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Against Smart Cities and Toasters

“That is, the enterprises enumerated here are to a surprisingly great degree responsible for producing both the technical systems on which the smart city is founded and the rhetoric that binds them together in a conceptual whole.”

Adam Greenfield, Against the Smart City

Greenfield makes an important point here. Who’s driving smart city applications and, more broadly speaking, IOT ones? Are things being built based on customer demand, or based on trying to create demand where none exists.

This reminds me of the story of the toaster’s creation, as told in Thwaites’ The Toaster Project, where he outlines its development as a problem driven by power companies who could not, at the turn of the 20th century, fluctuate their power output based on demand. As told by Thwaites:

“… to meet morning and evening demand, suppliers had to continue generating at peak level output throughout the day [..] thus a way to increase demand outside of peak hours was needed.” He goes on to say, “If you can’t, or don’t wish to, cut back on production, then try to manufacture demand — the story of the twentieth century?”

And, thus, the humble toaster was born. Not to fill a consumer need, but to generate demand where none existed. Next up: smart cities.


Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

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