The Internet of (No)things

Tuesday, February 10 2015


Asset light lifestyleMany historical firsts are nigh on impossible to pinpoint. Who lit the first fire? Who invented the first wheel? Nobody really knows.

More recently though, technological milestones have been well documented. We know who sent the first text message via SMS or the first email and have a pretty good idea about who took the first digital photograph.

2015 will be another year of firsts. Firsts that could potentially lead to seconds, thirds, millions, billions and more. Back in the 1960’s. who could have predicted that Leonard Kleinrock’s first email would have cascaded into an avalanche of 190 billion per day by 2014?

The Internet of Things is on everyone’s lips and as sensor proliferation goes exponential we can only really begin to speculate what it might mean for us and our daily routine. As the race to find the technological holy grail rolls on and we’re empowered with more innovation than ever, I’d like to suggest that at the same time, the Internet of Things will create a world with less, much less in fact.

Anywhereization has given us a lot but has also created ‘The Age of Nothing’, or to put it another way, an asset-free lifestyle. As we collectively dispose of our cherished VHS cassettes, CDs and DVDs in favour of online repositories, full to the gunwales with always-available content, we should perhaps contemplate what else Anywhereization might actually remove from everyday life.

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google surprised many recently when he suggested that in the not-so-distant future, the web as we know it will disappear as the IoT creates an omnipresent, ever-connected world of connected things (and beings). We should, however, be cautious not to confuse the web with the Internet backbone – the great enabler of it all. At the end of the day, ‘nothing’ needs a network and a very big one at that.

You can’t make something from nothing as the old adage goes. Or can you? This mêlée of photons and electrons, which depending upon your scientific point of view is effectively nothing, has created an enormous amount of value. It has redefined our economy. As the network of nothing gets bigger and its value increases exponentially we should probably ask ourselves some serious questions about the effects it will have on the tangible, blood, sweat and tears economy that fuels our world. An asset-free lifestyle reduces the need for physical media and as we begin to print consumer goods at home, how will this affect traditional industries? Will we experience a ‘digital recession’ driven by connectivity (or are we, perhaps, already in the midst of one)?

It is remarkable how quickly technology changes behavior and even more remarkable how our collective skepticism about the future endures. You don’t have to look back very far to a time when disbelief would have met any suggestion that streamed music was soon to become the norm.

Consider, then, a future where vehicles talk to each other and indeed everything else around them. We won’t be needing speed limits or indeed drivers for that matter anymore.

Some argue that the Internet is taking away more than just our physical assets, our record collections and the like. Comments such as ‘people just don’t talk to each other anymore’ or an abundance of claims that the Internet is turning us into a generation of sociopaths lead many to believe that, paradoxically, connectivity is taking away the most basic of human needs; face-to face social engagement, our personalities, our souls even.

I would argue that in reality, the hyper-connected world it is actually making us more sociable and allowing us to interact more than we realize. We know a lot more about each other (good and bad) and there isn’t much that can stop us finding a kindred spirit, wherever and whenever that may be.

Ok, so we might exchange fewer glances on the bus, but while we are looking into our smartphones or tablets, we are actually gazing out through a window of billions. Is it unreasonable therefore to suggest that, with connectivity assured, nothing is really everything?