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 the 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