Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino - "Technology Has the Power to Connect But Also to Make Us Very Lazy About Our Connections"




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Mar 13, 2018
by Helena Santos
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Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino - "Technology Has the Power to Connect But Also to Make Us Very Lazy About Our Connections"

Designer and entrepreneur outlines what the future might entail for the Internet of Things (IoT) Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino at The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology, and Making Sense of the Future. (Photo by: Herman Seidl/Salzburg Global Seminar)

Since 2011, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino has brought people together in London once a month to hear about the latest developments affecting the Internet of Things. Talks have centered on urban infrastructure, smart grids, open hardware, the quantified self, open data, smart homes, and more. The group has amassed more than 12,000 members and shows no sign of slowing down.

As an interaction designer, and founder of the Good Night Lamp, Deschamps-Sonsino has an interest in this field. In 2014, named her as one of the 100 most influential tech women on Twitter. Deschamps-Sonsino was a participant of the Salzburg Global Seminar session, The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future. During the session, she spoke to Salzburg Global about the Internet of Things, open data, and whether technology brings us together or makes us more isolated.

Salzburg Global: Since you are involved with the Internet of Things (IoT) community, what do you think should be the next steps toward  its’ protection?
ADS: Well, the Internet of Things is a very dynamic space that is unregulated, and that is open for entrepreneurship. What that has led to are a number of unfortunately bad design decisions that have led to security breaches and to a degree of uncertainty for both entrepreneurs and consumers. So I’m currently working to stir a global community to talk about what trust marks might mean for connected products. What I mean by trust mark is the equivalent to something like the fair-trade mark. So when you put fair-trade on a banana, you know that banana comes from working conditions that are better.

What does that look like for the Internet of Things? Can I put a sticker on a connected thermostat where I know that connected thermostat is not selling my data on to a third party, that has been designed in a secure way, that it is reparable, that if the company goes bankrupt can I still use my physical product but with a digital service offered by someone else? These are some of the things we are exploring.

SG: In your opinion should there be any limits to open data?
ADS: I think open data as a concept is important. I think that there are of course different types of sensitivities around what kind of data. Whether your lamp is on or off is interesting, but not that interesting a piece of data. Where you are in the world, what your health is like, where you are eating and what you’re eating… These start to become very personal pieces of data, and so we have to treat it in a very secure way, we have to treat it in a way that complies to something like GDPR, which is the incoming legislator and we have to enable consumers to use archive and keep their own data.
So, open in the sense of open and owned by people. We also have to make people care about that because right now they don’t.

SG: What’s your take on the dichotomy of isolation/connectivity regarding technology?
ADS: I think technology has the power to connect but also to make us very lazy about our connections. We assume that a like on Facebook or a comment is as powerful as a face-to-face conversation and it isn’t of course. We see that everywhere people suffer from more and more isolation, depression, mental illness regardless of the advanced technologies that we have.

What I try to do with the Good Night Lamp is provide a context for people to engage with each other more often. Right now, especially with families who have young children, it’s very hard for a grandparent to know when the right time is to catch up either with their children or with their grandchildren. So to create that opportunity, that opening of time and that window for these complex family structures to actually know when is the right time to sync and to call each other, and to have a meaningful connection.

So I think that it is a dichotomy in the general tech sector, something I try to address in my small way with the Good Night Lamp.

WATCH: An Introduction to the Good Night Lamp

SG: From all the discussions that took place during the session, what do feel are the most important remarks for the IoT community?
ADS: I think I will come back with a sense that there are communities in the world who are talking about the interaction between arts and sciences and technology in ways that will reach small companies eventually and it may be in the shape of innovation processes, in the shape of policy-making and I think that most entrepreneurs around me are very concerned with the next six months of their work, with the next engineering challenges and not so much the policy challenges, not so much the cultural shift not so much the innovation processes around them. I would like to highlight those for them. I would like to invite them to be more strategic and to be more high-leveled with the conversations that they would have themselves as small companies. 

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino was a participant of the Salzburg Global program The Shock of the New: Arts, Technology and Making Sense of the Future, which is part of the multi-year Culture, Arts and Society series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation. More information on the session can be found here. You can follow all of the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.