Disobedient objects

This week we learned of the Disobedient Electronics movement, founded by Garnet Hertz.

From my understanding, a disobedient object is one that is designed as a reimagining of an established and familiar form, and is reimagined to disrupt the established order, both of the original form and more widely. A disobedient object is a tweak. A hijacking. A disobedient object is silly and serious.

For examples, check out:


A disobedient object helps to illuminate the negative space of the context it refers. Pedro G. C. Olivera and Xuedi Chen’s “Router” is an wearable router that can activate and offline network to allow for “localized communication… in cellular blackouts” while “Drive” allows users to upload photos to a personal cloud to allow for storage even if a device is stolen.

These are devices for protests and help to reveal and disrupt the power relations in our use of the internet. http://www.backslash.cc/

As a thought experiment we constructed an idea of our own disobedient object. Mine and Jakob’s starting point were the identity cards we use to access university buildings.

[Notes on] History

The most concrete root of this object we could think of was in the architecture of older universities such as Oxford and Cambridge where each college has a portal where a warden sits and gatekeeps for the university. Entrance into the University grounds would be added to a logbook and recorded, a process that recurs now, digitally and more developed…

[Notes on] Technical

The device requires a sensor and a receiver on doors that are allocated as requiring a card to access. Across the university each sensor and receiver needs to be from the same company. Goldsmiths is HID global. Each tap on a sensor is an input into a database of information about each individual in the university. The time of input is databased. Whoever controls the database could check the movements of a group of students who fall into a category, likely connected to immigration of politics, and then track this group.

E.g. red flag for a group of students with X status, meeting together

[Notes on] Discursive

From Seos HID’s Website
  • Trusted access, for the right people at the right times
  • Safe environments for employees, visitors and contractors
  • User convenience and workflow optimization through integrated, mobile solutions
  • Increased visibility, with real-time monitoring and cost-control functions
  • Investment protection via scalable, forward-looking solutions
  • Peace of mind, with expert, personalized concept-to-implementation support

“identity” [belonging]

“safety” [gatekeeping]

“security” [othering]

[Notes on] Social

The web of impacts this process has is immense. This is the process of gatekeeping, of knowledge, of opportunities of facilities. It is the process of othering…

[Notes on] Disobedience

How could we hijack this design? Could we reverse the power relations between those who lock, those who have the key, and those who are locked [out]?

Jakob liked the idea of creating a scrambler that would allow access into the building but block the tracing of the user.

We both agreed we’d like to add some randomness this process, try to break its functionality.

I suggested we build versions of this system that can be installed quickly. Start by taking the device to the office of someones who act wrongly, attach it to the door, lock them in. Then, have the lock controlled via remote. Tell the office they’re stuck, stop their functioning. Then show them your livestream of the dog you have in another office. The dog has a card around its neck and could hit the sensor that would open the door but who knows what it’ll do