Tre is a decorative internet connected wooden device that can be configured to notify you about certain events taking place. In contrast to every other connected device in the world, Tre is not solving any problems or making life more efficient. It is simply designed as a charming interior ornament to be placed alongside other trinkets and things on a shelf or window still. Quietly, in the background, it will let you know that something has occurred.
For an example, you can connect it up to a service such as Swarm/Foursquare in order to alert you about your friends’ checks-ins. When nothing is happening, Tre will just look like a normal tree. But, if someone you know checks into a venue nearby, it will notify you by revealing its friendly face.
Together with Ugle, Tre continues our explorations of the “Internet of Ornaments”. Tre as a product is interesting in itself. However, Tre also takes part in our research into making visible the technological substrate of contemporary products.
As part of our research, Tre was primarily designed so as to be unpacked, to explore the world that lies behind its mere physical appearance and behaviour. We asked how might we trace, map and make visible the web of articulations and actors that compose a seemingly simple and naive product, and how may we visualise and draw attention to the unattended and invisible actors that afford the emergence of hybrid products?
The illustration above (drawn by Ingrid Rognstad) is a depiction of a tracing of the electric signal that makes Tre’s head pop up, all the way from the stepper motor to the originating touch of a mobile screen. The illustration traces the signal across the globe, along fibre optical cables at the ocean floor, through switches and routers, computer code, server parks in American wastelands, coaxial cables and via satellites looming beyond the ionosphere.
Jørn wrote a lengthy research article about it all, published in the International Journal of design. In the article he stops to investigate and discuss several of the nodes in this vast root system of technological devices and infrastructure and their relationships with such a friendly Internet-connected wooden object.
This "uprooting" – the act of tracing, investigation and illustrating – wrenches a product out of its soil, opening spaces which are often out of sight, revealing a world of partial connections between shifting sites, materials, technologies, cultures and practices.
In the book Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequence the sociologists Bowker and Star discuss such an undertaking as an "infrastructural inversion" that “[foregrounds] the truly backstage elements of work practice” (p. 380), and a practice that
“looks closely at technologies and arrangements that, by design and by habit, tend to fade into the woodwork (sometimes literally!)” (p. 34).
Through tracing and making visible various acting elements and connections amongst them, we may make this heterogeneous world of hybrids explicit, palpable and available to our senses, and generate reflection and new perspectives on the nature of hybrid products.