://mozilla.github.io/open-leadership-training-series/.

2. Jonathan Zittrain. 2008. The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It. Yale University Press, New Haven Conn.