The Problem With The 'Internet Of Things' Is That Your Stuff May Start Talking At You
A couple of enterprising British teens have developed a tweeting plant. Developed in the Ellesmere Port location of one of the many Fab Labs that encourage such work, the technology is less dazzling than the creative application. Essentially, a sensor in the soil of the houseplant works with a programmable chip to determine when the moisture level is too low. The array then sends a direct message tweet to you that the plant needs watering.
You can see how this could get out of hand pretty quickly. Imagine if all of the objects in your life developed a digital voice and identity of their own…and they all started sending in demands.
But what if my pets get one? A sensor on a dog collar could tell me when he or she is circling in a familiar “take me out” pattern. Suddenly my Check Engine light could go portable and become something I am forced to ignore in my Twitter feed now. Will my garden alert me to optimal conditions for planting, sort of like a fertility monitor for vegetables? Will my thermostat, gas, water or power meters send warnings of usage spikes, inefficiencies that need tending? Is the refrigerator going to become a regular correspondent, synchronizing with my smartphone to know when I am approaching a grocery store at just the point when I need more milk?
For the obsessively conscientious, this could be a perfect world. For me, who loathes the routines of upkeep for my material possessions, this is closer to a nightmare scenario. The problem with the Internet of Things is that objects get voices -- even faux personalities. One of the weird cultural fantasies around mechanization has been personalizing the machine. From the sci-fi boom of the 1930s, Asimov’s I-Robot, Clarke’s Hal 9000, C3PO all the way to Siri, we desperately yearn to make our automatons human. The Internet of Things is offering yet another even more irritating extension of this idea. Hasn’t the culture of consumption gone far enough in rationalizing our own acquisitiveness, material gain, even greed? Do we need the stuff we so cravenly collect to grow human qualities?
I have enough of a flow of needs coming into my text box from wife and daughter. “Did you remember… (fill in here).” “Dad, time to get next semester’s books.” “My WiFi isn’t working. Get down here and fix it!” I have sensors. It is called a family.