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Wake up to the Internet of Things

There is a great deal of talk about the Internet of things and how it will create an unimaginable number of connections between everyday devices. While we are already seeing simple examples of this in surveillance cameras and sensors, there are clearly benefits and concerns, for example privacy issues, that will stretch well beyond our comfort zone. How will this explosion of connectivity change our businesses and social institutions? The most important thing to realize is that we are already living in an era when the way things and devices are connected profoundly influences and affects our lives. To get connected or “go online” does not require an extra step in our daily life; being online is our life! Mark Zuckerberg once said that babies are no longer raised with bytes but they are born into bytes.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook
Photo credit: Wikipedia

We see this everywhere. Think about the simple fact that while our relationship with time is tighter than ever almost no one wears a watch – at least no one under the age of 20! Of even greater significance is the degree to which we are giving up information about ourselves without any real understanding of the value or consequences. Privacy, for all practical purposes, is gone. We are keen to give our location in order to receive the most accurate weather or traffic forecast. Crowdsourcing apps, such as foursquare or waze, make sharing information and private data a no-thought-required action. At the same time, devices like the nest® intelligent thermostat record when we are not at home, while we publicize to the word through social networks where we are – and our smart phones tag us like wildlife.

Connectivity seems to require disclosure, which most of us, especially those who are younger, have no problem with,as long as we are able to enjoy something which makes our life just a little better. You may shudder at thi,s but it is something I see daily in my classmates. Like it or not, the experience of and the expectations for privacy has changed. The kids who today run around with not just devices but a culture of 24/7 connection, localization, and complete transparency of their behaviors are the same ones who will be legislating tomorrow’s society.  This is not the Internet of “egocasting,” where we could build online personas that falsified our personas into what we would have liked to have been, rather it is an Internet of who we really are.

Pete Mortensen in FastCoDesign writes, “It’s easy for data to depict what you actually do instead of what you claim to do. Sensors do the job. So do, if less elegantly, self-reporting mechanisms. This data can sit in pivotal contrast to the interest graph, allowing computers to know, perhaps better than you, how likely you are to go for a jog. It would be useful, too, for a travel site that notes how you tell friends you’d like to visit China but records that you only vacation in Europe. Rather than uselessly recommending vacation deals to Beijing, a smart travel app would instead feed you deals to Paris or Berlin. The behavior graph provides the foundation, to some extent, of Google Search, Netflix recommendations, Amazon recommendations, iTunes Genius, Nike+ run tracking, Foursquare, Fit Bit, and the entire ‘quantified self’ movement. When mashed against the other three graphs, there’s a potential for real insight.”

The bottom line is that people have proven that they love to trade off their privacy in exchange for a financial benefit; a service, an economy of scale, a discount, gas savings, calling rates, or any one of a hundred other selfish reasons. But at the same time, there is a clear generational chasm between those who thrive on transparency and those who shirk from it – those who are concerned about losing their ability to remain “under the radar,” not actually hidden, but exercising the right to live without having something track their moves, their actions, and their possible mistakes.

What if I told you that luxury was gone? How would that change your world view of the way the next generation will live, work and play?

Will we thoughtlessly sacrifice old habits or liberties for something in return for what we perceive to be even more important and vital to us than privacy? Again, think of way we view and define ownership of information. In fact, the belief that we own things such as our emails, our downloaded books, our uploaded pictures is gradually changing. We surrender the private aspect and “rights” we hold on our “property” in return for gaining access to a massive, crowd sourced pool of information that belongs to all of us, in the hope that the proper use of it might provide answers on complicated issues of our lives. And it just may be that the issues are so complicated that ONLY this sort of transparency and no-holds-barred collaboration will solve the challenges we face.

Today’s Internet culture is clearly in conflict. We love to grab other people’s attention but we don’t like our future employers to sneak into our Facebook page or Twitter accounts. We work hard to make people like or admire our lifestyle but do not wish to have this become a piece of the puzzle of our life. It seems awkward having a tracking device with us during our personal time of running or working out but this drives to better behaviors and products, much more closer to our individual needs and expectations than even we can ourselves define.

All of this change won’t come with a big announcement but rather through the incremental changes in the way we experience life, our working environment and our interactions. The transactions that make up our lives will be altered based on data we create, putting us into an infinite loop where our behavior is analyzed based on data that behavior creates and this analysis can provide and create a decision making mechanism enable us to accurately predict our future decisions.

Scary? Absurd? Unlikely? Yes, if you have not been born into this new world order, but not so if this is all you know.

The answer to the question, How do you see this explosion of connectivity changing our businesses and social institutions?” is simple, in ways that we will least expect and which will most terrify those of us who still cling to the value, solitude, anonymity, and inefficiency of a disconnected world.

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