Book: Shaping Things

Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling bills itself as a book about created objects and therefore a book ‘about everything’. My experience with it was that it is a rambling, poorly written treatise that never really comes to any point whatsoever.

Many people who have read this book (or perhaps only heard of it) seem to latch on to the ‘spime’ meme in the book. I didn’t find the idea of spimes that compelling. They are basically like RFID tags on steroids — they ‘know’ what they are, where they’ve been and what they associate with. Sounds like the means to create a huge amount of metadata that doesn’t really matter to anyone in most cases. I think the idea owes a lot to the decade old idea of your refrigerator or toaster being on the Internet (remember how that was going to improve things?)

Sterling goes on and on about how this book is going to help designers. I just don’t see it. It seems to just ramble on and verges on incoherent. One example is Sterling and his wine bottle (a reoccurring theme in the book). Somehow, the fact that a wine bottle has a bar code and a URL printed on it causes Sterling to wax rhapsodic about how the bottle is now an ‘intelligent device’ and ‘interactive’. Right. Precisely what interactions does a bottle of wine initiate? To truly be an active participant in an interaction, it must be capable of action itself.

There are much better books that cover the intended material in a much better fashion. Check out Ambient Findability and Digital Ground for two excellent examples.

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