Word on the Web

The Internet of Things: The Virtuality of Physicality


The physical world around you is about to become more tech-savvy than ever before. Don’t let your newly-smart toaster/flowerpot/shoe outstrip you–join them!

It’s a little embarrassing to admit.

When Microsoft revealed its new Windows 10 yesterday, I hissed yesssss between my teeth. But not because of the return of the Start menu (though I’m PUMPED about that too, don’t get me wrong).

It was because I recognized a phrase in a reporting article’s title: “Microsoft Confirms Windows 10 for Internet of Things” (emphasis added).

Hopefully, you did too. Normally I would tell you don’t be alarmed if you didn’t. BUT… the physical world around you is about to become more tech-savvy than ever before. I’m not going to let your newly-smart toaster/flowerpot/shoe outstrip you!!

The first time I read the phrase “the Internet of Things” (surely in some tech blog post), my context-clue heuristic led me to believe it was simply a kitschy Web 2.0 way of saying “the nature of things.”

My first clue to my error was noticing (and I’m not even going to tell you how long it took) that the words are capitalized: Internet of Things.

It’s not a muti-word phrase or idiom. It’s actually a proper noun, but internet doesn’t exclusively refer to the World Wide Web. Instead, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, it refers to the network created when everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.

Kevin Ashton was one of many daring explorers eagerly roaming the turn-of-the-millennium Internet jungle. He writes that the neologism originated as the title of a presentation he made at Procter & Gamble in 1999, as it described his proposal to link radio frequency tags on inventory items within P&G’s supply chain to the company’s internet network.

That’s where the “of Things” comes in. The virtual network already occurs when physical items have built-in connectivity (sometimes called “smart” items, like air conditioning systems you can control with you smartphone). But now, items that don’t have built-in connectivity (P&G inventory; your backpack) are being connected to the Internet of Things using attachable devices.

Cue up-and-coming brand Estimote. About a month ago, Estimote released their newest product for developer use: little stickers called Nearables. When you stick a Nearable on an object, they can monitor location, motion and temperature data.

Nearables Stickers

They’re pretty dang cute too.

The beauty of these is that a whole slew of apps can be created around them. Estimote offers plenty of ideas themselves: Nearables that are posted next to paintings in a gallery could sense when you’re near them and send not only information about the pieces to your phone, but also give visitors a virtual, real-time map of the gallery. One of their even cooler proposed ideas suggested a smartphone alarm app that also scanned traffic patterns. If you asked it to wake you up at 8:00 and traffic is clear, then it’ll do just that. But if traffic is gridlock? If a Nearable sticker in your bedroom senses you’re still in bed (thus not on the road to beat the traffic & get to that important meeting on time), it’ll wake you up a few minutes earlier than normal.

In other words, connecting item to the Internet of Things through products like Nearables is about to make your life a whoooole lot easier.

So let’s get back to that first embarrassing error: I inferred “the Internet of things” to mean nothing else than “the nature of things,” the inherent qualities of way things are in the technology age.

Yet, in a sense, I wasn’t exactly wrong. Gartner forecasts that by 2020, the IoT will grow to 26 billion units, generating revenue exceeding $300 billion. All sorts of day-to-day tangible items, it seems, will be connected in a virtual network: the Internet of Things will be part of the nature of things.

While the term “Internet of Things” may seem a novel neologism now, it won’t be long until it is comfortably and completely integrated into the millennial lexicon regarding the pervasiveness of technology.

The Internet of Things will hugely impact hyperconnectivity, or the widespread and habitual use of devices that have Internet connectivity. The IoT isn’t just tech jargon: one day, nearly every object you touch (and don’t touch, like those sweet hiking boots that the display’s Nearable just told you were waaaay out of your price range) will be connected to a network. New interfaces like Windows 10, items like Nearables, and products on the horizon yet to be realized are all facilitating this in real time.

Some fear that too much information about our private life and surroundings is being transmitted via objects connected to the Internet of Things. Some laud this advancement as a spectacular upgrade of real-life objects to match the increasing pace of the virtually connected world.

Regardless of your opinion, you can now defend your position knowing the very real path technology is inevitably taking in the realm of physical objects, virtually connected.

But, in the meantime, please breezily laugh along and smile knowingly while watching Jeff Goldblum’s GE Link Spot ad, the “smartest smart home ad ever.” Go ahead and lol, ‘cause you’re in the know, millennials.


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