No use denying it, I’ve been all worked up over the Internet of Things (IoT) for a while now. Part of it has to do with my need to chase notions of the future as part of a larger compulsion to force the past to shrink behind me, which my therapist and I will talk about privately once I finish up here. But the larger part is that I’m tired of the rectangles. I’m sick of the screen between me and the future; I want to steep in the stuff.
So I was fully dork-stoked to see what would come of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held this past week in Las Vegas. It’s sort of like South by Southwest meets Best Buy, with none of the margaritas and all of the ill-fitting polo shirts.
As usual, there were many new TVs on display (some were curvy), and plenty of new phones (some were bendy); and as per recent trends, there were lots of tablets (some massive) and a fair showing of drones (some tiny). But the big to-do this year was the I-o-to-the-T, and the various Things that comprise it. This year’s show saw an explosion of wearable devices, smart home technology, and all manner of connected ephemera trying to break into the mainstream (and steer clear of the next Sharper Image catalog).
I have to imagine that an intended side effect of making every possible object “smart” is to make the perfectly useful objects they replace look dumb. (And come to think of it, I’ve never really considered my rolling pin — the way it just sits there like an idiot.) But at CES the dueling senses of smart — i.e. “can do things” vs. “is a good idea” — came to do battle. The Internet of Things is barely getting started, but it’s already starting to look a lot more like the Internet of Stuff. (On that note, it may behoove us all to start working on smart landfills, or smart interplanetary garbage barges.)
On the home front, there were dozens of new products to make your household a more comfortable, energy-efficient surveillance state. Nest, makers of the most exciting thermostat in history (yes, I know), announced expanded compatibility with a raft of other home-smartening brands. So locking your door with a Unikey smartlock might tell your Nest to go into “away” mode. Or a Dropcam paired with a Nest smoke detector can send live footage to your phone (perfect for watching your husband burn dinner), or trigger smart Hue or Alba lights throughout your house to flash in alarm. Belkin showed a collection of WeMo sensors for remote monitoring your doors, windows, utility usage, even your pets. A wave of smart appliances will allow you to check the status of your smart socks in the dryer, or preheat your oven while you’re stuck in traffic. (Don’t worry, your thermostat will keep an eye on things in the meantime.)
Elsewhere, your home of the future will be cluttered with self-watering plant pots, a self-regulating pet feeder that cares not for cuteness nor begging, a smart yoga mat that helps you strike your poses, and a sous-vide wand with WiFi capability, in case you . . . wait. What? (There’s also a smart flashlight to help keep you from tripping over all of this stuff in the middle of the night.)
Babies of the future will have an easier go of things as well. There’s a smart baby rocker that effectively navigates users to Sleepytown, a smart baby bottle that indicates the best feeding angle for burp aversion, a smart pacifier that keeps track of temperature and medications. These join an already active market of smart baby monitors and sensors that virtually sniff diapers on your behalf (the smart diaper is still being tested . . . by someone). Now all we need are smart babies.
And the fast-expanding world of wearables and smart personal accessories was on full display. There was Belty, the belt that tracks your personal bloating habits, a pair of smart insoles (to go with the aforementioned socks) that warm your toes, and more watches and fitness trackers than you could shake a smart stick at. Especially intriguing from the latter category was the Quell, a neuro-stimulation cuff that wraps around the leg to relieve pain from fibromyalgia, sciatica, or diabetes.
There were smart toothbrushes that micromanage your dental regimen so that spouses and/or paid professionals don’t have to; Swarovski studded sleep trackers to ensure your life of luxury is adequately comprised of rest; smart relaxation accessories from Thync and myBrain that can more or less zap you into preferred states; and smart wallets that encrypt, store, and consolidate all of your bank info onto a single biometrically locked smart card. (Perfect for buying more stuff as quickly as possible.)
But amid this massive drift of garage-shelf-bound innovation, one item stood out to me, a simple smart lighter that helps you quit smoking. Its good intentions and concern for your health are worthy enough, but more appealing is its ultimate purpose: an object that seeks to make itself obsolete. If this is the way of the future, bring it on.Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.