Blog 15: Closing thoughts on the IoT

Blog 15: Closing thoughts on the IoT

Greengard brings it to full circle when he provides a vision for a “day in the life of” a fictional character in year 2025. I have to admit that I buy most of his imaginary technologies in the years to come. I can see myself being “Mary Smith,” waking up to smart pajamas, ordering food from my personal device (smartphone or who-knows-something-else), and making meals based on suggestions from my computer––which has been monitoring my health and dietary behaviors.

It is worth noting that the future of connected technologies and Internet of Things should not be a merely positive image. Greengard’s last line in Chapter 7 reads, “Only time will eventually reveal these answers and let us know if a connected world really equals to a better world” (p.189). There are many, many factors to focus on before we accept the IoT to be an inevitable future.

One such factor is the meaning we assign to objects and “things” in the Internet of Things. One could consider this from the perspective of object-oriented ontology/philosophy/rhetoric (OOO, OOP, OOR). To pick the one I am more familiar with, object oriented ontology (meaning being) is the exploring “the reality, agency, and “private lives” of nonhuman (and nonliving) entities (things, objects)” [read more here].

So, this is akin to asking what your smartphone or smartwatch wants from you. What kind of agency (power, authority, and motivation) does the object assume?

When we rely on these “smart” objects/devices to help us in performing our daily tasks, what kind of power are we assigning to them? I have personally come across the experience of feeling *powerless* when my smartphone was lost and I *had* to live my life without smart assistance. I felt powerless, like a headless chicken running around trying to get things done but had no clue whether I have completed anything at all.

This begs the question: Who/what is in control? With the degree of power/authority we assign to the devices and things in the IoT, we risk losing some of the control on our end. Or do we?

[Object oriented ontology is] a brand of materialism that goes hand in hand with what you might call posthumanist egalitarianism, or panpsychism: none of the things you can name can be thought of as intrinsically less real, vital, or important than any other—an ecological viewpoint of existence that rejects any idea of human specialness as simple arrogance. (Kerr, 2016)

What’s posthuman about IoT? Are we taking the human out of the picture, because like Greengard says, “smart systems, dumb people”? Or is it that human assuming a different level of humanness now that IoT could assume our regular human daily tasks?

If you haven’t noticed, I have more questions than answers. In closing this book, I would like us to consider the human factors (not just the ergonomics) and values, and how they (should) manifest in our design of IoT systems or infrastructures. Further, I ask:

  • What kind of relationship should we have with IoT?
  • Could things/objects assume power, identity, and control? In what ways?

Greengard, Samuel. The internet of things. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [Introduction, Chapter 7]

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