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World Usability Day talk: Internet of Things

  • 10 Nov 2011
  • 7:00 PM
  • Bahen Room 1230 (main floor), 40 St. George Street
ABSTRACT: World Usability Day (Nov 10) uses the slogan 'Making Life Easy' and starts from the idea that ease of use is engendered by simplicity. In this talk, I want to revisit the connection between 'ease' and 'simplicity' and provide an alternative perspective, one driven by the increasing democratization of digital media tools. Through an historical look at computing, its interfaces, and its anxieties, I demonstrate the need for a 'socio-technical' literacy to facilitate ease of use, describing this as relying on an active relationship between technical systems and people. I then describe a version of the Internet of Things (IoT) as a alternative to previous visions of environmental, pervasive, and ubiquitous computing. These previous visions describe primarily technical solutions that attempt to respond transparently and independently to human need. They thereby create infrastructures that work for some groups better than others. Instead, we can and should design the IoT as a heterogenous and therefore inclusive set of technical as well as social elements that 'make life easy' but that also require a literate population. I end by describing our work on the Internet of Things within ThingTank and its connections to the Inclusive Design Institute Mobile and Pervasive Computing Cluster, both at U of T.

BIO: Matt Ratto is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. He is the director of ThingTank (, a non-profit lab space and research project examining and designing the Internet of Things and head of the Mobile and Pervasive Computing Cluster, part of the Inclusive Design Institute in Toronto. Before arriving at the University of Toronto in 2008, Ratto was a visiting researcher at the University of Umea in Sweden, and a founding member of the Virtual Knowledge Studio for the Humanities and Social Sciences in Amsterdam (VKS-KNAW). 

Ratto’s current research focuses on how hands-on productive work – making – can supplement and extend critical reflection on the relations between digital technologies and society. This work builds upon the new possibilities offered by open source software and hardware, as well as the developing technologies of 3D printing and rapid prototyping. These technologies and the social collectives that create, use, and share them provide the context for exploring the relationship between ‘critical making’ and ‘critical thinking.’ Recent publications include “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life”, The Information Society 27(4) and “Open Design and Critical Making”, in Open Design Now: Why Design Cannot Remain Exclusive from BIS Publishers. 
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