About, oh, 15 years ago the more forward thinking and geeky among us started putting the pieces together. What if you could combine wireless networking, low power, cellular technology, and basic information in a really durable and cheap way? Something like a tag that could be sewn into clothing, become part of the structure of an oven, carried with you in a completely unobtrusive way. It would be like those transponders in science fiction, but better because it would create this really intelligent network where everything would work better.
Personally I had this idea where my wi-fi wouldn’t go out because someone called my cordless phone or someone made microwave popcorn, because all those devices would communicate with each other so they could share bandwidth. I had this idea where finding my keys would be as easy as finding a hotel in the Florida Keys (see what I did there?), where I would know for sure that I hadn’t left the oven on even though I was in the office. Most of all I had this idea that all this cool stuff would happen and it really wouldn’t cost a lot more.
And then this weird thing happened… it all came true. For years now you’ve been able to buy internet-enabled appliances. You can put GPS trackers on anything and everything. You can put little Bluetooth tags on everything so that if you’re within 50 feet of it (or if it’s within 50 feet of Wi-Fi) you can find it. I can program my thermostat from the car, I can take the program I’m watching on my phone without missing a beat. I can program my light bulbs to be any color I want. I can stick a tracker on a friend (or enemy’s) car or simply configure their phone to tell me where they are.
Except for the most part I don’t do those things. I could, I have a lot of the hardware, I just don’t. If I’m cold, I get up and change the temperature. I still dig around for my keys in the couch cushions because I’m pretty sure they’re in there. I look at the oven before I leave. Is it habit, or is it that the “internet of things” just isn’t as interesting as I thought?
I do believe there’s some benefit to networking a lot of your stuff. If it’s a programmable thing, like a microwave or whatever, it probably is going to need a firmware update at some point. Stuff just isn’t tested like it used to be. I do keep the “find my phone” software running and I hope you do too. I even microchipped my pet, although I don’t have any tracking on her. It’s a natural outgrowth of the overall growth in tech that pretty much everything is smarter. But I’m beginning to think that connecting everything in your home from the rafters to the sidewalk isn’t going to happen, and it’s because there isn’t enough of a need for it.
In fact, I do use a bluetooth-enabled key fob and I have been glad I did. I applaud people who put in some of those first generation IoT systems and are finding a way to make it work. If the goal is to have fun, to do it as a hobby, that works for me.
I think that the internet of things may happen when it’s so cheap that it happens by itself for no cost. When a wireless-enabled water sensor is so cheap that it can be put in every beam in the house, then new houses will tell you when there’s a leak in the roof. When every ball cap comes with a sticker that lets you figure out where you left it, then I’ll never lose another one. What I’m saying is that yes, the internet of things is going to come, but it’s not going to be a retrofit onto our current stuff. It’s going to take a lot longer because even in our upgrade-happy world, there’s a lot of stuff we just don’t change out as often. It’s also going to take a while for use to find new and interesting benefits for this stuff. I mean, I never bought the idea of an internet enabled washing machine when maybe a cheap timer is all I need. Maybe someone will figure out a good reason to add internet to my washing machine… sometime in the future. Then maybe I’ll buy one.