“It’s a home first and connected second.” — @bruces
“We’re looking for lean-forward living.” — @jasminatwitter
About a year ago, Jasmina Tesanovic and Bruce Sterling had a brilliant idea. All around, there was talk of a bright and shiny future: smart cities filled with quantified selves who lived in connected homes, got driven in autonomous cars and were supremely optimized for their digital workforce.
It all sounded terrible. Terribly inaccurate.
So instead of just speculating about what an alternative could be, Jasmina and Bruce decided to build one—by actually living in it.
Specifically, they wanted to make a connected home that was a home first and connected second.
They also knew that they wanted to invite others to build the home with them. Together, they and their guests could explore and experience what this space could be. So Jasmina and Bruce teamed up with Arduino to create Casa Jasmina, an open source connected home of the future.
Now on the way home from Torino to my quite unconnected Berlin apartment, I’d like to share some reflections from this amazing stay. My deepest gratitude to Jasmina, Bruce and the Arduino team for their read/write/participate hospitality!
Home is where the…
If you stay somewhere these days, you usually have two options of what kind of place to stay in: someone’s home or someone’s business.
In someone’s home, you want to be non-disruptive. You respect the host’s space, clean up after yourself, help with the dishes, etc. You ensure the host is happy by making your stay as complementary and comfortable as possible to their lives. You want to leave no trace.
On the other hand, if you stay in someone’s business, it’s a different logic. You are a customer. You expect an experience that matches the amount you paid for it. The host is responsible for that service. And after you are gone, they will reset the space and rent it to the next person.
What happens, however, when you stay in an open source home?
The rules as a guest—and as a host—have not been written yet. The relationship is being negotiated, as is the space itself. Norms get to be re-imagined and invented. That’s fun.
Jasmina and Bruce were amazing hosts in this regard. They said, “We don’t know what it will be like to stay here. Come and co-create it with us.“
As hosts, they took great care in setting up a space, in attending to their guests and welcoming us very warmly. They gave us some thoughtful context and guiding questions. They set the metaphorical table.
Then they let go.
What would we, the crazy first guests do? What could we do to help other guests participate as well? What could we do to help the hosts?
We realized contribution is at the heart of an open source home:
Normally, a good house guest leaves no trace. In Casa Jasmina, a good guest leaves a contribution.
Contributing to an open source home
What do you do if you want your guests to hack your house, even (or especially?) when you’re not around? What if you want them to stretch things, to re-arrange the furniture, to saw off the legs of the table? What can you do to signal that these interventions are welcome?
How do you design for participation in your home?
As the first guests in Casa Jasmina, we of course had to respect our hosts’ wishes. We had to leave a contribution. But what should that look like?
We ended up doing the following:
- Bringing housewarming gifts. Anytime you are hosted by someone, it’s nice to bring them something. Flowers, wine, etc. are always welcome. For Casa Jasmina, we brought Alex’s gorgeous Good Night Lamp. We also added to the home’s library with a copy of Open Design Now and The Alpine Review.
- Being active, thoughtful participants. If someone invites you over for dinner, then as a guest, you want to be fully engaged in the evening’s conversation. A good dinner guest mixes listening with sharing their own thoughts and experiences. This is what we tried to do at Casa Jasmina as well. Below is a snapshot of what we talked about. Like any good conversation, we meandered and interwove each other’s thoughts and stories. And afterward, we left with a head buzzing with ideas and a belly full of good food.
- Making things to help other guests. The other kind of contribution we made was to help others participate in the space. From writing a letter to the next guests to setting up an open workbench on Github and writing these blog posts, we wanted to do our part to help others get involved and feel welcome.
What we discussed
The loft-like Casa Jasmina was in fact pretty unconnected during our visit. There were a few smart objects in there, but mainly it was a gorgeous home in a renovated factory building decorated with well-curated net art, light lasercut furniture, and IKEA amenities.
I enjoyed that Casa Jasmina is low-fi right now. Over time, layers of connectivity will come. In the meantime, it’s actually the social norms and practices that get to be prototyped and iterated on.
In this way, I found our discussions to be among the most rewarding aspects of the stay. From the IoT Meet-up on the rooftop to the espresso/prosecco-fueled kitchen table chats, we opened up a lot of juicy questions:
- How can people have agency and control in their own home? What does connected privacy and literacy look like?
- How are the inevitable breaches of trust going to be resolved?
- Who is excluded in these processes and spaces? What can we do to make it more accessible and inclusive to them?
- What should we not build?
- What is the unique value of openness?
- How do you design for participation in a connected environment?
- How can we catalog objects in a connected home to learn more about them, to know where they are and to understand their usage?
- How can the space be personalized? How can we integrate heritage gracefully?
- How can Casa Jasmina be a template for other open source connected homes? How do we honor and understand the limits/opportunities of building in one particular place, while opening it up for more homes that represents their place and inhabitants?
The scrum board
There are many ways to contribute to Casa Jasmina, whether you are staying there as a guest, are a resident maker and thinker of Torino, or a compelled individual from anywhere on the globe.
To facilitate that, I set up a Github repository with a scrum board as a modest step towards having an open, shared workbench for the home.
By publicly logging what happens in Casa Jasmina, what is built, and who contributed to it, as well as inviting everyone to join in, you have the ability to “view source” on the home, even if you aren’t physically present.
You can also contribute to it, while you are there or not, by adding files and projects to the repository and by creating and commenting on issues.
The Github page explains in more detail how the scrum board works and why we’re trying it out. Have a look and add your thoughts!
A huge thank you to Jasmina and Bruce for their kind hospitality and truly inspiring project. We are so grateful to be a part of it.
Grazie mille to the whole team especially also Lorenzo and Davide for hosting us and making us feel so welcome.
We hope to come back in a year and live with what got built.