Matthew Bruce Team : Web Production Tags : Technology Mobile Web Rants Featured

The internet of things too far?

Matthew Bruce Team : Web Production Tags : Technology Mobile Web Rants Featured

You've heard the catch-phrase. Some people may remember 2014 as being all about 'the internet of things'... devices that can operate and communicate with us over the internet, provide data and supply information. Barely twelve months on, the buzz has died down and while most people have either sensibly absorbed the knowledge that things are becoming more connected, some are still frantically running around trying to find something and anything to stick an RJ45 into. Something that nobody else has yet thought of, since after all, the internet of things is fairly new! Today I came across a beauty.

Introducing the HidrateMe smart water bottle. FMD, who would have even thought? I mean, most people who attempt to mix water and electricity are no longer with us (having picked up a Darwin award on their way out). But somehow the geniuses behind HidrateMe have not only managed to get a water bottle connected, they have also convinced at least 8,015 backers (as of the time of writing this) that it's also a great idea... and raised over $600,000 on KickStarter.

I really don't know where to start with this one. For one, I really do congratulate the minds behind this product for the fantastic marketing and promotion. Regardless of how useful a smartphone connected water-bottle could actually be, the sell job seems to have worked well. They've designed a nice looking water bottle (even if it was just a 'normal' bottle I'm sure it could sell) and they've got the capital they need - yay for KickStarter. And the app developed to tell you how much water you've got left, from the screen shots at least, looks pretty flash.

But I just can't get my head around how this particular device is really helping anyone. Or how it's really helping the idea of the 'internet of things'. Sure, it might be a fad and run its course for a few years, and the entrepreneurs responsible will move on to bigger and better things, having learned heaps from the experience of starting up their own company or venture. I hope so... because if we are hurtling towards a not-to-distant-future where even your water bottle needs to be synced with your smartphone, heaven help us all.

This 'Internet of things' is becoming more like Skynet... infiltrating every aspect of your life... every object you've laid your grubby hands on.

I'm pretty sure that those in the IT industry who are driving the Internet of things don't just see a future where everything is Bluetooth or NFC enabled simply because they 'can' be. We should not forget that technology is supposed to help, inform or entertain us, not hinder us or make our lives unnecessarily complicated. Which makes me wonder, if water bottles are being granted individual IP addresses, then what next? Your stapler flashing when it's nearly empty... Your coffee mug sending a notification when the temperature of your soy latte drops to less than desirable. A beach towel that can tell you when the sun is out? You might argue that all these things could be useful in the right context (I staple documents every day, mate!) but I'll say it how I see it. This increase of 'online things' is gonna add up to be a right royal PITA. And if you staple things every day, then you should keep a good supply of staples, not invest in a smart-stapler.

Are we complicating our lives unnecessarily by hooking everything up to the interweb? This 'Internet of things' is becoming more like Skynet... infiltrating every aspect of your life... every object you've laid your grubby hands on. I also suspect it's going to result in a number of undesirable consequences, not least:

  • The dumbing down of society
  • Decreased attention span / increased distraction
  • Less sociability
  • Reliance on technology
  • A stupid amount of bandwidth being absorbed for dumb ideas (sorry, now 'smart things')

When my phone buzzes, it agitates me. It used to only buzz when somebody was calling me. Then it started to vibrate for SMS, then chat. Now I get notified of fucking everything... 10 times per day when apps are updating, every three seconds when an email comes in, a dozen times a day when a friend likes something I did, or invited me to join their new Facebook group and sign their GetUp petition calling for "Land Rights for Gay Whales". I am continually disabling various alerts and turning off apps. The constant distractions and ever growing list of notifications means I just don't even bother reading them any more. I simply turn my phone on and 'clear' the whole lot without paying attention to any of it. Because 99% of it is really important, and what might interest me gets lost, and then I don't really care because at the end of the day there's so much to care about, you can't care about everything at once because you feel like your brain would fry. Therefore, the idea of connecting more things, each with another app that requires installing and tweaking and 'permissions' to be agreed to (which nobody ever reads, though everybody should)... things that are going to agitate me even more... is about as appealing as food poisoning.

The point is, we need to draw a line on the smart-board, where only those ideas judged as having actual merit, may cross. I don't need a smart stapler because when I run out of staples, I'll know about it immediately. And the possibility that I'll actually be 'saved' by a notification to my phone telling me I'm down to my last five staples, ever in my life, is less than zero. If my coffee mug is syncing temperatures to my phone and things start flashing 'cold', then it's probably because I didn't want to finish my coffee anyway. Maybe there is some value in 'big data' accessing the statistics from millions of coffee mugs around the world, I just haven't thought of it yet. But do I care enough to get a smart mug? Not ever. The complication and distraction the technology would add to my life is not worth the trade-off of information benefit.

I can't wait for the day when the owner of a HidrateMe ends up in hospital from dehydration. They forget to charge their phone and the battery dies, so they sues the company because they weren't notified of when to drink water. Most of the time I drink water when I'm thirsty, but perhaps this is inefficient. Most likely it's the beginning of natural selection to eliminate the weak. Humans becoming so reliant on smart toilet technology, they forget to shit or something. Such first world problems. Perhaps people in struggling under-developed nations will revel in the irony that despite living in unsanitary conditions where villages don't even have running water, they still live longer because they can't afford the NBN or a smart phone. Ahhh good on 'em.

I apologise, because I do have a tendency to rant. But I wonder where we will be in years to come. The Internet is a different beast now than it was when it first became mainstream 10-15 years ago. And we are better for it, without doubt. I'm sure we will continue largely on an upward tradjectory, but it would be nice to see a future in another 10 or 15 years, where we aren't so busy responding to technology and checking our portable smart-whatevers, that we forget to live, and lose common sense. A future where people can still get by without their water bottle telling them that they are thirsty. Failing that, perhaps a future where my schooner glass can sense my thirst and order the next round without me having to leave the table.