At what point does the focus of humanity shift from the vast, sprawling expanse of reality over to the screen sized abyss of the digital? The Internet of Things is the concept of connecting anything and everything to the internet for the purpose of feeling like we’re living in The Future. Tables, chairs, fridges, children, antique hardwood furniture, hats, goats, vibrators, grandma, teeth, the potential is endless for turning seemingly anonymous items of household necessity into portals to the great digital beyond, that we may never find ourselves without easy access to Twitter, Facebook and prolific amounts of porn and kittens.
Recently China has opened the gates to send a tidal wave of cash ($800 million by 2015) to raise humanity to the noble aim of letting people monitor their Facebook/Renren pages (or possibly bowels) whenever they look between their legs and down into the toilet. A sure sign that there’s a potentially intriguing wonderland out there and potentially pointless hinterland too – either of which is ripe for exploration by the behemoth of Chinese industry (and indeed the snappily named Chengdu Internet of Things Technology Institute).
The Cybertecture Mirror, for example, is a curious combination of the almost insultingly opulent with something that could be very good indeed. Fulfilling both the impressive role of a real life mirror and of a mechanical MD it can judge your weight, BMI, body mass, muscle mass and more just by looking at you (probably disapprovingly). Whilst at the same time letting you watch an illegal stream of Donald Trump complaining about something and Tweeting about how your mirror thinks you’re a fat bastard – or whatever it is that the sort of decadent fuck wit who’d purchase such a thing would actually do with it.
Extend the principle to every flat surface in the home and throughout security systems, fridges, ovens, boilers et al and a human being could eventually live a relatively full life without ever having to look at anything but a screen. Although if you throw in a pair of Google glasses and you’re almost there already, the grim reality of the material world made nothing more than a comfortably smothered nuisance.
On the good side though the applications beyond further insulating humanity from it’s immediate situation are as mind-bogglingly useful and beneficial as their gimmicky precursors are likely to be crap. Amidst China’s plans for the furtherance of the digital reality of the Internet of Things for example is the idea of screens installed as remote doctors for those left out in the rural wilds – complete with online experts to stare at you from a safe distance and, presumably, tell you where to probe yourself for diagnosis. A surprisingly forward thinking idea from a government which schizophrenically alternates between making the internet it’s bitch and jealously wishing it could emulate the Silicon Valley dream for itself.
There’s no knowing where the balance between the pointless and the reality altering will lie with technologies like this though. While it plays to pretty much every utopian and dystopian vision we have in our collective repertoire the evolution of what the internet is and what it does consistently belies expectations. As a trail of failed gadgetry and assorted tat shows neither private industry nor the state knows what’s coming next most of us can only speculate around the tantalising possibilities such as the Internet of Things and somewhat optimistically assume that the species won’t end up blank faced and glossy eyed before it’s own reflection.