The Internet of Things with Brief Thoughts and Reflections (Blog 9)

Robertson, Toni, and Ina Wagner. “CSCW and the Internet of Things.” ECSCW 2015: Proceedings of the 14th European Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 19-23 September 2015, Oslo, Norway. Springer, Cham, 2015.


This paper casts a Computer Supported-Cooperative Work (CSCW) light onto the Internet of Things (IoT) domain.Through the themes of coordination mechanisms, differences across contexts, common information spaces, and awareness from CSCW the authors reflect on social and practices for designing for IoT objects and spaces and discuss the associated implications. In these reflections, the authors contextualize how IoT can benefit from the CSCW themes and provide relevant examples.


IoT introduces a lot of possibilities for society. The idea that a computer can sense and react in some form is basic but powerful. The paper references Mark Weiser;s vision from 1991 where computers will simply blend into the background and will continue to function without us taking much notice. His early thoughts reveal a thought process where computers can do some of our more menial tasks and serve us in some way without interaction. Today, we see this in ubiquitous computing where computers are sensing, collecting, reacting in someway to its environment. Our smartphones are full of sensors (GPS, accelerometer, gyroscope, camera, motion, light, etc.) and is a great example of this phenomenon where all types of data can be collected, process the data to determine an action to be done, then react in some way.

I like the themes coordination mechanisms, differences across contexts, common information spaces, and awareness because they represent a lot of the areas that experience challenge today. Coordination, whether it be computer-to-computer or human-to-computer, is important in structuring a task and the great idea of work. If a computer can help communicate or reduce a workload then it is useful. However, relying on computers too much may be costly as well. I think of safety when coordination in certain work spaces are considered. On positive example I know of is in construction it is often hard to hear and thus hard to know what is behind you without turning around to look (which may not be possible). So the solution was to have a vest that had vibrators and lights connected to a microcontroller that sensed proximity around an individual and would vibrate and blink if something got to close. Coordination here, in my mind, is how the greater workspace interacts with both computers and humans. Not to mention it has heavy awareness implications as well (more situational awareness anyways).

A construction work site is just one context and environment for these computers. But it also introduces the mobility aspect of IoT devices in the form of wearables. This is where I think information spaces come in to help give a more generalizable grounding for the sociotechnical side of things. For instance, I think when this Robertson paper was written it didn’t beholden itself to a greater variety of technological possibilities. I don’t mean this in a critique, but more in excitement for the opportunities we have with computer-to-computer communications to support social and practice for a given community, group, or individual. And once you have those technologies developed you can see how they are used in local contexts and common information spaces.

Now what I love about Weiser’s vision is that it basically came true. We have so many computers today that function without explicit interaction. And with the advancement of hardware and software the IoT paradigm was born. Now what is important is to now build these systems to support many kinds of work and understand their implications. In particular the ethical implications are something I’m interested in (data collection, ownership, and privacy). In my mind, if computers are sensing everywhere, it makes one wonder what data is being collected or even what the data is being used for. Transparency is a slippery slope, but necessary for trust to happen. These are only a couple issues that come up.

If you’d like to explore Weiser’s vision of pervasive/calm (ubiquitous) computing see the reference below. It is cited over 16,000 times, and I recommend it.

Weiser, Mark. “The Computer for the 21 st Century.” Scientific american 265.3 (1991): 94-105.