Designing for the Droplet water flow metre

We are heading for a global water crisis – and we know it. I’m not going to hammer the point home here, as there is a ton of background info out there about why it’s important to reduce unnecessary water usage, from rainy London’s counter-intuitive drought through massive subsidence in California from overuse of groundwater to the environmental and geopolitical challenges of the Middle East’s water shortages.

So, I’m working on a quantified self/ citizen science project with tech-for-social-impact company iilab alongside engineer Sam Carlisle to develop an open source water flow metre, Droplet, that allows users to easily monitor the amount of water coming out of their faucets and showers – and maybe even their loos – and, if they so desire, to share it with a community of similarly interested individuals to gather usage data and see how monitoring – and a device that interacts with you in real time – can change water usage.

We are particularly focussing on collecting shower data, as this is an area where most of us can easily reduce our water usage without compromising on hygiene. And we’re making the device open source so that people can hack it and come up with their own wonderously creative forms of feedback to the user in real time.

One of my favourite ideas for realtime feedback is a series of sardonic audio recordings triggered by specific levels of water usage. So, if you end up using a vast amount of water, you might end up hearing a depressive recording of Stevie Smith’s Not Waving But Drowning [you can hear a recording, along with a load of other great poems, here – though it’s not as depressive as I’d like for Droplet].

Anyway, here’s our first meeting working on Droplet – I’m taking the IT idea of a sandpit rather literally here 🙂 – making the most of the gorgeous spring weather.

Kat and Sam C courtyard






A call for a new language for interdisciplinarity

Why do we still need to fight for the idea of interdisciplinarity? I recently reported on the Wellcome Collection Hub and Reading Room renovation for CultureLab. These two new spaces mark a watershed for active interdisciplinary research and its dissemination into the wider community.

In my article, I juxapose this most contemporary enterprise with that of the Gaberbocchus Common Room, set up in 1957 by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson – a project that has been brought to public attention by an excellent exhibition at London-based gallery GV Art.

What is striking when you read the Common Room paraphinalia, is that the rhetoric its users applied to collaborations between disciplines is almost word-for-word the same as that which we use today in debates around the globe on the future of art and science collaborations. What’s also striking is that the misappropriated Two Cultures rhetoric, which often used as a justification of the division between the disciplines of science and arts (rather than the call to bridge the differences between science and literature as it was intended by CP Snow), is the one most commonly applied to these interdisciplinary endeavours. As I recently asked UCL Natural Sciences and BASc undergraduates and post-grads at my seminar on interdisciplinarity – the benefits of sharing knowledge from many disciplines on a common theme seem so obvious, it’s a wonder we have to so constantly justify it.

So why does a divisive paradigm persist? It’s something I have discussed widely and have come to the conclusion that it is perpetuated by 3 main factors:

1) Institutional structure
* physical boundaries get in the way of people meeting and exchanging knowledge* a lack of flexibility in demands on time, deliverables and top-down structures for courses and assessment hinder exploration of ideas

2) Funding models
* eligibility requirements can stymie good ideas
* bias towards institutions conferring legitimacy for applicants – in an era of portfolio careers, interdisciplinarity and start-ups this loses a lot of good people
* assessment criteria for the success of a project are usually outcome-oriented and fairly immediate. they often neglect value in information exchange, networking and longer-term delivery or inspiration

and most importantly:
3) An inadequate lexicon for interdisciplinary endeavours, and interdisciplinary researchers
By naming something we make it real to ourselves. But by naming we also tie something down into a generalisation that loses its uniqueness and nuance. Negotiating this problem is an issue in interdisciplinary research, for which there is no established language. It is time to develop a new language for interdisciplinarity – something that allows those practicing a multi-faceted approach to knowledge to name themselves and thus persist in the social consciousness. It’s something that Giles Lane recently had a stab at with his notion of Public Agent, but I think we maybe need to move beyond an amalgamation of existing words, to create a new description of people who seek to know the world in a multi- or interdisciplinary way – focussing on their way of knowing, not their means of production.

This perhaps would have helped the Themerson’s endeavour, and their own historical reputations too.

So, I’m going to kick off with a suggestion to get the conversation going. I think we need to keep familiar syllables to make a new word – but you can by all means disagree and go elsewhere with it.

How about: Netknower ?

OK, your turn.


Everything, all at once

Everything, all at once AKA The Multidisciplinary Manifesto

I recently had the marvellous opportunity to let loose and discuss the effect of multidisciplinarity on culture for TedX Albertopolis.You can read about my Multidisciplinary Manifesto on their blog, where I argue that emerging critical and intellectual engagement with open media is changing the way we think, act and interact with each other and the world around us.