A Network of One's Own

September 2017 - September 2022

phd, goldsmiths

This thesis is a design research practice-led inquiry into the domesticated Internet. It first seeks to complicate simplistic corporate and academic visions of the home by naming some of the struggles it encounters - not least to assert a private home and network of one's own. It is argued that a century of domestic technologies has emphasised invisibility, ubiquity, and automation in ways that obscure a network of exploited people and finite resources. Furthermore, these technological ambitions are met through machine surveillance, in ways newly enabled by the domesticated Internet, that threaten the privacy of the home.

In response, this thesis seeks some practical ways to design alternatives that assert a network of one's own and makes the work it implicates visible. The methodological approach is broadly Research Through Design supplemented by a practice described as designerly hacking through which hidden technical potential is revealed and given meaning. Two empirical studies are described that together make an account of the technical possibility and social reality of the networked home: an autobiographical technical exploration of the author's home and network with the making of hacks and Research Products privately and in public; and a cultural probe engagement with six rented households surfacing contemporary accounts of the domesticated Internet and in particular the challenges and opportunities of wireless networking. Together this yields a series of technical and social insights for design and two forms are offered to communicate these: a framework for understanding change in the networked home (The Stuff of Home) and a set of 30 design patterns for a network of one's own; each invites different analyses. The conclusion then draws together the multiple threads developed through this thesis and offers some reflection on the complexity of doing contemporary technical design work.

Supervisors: William Gaver (Design), Andy Boucher (Design) and Alex Wilkie (Design)