Posted by Matt Egan 09 April 2015
Why Internet of Things Day isn't a thing, and mainstream politics doesn't get the internet
We will know that the Internet of Things is established only when people no longer refer to the Internet of Things. PLUS: politicians can't do the internet, because they aren't normal.
Happy IoT Day everybody. What, you didn't know? Sure, today is Internet of Things Day. Always has been. A time when people the world over gather together to celebrate a technical phenomenon through the medium of shared press releases and hastily cobbled together news stories.
Of course I jest. IoT Day is no more of a thing than is 'International Louie Louie Day' (April 11) or 'World Laughter Day' (the first Sunday in May). These things are made up to generate press coverage, and most often hoovered up and regurgitated by churnalists who spend their days throwing words into the never satisfied furnace that is the internet. You didn't ask for this, but by reading Mail Online you kind of did. (See also: It's World Backup Day 2015! Don't wait another minute: back up now.)
There is at least some substance and activity behind IoT day. More than 20 events are taking place around the world, albeit mostly commercial events run by media companies with sponsors rather than spontaneous gatherings of IoT enthusiasts. But setting aside the imperitive to sell products, the very idea of an IoT day misses the point. If the Internet of Things matters, it matters in the absence of people noticing.
IoT: happenning all over the place
I firmly believe in the IoT concept: our homes are becoming smarter, our tech more wearable. I can adjust my home's heating from anywhere in the world, and listen to my daughter not sleep wherever I have a web connection. I know exactly how many steps I have taken and how much sleep I have had, and pretty soon I will be able to combine that data with the contents of my fridge to make a good call on the right evening meal to eat. It's happening - quicker than we think.
All of our devices can talk to us and each other to create a network in which we live easier and more fulfiling lives. And watch only good TV. The Internet of Things very defintely is a thing. But no-one thinks of it as such.
No-one in the world wakes up in the morning thinking about buying an 'Internet of Things' device. If all of this connected tech works, it works because we don't notice it doing so. The smart heating system in my home is great because it is convenient, makes the house more comfortable, and saves me money. Not because it is a web-connected IoT system.
We will know that the IoT has reached fruition when regular punters habitually have a network of smart home-, wearable- and mobile tech that talks to itself and makes life easier. When normal people use products that feel familiar. News stories using the phrase 'Internet of Things' are pretty much irrelevent. Hilariously so when printed on paper.
General Election - brought to you by the media of the 20th Century
This reflects the odd juncture at which we live, when technology often outstrips mainstream media-, marketing- and PR's ability to understand- and react to it. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the way our mainstream political parties continue to campaign in our upcoming general election.
My doormat is currently buried under a pile of flyers from all the local candidates. I presume yours is too. Now answer me this: when was the last time you decided for whom to vote on the basis of a piece of paper thrust through your door? That's right - never. I wouldn't choose a pizza shop that way. And although I take my pizzas seriously, I think my vote is much more important.
Meanwhile the two biggest parties do battle through the medium of open letters in the national newspapers whose circulation and influence decline month on month.
Yesterday's internet meme was a hilarious photo of David Cameron next to a schoolgirl who had planted her face into the desk. In essence meaningless, but indisputibly funny (the photo above is the Express photo). My question is this: what exactly where Cameron's advisors hoping to get out of a photo opportunity with very young children? Didn't they realise that every photographer present was waiting for the one (inevitable) moment when a child looked bored or unhappy, and that this was the shot everyone would share online? AND THAT NO-ONE WILL CHANGE THEIR VOTING PREFERENCE ON THE BASIS OF ANY OF THIS.
It gets worse when the politicos try to engage with 'new' media. We've seen the Tories promise to stop children from accessing porn online, and every newspaper in the land report this as fact. They can't do it, of course. They might as well promise to catch all the criminals or fix all the problems. So they are either technically inept, cynical or both. I wish I thought it was all cynicism.
Meanwhile Labour scored an interesting initial success by launching a Facebook app via which you can find out how many registered voters share your name. A clever way of creating engagement via social media, yes. But when I signed up for the app I didn't realise I was subscribing to a Labour party email database. Reader: I am not going to tell you which way I lean, but I will tell you that receiving an unsolicited email every day from the red party does not make me more sympathetic to its cause. Quite the opposite. I would wager that not a single person will change their vote to Labour because of this campaign.
Feel the cringe
Whenever established politicians attempt to engage with normal folk using the internet or social media, it is simply cringeworthy.
I suspect that at the next General Election in five year's time our media landscape will be more settled. Some major publications will no longer exist or no longer count, and our political parties will be staffed by people who grew up with social media and the internet. They'll understand how to reach people regardless of the medium. The message will be the thing, not the tech.
Similarly, we will know that the Internet of Things is established only when people no longer refer to the Internet of Things. When connected devices and services are simply the norm, and what they do rather than what they are matters. And that may take us through another couple of IoT Days. (See also: If I *was* in trouble abroad, I'd call. I certainly wouldn't send an email asking for urgent help.)