Internet of Things: Saving Us From Distraction

The Internet of Things will bring us back to reality. Instead of isolation and disconnection, we’ll be connected again, we’ll be more physical, more tactile. Without it, smart phones and mobile devices may just kill us and destroy public life.

Urban theorist Malcolm McCullough says we can’t stop our love affair with our devices. But he proposes that we need a new era of information environmentalism…an Ambient Commons to refresh the concept of the public square for a new digital distracted world.

The evidence of distraction is staggering. People are falling onto railway platforms while they text, pedestrians are being ticketed for dangerous walking, and people are so distracted by their cell phones that they miss the fact that there’s a guy with a gun sitting next to them on the train.

As McCullough says, we live in a world where we’re “enclosed in cars, often in headphones, seldom in places where encounters are left to chance, often opting out of face-to-face meetings, and ever pursuing and being pursued by designed experiences, post-modern post urban city dwellers don’t become dulled into retreat from public life; they grow up that way. The challenge is to reconnect.”

The Promise and Peril of Technology
The media that’s supposed to be social makes us less so. Or maybe it makes us social in a different way – maintaining loose ties to people who don’t live around the corner and aren’t close enough friends to phone every few weeks.

Games can be tools for learning, they can be fun, they can be entertaining…or they can be addictive sinkholes into which we lose our lives.

It’s hard to think of a technology that doesn’t have a dark side. Sensors in the world around us can place us center stage in a surveillance state, or they can make it easier to get to work by nudging us around the traffic jam that we didn’t even know was there.

Getting Touchy with the Internet of Things

The Tactile Possibilities of the Internet of Things
The Tactile Possibilities of the Internet of Things
The Internet of Things might take all the work of life away from us – adjusting the temperature and the lights, making coffee and watering the lawn.

But the paradox of a world that contains more technology is that it will also become calmer. More responsive and less demanding.

It will move us past the screen and gesturing at your phone into more tactile and visceral experiences.

I was reminded of this by the Ubooly doll pictured at the right. Sure – your kid might disembowel the toy to get at the phone inside, but it hints at machines that feel like something beyond smooth glass.

With the Internet of Things, we’re taking our pulse (often for the first time), becoming aware of our breathing and how far we walk in a day. We’re tracking what we eat and becoming more conscious of food.

The Internet of Things is creating a renaissance of physicality and touch.

Myth and Storytelling for a Physical World
First, we think of the Internet of Things as data. We need to solve the engineering challenges first. We need to make sense of the sensors.

But what comes next is myth and ritual, tribes and stories.

We move past merely finding our way or measuring our pulse and turn the act of running into a story.

Does your app or device or sensor invite the user to touch? To feel? Do you simply slip them a coupon for a sweater, or do you invite them to create a tactile connection to your product or brand?

With the Internet of Things technology will become more calm, it will slip into the background as a set of smart devices that take away some of the dull annoyances of life.

But it will also invite us to lean forward. It will enable experiences that weren’t possible with simply a screen. And the consumer experiences that succeed will be ones that don’t interrupt but instead invite interaction and sensation – touch, feel, smell, connection, ritual, legacy, history and mood.

We’ll be distracted once again by the real world instead of just the world on our screens.

And while there is still a need for the Ambient Commons that McCullough describes, we’ll soon find that the tools we’re now creating tend towards a deeper connection with our world, ourselves, and our sensations than ever before.

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