I’s Can Internet All The Things

Everybody knows that episode of The Simpsons where they get the Pierce Brosnan voiced super house that does everything for them, making life a breeze. Well as technology gets smarter and smarter this fantasy home is quickly becoming a reality and in fact you can already purchase plenty of advanced home wares capable of auto tasking themselves to suit and simplify your life. Oh and did I mention these ones aren’t homicidal?

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These days we want everything to be smart and connected from our televisions to our pot plants. Did you know that since 2008 there are more inanimate objects connected to the net than people and this number grows exponentially each year? Off course I could sit here for hours writing about all the awesome smart gadgets your house needs right now but that would just make me sad because I can’t afford them. What I am really interested in discussing though, is the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on the retail industry.

“In simple terms, the IoT stands for the connection of usually trivial material objects to the internet … At the very least, this connectivity allows things to broadcast sensory data remotely, in the process augmenting material settings…  In most cases these objects are able to store and process information, as well as independently initiate action” (Teodor Mitew). Currently I work part time at my local IGA and every day that I walk up and down the isles checking the dates for expired products and writing down what stock needs to be re ordered on my little note pad, I think to myself, ‘for the love of God isn’t there some kind of automated system that could be doing this?’ While I’m working I daydream constantly about a world where each product is scanned before being put on the shelf and I can receive notifications about when it will go bad or when the stock is running low.

But that is just thinking about the benefits at a very fundamental level, there are so many more insights that can be gained from a connected grocery store. Food retail is unique in that it has a substantial components most other retail environments don’t have. For example the food’s freshness is relative to time and temperature whereas clothing retailers do not have to worry about that issue. Imagine a store where the fridges detected and automatically adjusted themselves after scanning the temperature of individual products, imagine digital price tags that updated themselves in real time according to daily specials. “Through implementing an effective Internet of Things strategy, retailers can significantly improve, automate and refine business processes, reduce operational costs, integrate channels and better understand consumer trends” (Hussmann).

Again there are so many more benefits to  a connected store, this whole time I have only been discussing the benefits for me, the worker, but what about the customer?  The Internet of Things means that customers can interact with the products on a deeper level. Smart trolleys have the potential to record highly specific data about an individual’s shopping habits. From there it can suggest products they are likely interested in, auto generate a shopping list based on previous purchases, show them the location of things in the store, tally the cost as they go and assist with budgeting, organise meal plans and even offer unique discounts or promotions. Imagine if quick a smart phone scan of any bar-code gave you recipes, reviews and a dietary rating, well you don’t have to imagine for too long because these are technologies that already exist and are on the cusp of widespread integration.

The Digital Walled Garden: A Price on Entertainment

flanagan_walled_garden_03 “The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times.” (Kevin Kelly)

Previously wealth was built on the selling precious copies and as a result the instant duplication of data, ideas, and media undermines all major sectors of our economy. If reproductions of humanities best efforts are free how does one make money selling free copies? The truth is they don’t, so what is the solution here?…An advertising dominated online culture? Harsher punishments for copy right infringements? Intense DRM laws? An end to free streaming? Or the death of piracy?

All these things sound great (to businesses) however what this means for the consumer is the end of a free internet and the creation of a Walled Garden. Which in my personal opinion goes against the entire construct of what the internet is; a global data sharing service that facilitates the free flow of information.

For those not up with the lingo a Walled Garden is a closed platform or software system where the carrier or service provider has control over applications, content, and media, and restricts convenient access to non-approved applications or content (think Apple).

In Australia we have only just now gotten Netflix and at the moment it is very reasonably priced in an attempt to combat the competition of piracy (SMH). I was dumbfounded by the positive response it got and the sheer level of buzz it generated. A few of my friends got it and they couldn’t wait to tell me about how for only $14.99 a month they could gain access to the hundreds of shows Netflix had to offer. Off course my immediate reaction was: WOW that’s super awesome, did you know that for zero dollars a month you can gain access to every show ever?

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Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for supporting the industry and funding the artists but what I cannot understand is peoples willingness to buy into what is essentially a restriction of freedom. Let’s just say for arguments sake that in an ideal hypothetical future, piracy was non existent and access to the things we watched online were restricted only to paid streaming services such as Netflix. The price is cheap now because piracy is a threat but in a world without free downloading these services would have monopoly and therefore total control over price. This would be a world where the price of entertainment could fluctuate as frequently as petrol.

What people need to ask themselves is just what exactly they are buying into. While you are watching shows on Netflix, Netflix is watching you watching their shows. They know what you are viewing, when you are viewing it, how often you are viewing it and what sort of things you like. The luxury of private entertainment in the comfort of your own home is a thing of the past. The question here is, does knowing that someone knows what you are watching make a significant impact on what you watch? Would people stop watching porn if other people knew they watched it? Would manly men suddenly feel embarrassed about watching sappy romantic comedies? Would students start to have their study assistance rejected because their viewing data proves they are not putting in full time study hours?

When a service becomes an inhibitor to your daily actions as a person it becomes a breach of your freedom. Convenient solutions almost always come with an inevitable cost.

