The Internet of Things Should Connect People


For those readers who aren’t techies, the “Internet of Things” is  a phenomenon I first read about in Bruce Sterling’s book Shaping Things. The Internet of Things (IoT) refers, in it’s simplest definition, to physical products connected to the internet. You’ve already heard of some of them, like the refrigerator that sends a text message to my phone telling me I’m out of milk.

A smart fridge may be a decent start, but I think that IoT can be so much more. Some say that the IoT should be set up so that things talk to each other to coordinate their activities. My alarm clock talks to my hot water heater and my coffee pot so that things are ready for me in the morning. This communication between things may make my life easier and could help me optimize my home energy usage. And the data from my things could be delivered to product firms so they can use it to…I don’t know…make my life easier, and maybe sell me more stuff.

Wait, do I need more stuff that merely makes the small tasks of my life easier? Is that what this manufacturing revolution is mainly going to be used for? I hope not. We have an opportunity: I’m convinced that small batch manufacturing and customization that today’s desktop manufacturing affords can be used to improve our lives in ways that we may not anticipate. But how? I propose that we use IoT to make things that connect people. If the promise of the internet was to connect small groups of people to create or exchange value (etsy is a great example), then the IoT can follow suit, and I think it should. What if our things helped us find other people we share goals with? What if our things had these sharing mechanisms built right into them?

How might you use this technology to connect people?

Image: Chris Ware’s cover for The New Yorker, January 2014

Related reading:

“I will live until I die.”

In April of 1996 my mother was operated on for a recurrence of breast cancer that had metastasized to her bones. In the OR, they cut her open, took a look around, and closed her back up. The cancer was everywhere.

In the recovery room, her doctor looking down at her chart told her she had six months to live. My mother grabbed the clipboard from his hands, took a lipstick out of her purse, and wrote in large bright red letters, “I will live until I die.”

Combining Ideas


Sometimes when I’m done with a big project, it’s hard to figure out what to do next. This is a good time to just mess around with little ideas. On the materials side, I’ve been collecting scrap leather from local shoemakers. I love how it feels and smells. And on the problem side, I’ve been teased by more than one friend about how I obsessively wrap cables with wire. So today I combined the two – the tactile deliciousness of leather with the function (or OCD behavior) of keeping cables tidy. Some cute prototypes above and more here.