On the Internet of Things: It’s Not the Dongle or the Data, It’s the Stories We Will Tell

Image via EU2013 author: PantherMedia/Scanpix
Image via EU2013 author: PantherMedia/Scanpix

The sensors aren’t what matter – it’s what we do with the data they collect.

That’s the observation of Mirko Presser, Head of the Research & Innovation Department at the Alexandra Institute, Denmark who will report to the ICT2013 event this November.

“The Internet of Things is a global network of information, connecting not only computers, but also qualitative environment monitoring systems, household appliances, and sensors. If managed smartly, such a system would not only help to conserve limited resources, but also increase the attractiveness and quality of life in cities,” M. Presser explains.

According to him, there are virtually no limitations for a greater integration of technology into the management of contemporary cities. The rapid development of science and IT technologies has ensured a sufficient number of environment-monitoring sensors and human-servicing solutions.

The problem lies elsewhere in that the huge amount of information that is being generated isn’t being analysed constantly and the decisions based on it are only made when specialists are dealing with a specific issue. For example, an analysis of public transportation passenger traffic is only performed when the management of the company which services the system isn’t satisfied with the financial results.

As IoT grows, we’re constrained by our ability to manage large data sets and make meaningful decisions.

Tipping IoT Into Revolution
But even behind the scenes I’m not sure that data and decision-making tips IoT into revolution – it might be amazing that we can reduce pollution or collect garbage more efficiently.

Because I can’t help thinking that what’s important is the ability to tell stories, for the Internet of Things to be about more than efficiency or faster decision-making. Without the capacity to tell stories we miss the opportunity to not just see things more efficiently, but to see things in an entirely new way.

Our focus today is on data, on quantification, on being able to measure how far I’ve run or how much traffic I’ve reduced downtown. But the true potential of IoT doesn’t lie in bolting new layers of efficiency on top of the industrial paradigm of yesterday, it lies in our ability to tell stories about the world around us because we have a new language and method for it to speak back.

What Are the Stories We’ll Be Able to Tell?
And even if we’re able to collect garbage more efficiently, it’s the tree in the forest paradox: it will only ever become truly real if someone tells a story about it, or comments to their neighbor, or explains to a City Councilor how a network of connected devices has changed the human stories we’re able to share about the world in which we live.

By all means, focus on figuring out how to extract the data and make better decisions: but think as well about the Internet of Things as a new architecture for community-based storytelling and find ways to visualize the world around us that increases our vocabulary for revolutionary change.

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