In the past few months I have become really excited about the internet of things. There are a lot of different definitions of what that is, but the way I interpret it is as ‘objects that are integrated with the internet‘. I say integrated rather than merely connected. Computers and phones are connected to the internet, but that’s not what this is about. Seamless integration is key.
The Nest Thermostat, which you might have heard of, is an example, and so is Apple’s Find my Friends app. But both of those are borderline regular internet applications. The Good Night Lamp or the TapTap wristband are much better examples.
The Good Night Lamp is a table lamp that is connected to smaller satellite lamps. When you turn on or off the big lamp, the smaller lamps — wherever they are in the world — follow suit. This creates an emotional connection between people that are physically separated, and it can be very useful to communicate a simple message. Image an elderly parent that lives alone, each time his or her lamp turns on or off whoever has one of their small lamps knows that they are OK.
The TapTap wristband is a set of bracelets that communicate with each other through taps and vibrations. Maybe you just want to let someone know that you are thinking of them, remind them of something or let them know you arrived in the parking lot and are ready to pick them up. Whatever it is, it’s easy, simple and between you and the person wearing the other bracelet.
The idea behind both of these devices is that the internet needs to get out of the way of our communication. Neither relay a message that you couldn’t communicate with your phone or computer, but the way it’s done removes so much friction it fundamentally changes the experience. What I like best about these two examples is that using them is an almost entirely analog affair. Another great example is an (experimental) apron that uses a magnetic clasp to alert all members of the family that someone started preparing dinner and then lets them know dinner is ready when the clasp is opened. I admit, this stuff is very new and most of these early implementations will probably never go beyond the early adopter stage. But eventually that will change and pretty soon we’ll use products and services that rely heavily on their connection to the internet without feeling like high tech digital devices.
Who knows, maybe we’ll spend less time staring at our screens. That won’t happen if it means giving up the conveniences and habits that we’ve grown accustomed to. But it might happen if we can get access to those conveniences through a different medium. Of course, there are privacy concerns to deal with. And maybe some existential questions need to be answered about how much we want to rely on connectivity and the internet to simply lead our lives. But those are topics for another time.