the future,” says the futurist, “everything will be connected to everything
is the kind of sweeping statement that leaves the audience awestruck.
Imagine – everything will be connected to everything else!
But as the rapt listener gropes for implications, the futurist moves on
to other generalities about what technology holds in store for us.
Timing is everything -- since no one has any idea what all those
connections will mean, the experienced futurist knows that it is best to move on
to another topic.
course, connecting things to the Internet will be easy and incredibly cheap.
A simple chip with built-in wireless connectivity, and costing perhaps a
few cents, will enable anything to connect to the world through the Internet.
Engineers are working on such chips now, and there’s little doubt it
will happen. But, I ask myself –
what does it mean?
futurist drones on with other predictions, but I’ve tuned out, caught up in
the fantasy of a world of connected things.
I think of the appliances in my house, and wonder if they want to connect
to the Internet. And, if so, what
they would say.
my toaster would have its own web page. Maybe
all toasters come with personal web pages.
There would be a cute picture of my toaster, a little biography, pictures
of recent successful toast, and maybe a summary of recent activities, along with
tips that it has learned about good toasting.
Best toast practices, as it were.
I think – who is going to visit this homepage?
No one is going to be interested in my toaster.
Not even me. Then it dawns on me – other toasters! Other toasters might be looking for tips on how to produce
better toast. Or perhaps, stuck in
dead-end jobs themselves, they might be looking for suitable positions.
I can imagine getting email the next morning from some strange toaster
which, having observed the faltering performance of my own toaster, is extolling
its own virtues and applying for the position
drier would probably like to chat with my washer, getting warnings about
oncoming loads of wash. Of course,
it would be regularly in touch with its manufacturer, getting the latest
downloads of drying software, and reporting on its own condition.
The drier and its designers would be continually looking for new
responsibilities in order to maintain their place in my house.
I imagine the doorbell ringing, and it’s FedEx with the new clothes
ordered by my observant drier, cleverly bought at auction on the net.
My closet is jealous, since it feels this is its responsibility, and has
ceased talking to the drier. Worse,
I discover that, in spite, the closet has donated my clothes to charity.
refrigerator would monitor supplies, and order new staples when necessary.
Occasionally it would refuse to open at certain hours of the day, having
talked to my bathroom scales, the latest web-enabled model from Tattletale, Inc.
I would undoubtedly fear the “this program has performed an illegal
operation” message on the refrigerator door just when I need a quick snack.
I also imagine that it would be necessary occasionally to reboot the
refrigerator. Although I would be sorely tempted to pull the plug on this
supercilious beast, there would be a warning label on the power cord – similar
to that on pillows and blankets – stating that federal law prohibits its
the notion of six degrees of separation also applies to things.
My washer talks to my drier, which in turn talks the stove, which talks
to the microwave, which talks to the refrigerator, which talks to the local
supermarket, which talks to my neighbor’s refrigerator, etc.
The doorknob incorporates face recognition, talks to the thermostat, and
reports on all visits. (“He’s
back!” broadcasts the doorknob to the rest of the house.)
The neighbor’s doorknob warns mine of impending visits by salespeople.
The newest doorknob models have incorporated all the functions of the
butler. The old sayings that “the
walls have ears” and “if these walls could talk” have become the
disturbing reality. The world is
filled with all-knowing, all-reporting things
net hums with thing-talk. “I’m
ok, I’m ok, I’m ok,” echo the speeding photons.
Terabits rush by with their urgent messages, saying “Nothing to report,
nothing to report.” Millions of
VCRs fill the fibers with their updates. "12:00pm,
12:00pm, 12:00pm,” they repeat. “Mayday, Mayday!” dribbles an anonymous and pathetic
thing-voice. “Xxy#&,” is
the muffled cry of a dying light bulb. A
stove hums a midi tune to “Baby, Won’t you Light my Fire.”
I can’t get on the phone, because my microwave is hogging the line.
The Internet backbones are jammed with traffic, and no one has any idea
anymore of where it is all coming from. There
are so many things, so many bits, and there is so little to say.
car reports to the local gas station in the evening when it is low on gas, so
that it can be filled at night and ready for me in the morning.
I like this service, but my car is no longer the friend I once knew.
If I exceed the speed limit, it reports me, and if I try to park
illegally, it refuses to turn off or to let me open the door.
With integrated GPS, it continually reports my position. I want to disengage these features, but the car comes with a
shrink-wrap agreement whose legalese implies that the purchaser has only
licensed its capabilities without any true ownership. The car now owes its primary allegiance to the new
mega-company, Motorsoft. I study
the car in the quiet darkness of the garage, trying fruitlessly to discern its
vulnerabilities. I feel surrounded
by enemies and traitors.
fantasy has turned dark, and I’m back to the speech I am hearing about the
future. I’m no longer sure that
this “everything is connected to everything else” is really a good idea.
Maybe things should just be mute. Maybe
they should just be, well, things.
will be a billion people connected to the Internet,” says the futurist.
you’re talking, I think happily.