The Internet of Things is a funny idea to me. It’s been a funny idea since I first heard of it, something like ten years ago. It was a funny idea, ten years before that, when people first started talking about the components of it. When I was nine years old, I read an article in PC Format, a videogame magazine, about the coming future when your fridge would be on the internet and you could turn on the heater when you were making your way home, using a phone you could carry, in your hand, that could use the internet.
Twice in my lifetime, I’ve seen people talk about things that would stop the Internet of Things in its tracks. The first was IPv4 Exhaustion, which we solved by upgrading to IPv6. The second was Spectrum Crunch, which was solved as a simple pragmatic issue. Slowly, our infrastructure grows.
It’s quite eerie to watch in the lectures, a video that … doesn’t seem to show anything different to what we were talking about twenty years ago. The man has a microwave and a fridge and a vacuum cleaner. I suppose that the cleaner moves on its own is a genuinely different thing.
The video strikes me as strange, though.
It strikes me as strange because the guy drives his car.
The world shown in that video isn’t futuristic. It isn’t even all that remarkable. Everything shown in the video, give or take, already exists. Why don’t we have this stuff already? If we’ve been talking about the Internet of Things for twenty years and using a buzzword for it for fifteen, why is it so far away? Why do we still talk about it in terms of twenty years away?
Part of it is, I think, infrastructural. The Internet of Things is spoken of as if it’s a big shift, as if it’s some kind of revolutionary shift between people and objects, but it’s more of a growth. It’s this inevitable outcropping of the widespread adoption and acceptance of digital devices in the living spaces of a significant percentage of the world’s more privileged half.
I typically grow a bit embittered about these conversations. We’re talking about digital hardware revolutionising the world, which is wonderful and all but there are about a fifth of the world – over a billion people – who don’t even have electricity. This is ultimately tech toys for the top percentage of world consumers in the wealthiest nations. There’s the rub, I think.
When we say will change the world we mean will change our space in the world. Will change our interaction with our immediate world. That we say this changes the world shows us how the distributed network worldview shrinks the world for us.
It lets us cultivate a space around us that we think is larger than it is.
It will, probably change the whole world.