The Technology We Needed Yesterday: Experience Shaping Expectation

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I return again this week after having another conversation with my Uncle Kenny. This time we move beyond the introduction of Television and take a look into the near technological future that is the National Broadband Network (NBN) or as I like to call it the Fiber-Optic-Internet-Utopia. As I am sure it will be made obvious by the end of this post, I am a firm supporter of the NBN and believe that Australia should have started laying out fiber-optic cables direct to the home years ago. While there are many debates circulating over the necessity of such an expensive endeavor, I feel it cannot be denied that our current copper wire network is already outdated and stands no chance of adequately supporting our future internet usage. I worry Australia will fall behind the rest of the world, in terms of speed and connectivity, which will ultimately isolate us from the interconnected age of opportunity.

“Building a broadband network will, as the government has pointed out, have the same kind of transformational impact as the railways in the 19th and 20th centuries”. Rod Tucker

“This gives Australia the chance to leap ahead and give the people and the businesses of our country a head-start in the digital economy. Think about what that can do for job creation and productivity.” Paul Budde

It was interesting to discuss this with my uncle because although he feels the same way about the inadequate nature of the current copper network and understands the level of improvement a fiber-optic network would bring, he, unlike myself, is entirely indifferent to it. While I wait anxiously for progress (despite the fact roll-out hasn’t even started in my area), he is completely un-phased. To be honest, before doing some research of my own this week, I was unaware of what the NBN actually was but I was still passionate about it. All I knew is that I desperately wanted a faster internet connection, so I could finally play my Xbox without lag and stream movies without screaming at my laptop. Anything that promised an end to this first world torment was good enough for me. My Uncle on the other hand knew everything there was to know about NBN and fiber optic cables; including how they worked (which he explained to me against my will). The simplest way he put it was “NBN is like a super highway while copper wire is like a dirt road”…“the dirt is fine when only a few people use it, but once you get everyone driving at once, it’s just too small and eventually it starts to decay”. He told me that the copper wires are already in a bad state and will continue to need constant maintenance which is going be costly in the long run. “This is why”, he states, “the NBN is a far better option to Liberals ridiculous Node system”.

 I asked him what he thought the future held with the introduction of high speed internet and he replied “Major business and economic change” as well as “change in our everyday lives”. Asking him what he meant by this, he gave me some examples such as: connecting in real time with people around the world, sending and receiving large amounts of data instantly, having an all in one home entertainment/internet system that used voice command, controlling your appliances when your away from home and even doctors operating on patients through specialized equipment from miles away.

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From these examples I was under the impression Kenny felt a new internet age was a good thing, he had positive images of the future similar to my own. I soon discovered I was wrong. After questioning him about how he expected his internet usage at home to change, he informed me that he didn’t have the internet at all. I was surprised by this, never letting it cross my mind that someone in this day and age lived without the internet. When I asked him why he said it was because “With everything you gain you there is something to loose”. He went on to tell me a story about how his job on the railway was impacted upon by improving technologies. “You used to walk into work and say high to everyone, but now there is nobody there”… “Systems are controlled via satellite from a central operating box”… “There is no social interaction”. He said he felt as though people now days were losing the art of conversation “instead of talking to one another young people are putting in ear phones and looking at their screens”.

Perhaps it is just a generational thing but I am inclined to disagree with some of his statements. It is my opinion that younger generation isn’t losing the art of conversation but rather changing the way in which they communicate. It’s true I always check my phone but this is because I am in constant contact with my friends, and although we are not physically talking face to face, there isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t communicate. The point of this blog however, is not to sit here and debate the dangers of internet v’s the benefits, but rather to make comment on the way exposure shapes perception. Am I predetermined to embrace a technological future because of the internet dependent age I have grown up in? Is my uncle so against an online culture because he can remember a time before the World Wide Web? Are our beliefs on the matter of NBN shaped by our own personalities or are we merely subjects of our times? It’s the age old question of nature v’s nurture.

Reference:

Boyd, D 2014, It’s Complicated the Social Lives of Networked Teens, Yale University Press, New Haven, London.

National Broadband Network (NBN) 2007-2013, 2013, Whirlpool, viewed 24 August 2014, <http://whirlpool.net.au/wiki/nbn#nbn_evidence&gt;.

NBN MYTHS, 2010, What do the Experts Say?, NBN Myths: Debunking the FUD on the NBN, weblog post, 26 September, viewed 24 August 2014, <http://nbnmyths.wordpress.com/what-do-the-experts-say/&gt;.

NBN MYTHS, 2010, Top Ten NBN Myths Debunked, NBN Myths: Debunking the FUD on the NBN, weblog post, 26 September, viewed 24 August 2014, <http://nbnmyths.wordpress.com/&gt;.

Learn About the NBN, 2014, NBNco, viewed 24 August 2014, <http://www.nbnco.com.au/about-the-nbn.html#.U_mq4WPY9ek&gt;.

Wyres, M 2011, Alan Jones and the NBN Fail!, MichaleWyres.com, weblog post, 25 May, viewed 24 August 2014, <http://michaelwyres.com/2011/05/alan-jones-and-the-nbn-fail/&gt;.