Six Monkeys: Physical interactions with email through Internet connected objects #IOT


Thanks to Brendan for sending in his awesome project. Read more on his blog here.

Six Monkeys – commissioned by Mailchimp – explores our interactions with email through physical Internet connected objects.

Email is often thought of with negative connotations; overflowing inboxes, strategies on how to get to inbox zero, dealing with the constant barrage of spam whilst each week seemingly giving raise to a new start-up that will promise to tame the evils of email.

There is however another side. Email is a ubiquitous, easy to understand system, working across any platform that can deliver not just the unwanted and the unloved but often the exact opposite; messages from friends, exciting opportunities, memories of trips taken and a million other things. It may not be perfect, but what is? It’s flawed yet it’s also beautiful.

Six Monkeys is a series of six connected objects that look at how we might change our relationship to email by changing the surrounding context of how we interact with it. By placing email within our everyday physical spaces it may get us to look at the familiarity of email in a new light; we may even learn to love it again.

Each object is named after a famous Chimpanzee used in linguistic research.

The first object is called Lucy:

Lucy responds to commands sent via email. Email Lucy with the subject “blink” and a colour in the body of the message and she will blink that colour. Set the subject to static and she’ll stay at whatever colour you specify, either through a keyword or using RGB values.

Anything that can send email can talk with Lucy. This is email as an API, without having to write a specific API. Have a device or a service that can send email? Then it can automatically talk with Lucy. In our research we hooked it up to ifttt.com, without having to create any kind of specific channel, and had it telling us changes in the weather, sending us alerts to remind us about important appointments and anything else we could think of.


Why can’t we turn email off and on as easy as other appliances in our house? Nim places such a switch for your email next to a regular light switch so when you feel like switching off for the weekend, just flick the switch and email will be prevented from coming through the network across all your devices. By changing the context of how we turn email off and on we might better manage our relationship to it, easily able to switch off whenever we feel like it.


Emails are often a container for our memories. Like physical souvenirs they remind us of wonderful times spent with family and friends yet unlike souvenirs they don’t exist in the physical space so we can’t easily bump into them like you can when rummaging through a box of things.

Lana transforms these emails into a literal physical form, that sits alongside and amongst other physical souvenirs. Disturb Lana by moving her and sometime later that day Lana will send you an email with those memories; connecting analog to digital. This is email as physical artefact.

See more objects here.

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