Digital Craftsperson

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By James Losey and Sascha D. Meinrath:

"Digital Craftspersonship offers an expansion on the concept of generativity, one focused on the behaviour of the individual in relation to a technology, rather than the technology itself. As the framing of the “Internet of Things” begins to permeate policy discussions, understanding the nuances of the interactions between users and technologies and developing a framework for analysing networks of human actors encompassing a range of relationships to technology, is critical. The “Digital Craftsperson” frame describes an ideal-type relationship: The potential for actors to act with full locus of control over the technologies they use. Digital Craftspersonship assumes that individuals desire to do something well, and embodies the potential for entrepreneurial action, the power to innovate, and the freedom to control technologies for ones own purposes. However, this relationship is shaped by the tensions between different components of a networked system, including the networks, devices, applications/services, content, and data that the Digital Craftsperson interacts with. Documenting the interactions amongst these components requires a framework that documents both the architectures and control planes of networked systems (Palfrey and Zittrain, 2011)." (



By James Losey and Sascha D. Meinrath:

"Over the next decade, the number of networked devices is expected to grow by an order of magnitude. By 2015, the Internet connected over eight billion devices around the globe—more than one per person; Cisco projects that by 2020 there will be 6.5 Internet-connected devices for every person on the planet (Evans, 2011). However, the locus of control over networks, devices, applications, content and data will determine the extent that Digital Craftspersonship will continue to thrive. As postulated by Sennet (2008), building creative solutions are an innate human characteristic; however, the integration of computers into everyday objects do not, by default, encourage this fundamental human drive. As this paper explicates, whether due to financial or political interests, centralised-by-design technological architectures are constraining innovation in ways that are harmful, not helpful. The framework we present serves to illustrate that the potential for constraint is not limited to specific actors, but that any actor within the interconnected technologies that supports networked communications technologies, can leverage control over one layer to exert control over the entire technology stack. This paper provides a conceptual model for understanding the Internet of Things as a network of mediated relationships in which the architectures and controls over the corresponding layers of networked systems directly impact the range of freedoms experienced by end users. Each layer offers great potential for innovation, but also concomitant risk when appropriated by centralised, proprietary systems.

Without regulatory constraints, ISPs will continue to leverage control over network infrastructure to explore new ways to monetise Internet traffic. By definition, these ISPs are constraining how an Internet connection can be utilised (as examples, acceptable use policies that ban home servers or stream video, or exempt a particular service offering from a data cap and discriminating against other functional equivalents). At the same time, the addition of computing technology within a coffeemaker does not guarantee new benefits for consumers, but instead is being used to restrict what types of coffee can be used (a sordid “function” that customers are then unknowingly having to pay for in the purchase price of this equipment). Historically, the Internet has been as a platform for permissionless innovation; this paper documents the increasing array of commercialisation tactics that fundamentally reshapes the innovative potential of computer mediated technologies to lock down, control and surveil everyday activities. Digital Craftspersonship is an ideal that can serve as a benchmarch for public policy decision making, especially for policy makers that want to promote the Internet as a platform for economic opportunity. Legislation and regulations that impact each layer of a technology stack should be evaluated to determine whether they increase or reduce the potential for craftspersonship. The establishment of network neutrality rules in the United States, and resistance to an application-restricted “Internet” in India, demonstrate positive steps forward for preserving network-layer craftpersonship. However, the use of copyright to shift the concept of “ownership” of everyday goods—from cars to coffeemakers—illustrates how companies are exerting control over goods in fundamentally new ways, necessitating updates to traditional consumer protections. Additionally, control of personal information continues to be a growing policy predicament.

If the agility and independence of any one technology layer is subsumed by dominant market players, the overall economic value of that layer will be dramatically decreased and future innovative potential will be likewise curtailed. A future that protects end-user innovation and the public good must take this into account, especially as we enter an Internet of Things era. This includes the ability to use and innovate without the permission of the network (Lessig, 2002), as well as preventing one layer from foreclosing on the generativity of another (Zittrain, 2008). The extent that corporate control is allowed to encroach upon the potential for Digital Craftspersonship will determine the parameters of “ownership” in the 21st Century. Entrepreneurs, policy makers and careful and critical observers must look beyond their surface-level understanding of technology and interrogate the technological underpinnings of contemporary and future digital technologies. The overarching positive and negative repercussions of technological innovations are increasingly not silo-ised, but can only be understood in relation to the larger digital ecosystem in which they reside. We provide a parsimonious framework for understanding how the politics within and amongst technological layers of networked systems change the relationship between users, owners and digital technology. This framework focuses on the relationship between users and the networked communications tools they utilise. And the future of Digital Craftspersonship will pit the liberatory potential of new technologies against corporate forces seeking to create feudalistic digital ecosystems; with the outcome determining whether we have the ability to innovate and tinker, or whether we will become digital serfs facing an ever-more-oppressive panoptic and data extractive networked world." (