THE ANTHROPOCENE SLAM: A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES NOVEMBER 8-10

WISCONSIN INSTITUTES FOR DISCOVERY DELUCA FORUM MADISON

ROOM THERMOSTAT

photo of a round thermostat

The everyday experience of a device is followed by its invisibility. It becomes self-evident, descends into routines and habits while taking on an "unconscious" quality. In this way, technology is entering our lives more and more invasively. We have long ceased to be the sovereign human subjects that simply control technical objects; the devices use us as well. Together, we form symbiotic units of a shared human-technological condition.

The thermostat is one example of such a conventional and "calm" technology.1 The device is an essential part of any household, yet it is working almost invisibly. From the functional point it serves a simple purpose - regulating the setpoint for a room's temperature. From an epistemological perspective, the thermostat illustrates in an exemplary manner a persistently self-optimizing system driven by pattern recognition and feedback loops. Therefore, the machine becomes an agent that interacts with its human environment.

Is this new maturity of technology, one could therefore ask, also producing new forms of human existence in the long run?

If humans, nature, culture, and technology coalesce in the course of the Anthropocene, the question arises as to which tools both enable and operate such a symbiosis. Considering a thermostat an "anthropocenic" device, it becomes apparent that the complex connections between technology, practices, materiality, and epistemologies shape us and our lives every day. However, we do not always recognize them.

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