ThingsconAMS Thoughts

by Dries De Roeck on December 2, 2017

When Alex called out at the end of ThingsconAMS that we lost the habbit of blogging and expressing our thoughts in more than 240 480 characters I had two options, nodding and agreeing or spending some time on my trainride back home to jot down some notes in readable sentences. I chose the latter. (note to self: yes, I should have been working on my PhD literature review, but my head couldn’t find peace of mind before getting this out)


I’ll start off with my main takeaway, which has not much to do with the internet of things per sé, but might help in working on internet of things related topics in the long run. I found it reassuring to hear more people expressing concern on how we go about with the work we do. I talked to new and old faces, who were looking for genuine engagement in topics they care about. Begone superficial chatter, time to step knee deep in the mud and take up accountability for the work we don’t seem to be doing.

I had excellent chats with Albrecht, Alexandra, Andrea, Harm, Iohanna, Iskander, Kars, Marcel, Nathalie, Simon, Simone and Thomas. I hope that I’m safe to say that most of these chats will the lead to some form of collaboration. I find it important to mention these people by name, as it is them that take up personal accountability to get work done. For sure, everyone operates within an organisational or company context, but I think we’re too often undervaluing the importance of the people who (want to) care on a personal level. In my experience, people attending ThingsCon events tend to engage on a personal level, in a very critically constructive manner. I appreciate that, more than ever.

ThingsCon loot!


When it comes to thingscon content, there were two talks that stood out for me. Firstly, the talk by Tobias Revell and secondly Iohanna Nicenboim‘s talk.

What I liked about Tobias’ story was his usage of the black box as a methaphor. Over time, we – consumers – have become used to black boxed products. Things seem to work ‘magically’, we are not confronted by the complexity of technology. As time progresses, our black boxes become larger and more opaque. Also, the edges of our black boxes become blurred. I was truly inspired when Tobias mentioned these blurred edges, it gives me an excellent visual methaphor to frame some of my own thinking a lot better.

When Iohanna took the stage, I laughed wholeheartedly when seeing the movies she made together with The Incredible Machine once again. It was a pity not that many people seemed to get the joke, I strongly suggest you watch the movies again in your own time. I love them because of their super critical stance and their high concentration of subtle humour.

Iohanna’s ‘objects that withdraw‘ was probably the project that resonated with me mostly this ThingsCon edition. In this project, generative design is explored from the thing point of view. By adding some parameters to the model of an object, each time that object is produced it will be a little different. By doing so, things ‘hide’ themselves from digital surveillance systems. I like this project, because it totally stretches my frame of reference on mass customisation and digital fabrication. In Iohanna’s work, the goal is to hide from surveillance systems – but I could also imagine that based on a set of variables objects could themselves decide to aesthetically change their appearance in order to better blend in with the location they are used in. For instance, a mug printed in Pune (IN) might look totally different compared to a mug printed in Lyon (FR). However, the foundation of the 3D file needed to print the mug might be the same. (This starts to sound like Bruce Sterling’s spimes on steroids).

Besides all that, it was very nice to unleash upon the thingscon horde. This has been a strand of thought in the heads of myself, Ricardo and Simone for many months. Finally I went ahead and put in the time to create a quick bit of online presence. Seems to be have been well received, and we’ll keep on expanding on this in between other things.

We launched ideasofthings as part of our workshop “battle of the IoT cards” in which Simone Mora and myself introduced participants to several IoT ideation tools. The goal of the workshop was to have a critical conversation on the values of each of these tools. I very much enjoyed this, it has been a topic I’ve been working on for years – so taking a reflective stance felt very good.

Snapshot of the tools that were up for battle during the workshop.


Arriving home from a conference like this always gives me mixed feelings. You feel super energised, but as always, the challenge is to keep the vibe alive when going back to business as usual. This time there are some promising plans in the pipeline, one of them related to the initiative – in which we want to get together with a small group of people to dissect the ‘ideation for IoT’ theme better. Secondly, Rob Van Kranenburg introduced a relevant EU funding source. I very much want to get people together and set up collaborative projects.

If I can achieve some steps in making those two elements reality by next year, I’ll be more than happy.

#ThingsConAMS – Marcel Schouwenaar:

“A lot of people involved in developing, applying or teaching about technology experience an unease with the status quo in how we apply technology in practice.

A critical element is that lots of business models, financial and political structures around technology aren’t working in the interest of individual people.

It is, however, nothing about the technology that makes it disadvantageous for society. The problem lies in the way that technology is being applied.”

Things to check after Thingscon, which I didn’t get the chance to check during the conference:

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