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The Internet of Things

March 9, 2012

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As so often happens in this world of constant information bombardment, today I found myself juggling overlapping, interconnected bits of information and ideas.  A paragraph on the city of Rome website caught my eye as I was searching for information on a conference on Rome’s Sustainable Future or something, a reference to which I had caught a fleeting glimpse of on a poster plastered to the wall by Porta Portese.  My rough translation follows:

Hundreds of discarded articles including old refrigerators, washing machines, boilers, televisions, cookers, stored and disassembled without the required authorization and prerequisites necessary to protect the environment and public health….The operator of the area was found not to be enrolled in the National Order of Waste Management.

I was fascinated that the project that I have been proposing for years for the site, a center for the green economy where items currently considered waste could be treated as resources, seemed to have become a reality.  I was outraged that such an activity was being treated as criminal instead of ecologically sound.  After all, these are items that previously were safe enough for our homes but now suddenly can’t be handled without public safety permits.  But it’s ok to send them to a landfill as long as it’s run by a member of the right professional organization?

And then I read another blog post complaining about how the city does nothing to prevent people from dumpster diving, an activity practiced especially by Romany people in Rome.  I have great respect for these people who work hard to salvage the useful stuff that we thoughtlessly discard. If anything, the city should prevent people from throwing good stuff so casually into dumpsters.

My day improved later as sat in great hall of the former Aquarium, now Rome’s “Casa dell’Architettura”, listening to speakers at the World Wide Rome conference, a day long event focused on the new economy of digital fabrication.  Finally I was hearing voices discuss the absurdity of the waste of our consumer lifestyles. Enrico Bassi of FabLab Torino described workshops on electronic recycling and re-use.  I missed the talk by Chris Anderson of Wired, entitled “ATOMS ARE THE NEW BITS”,  but caught Roberto Bonzio and Massimo Menichinelli  who shared stories of startups and innovation. Terms like social ecommerce, sellsumers, user generated goods, and Fab money were being thrown about.   The whole event had that upbeat feel of a self-improvement seminar, amplified by the very 21st century phenomena of multiple screens, throbbing base soundtrack, and an audience half-listening, half chatting distractedly, tweeting, status-updating, or sampling images and video to process, cut and splice and share later. I loved it.

During a less interesting talk I checked Facebook on my iphone, followed a link from my friend Doug Rushkoff to a blog post he wrote on CNN where he said very much what I was hearing in this conference in Rome. “We need to begin by abandoning the fruitless quest for gainful corporate employment, and instead start working for ourselves and one another. We must stop outsourcing our savings and investments to bankrupt corporations, and instead invest in the people and businesses in our own communities — however we define those.”  This is happening and I, for one, am on board.

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