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?

lbgjtrl

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 artists formerly known as Audience

prosumer1

Convergence is changing the relationship between media technologies and audience. As Clay Shirky explains in a Ted Talks Podcast;  “Now that media is increasingly social we are starting to see a media landscape where innovation is happening everywhere and moving from one spot to another”.  The reason for this landscape is convergence,  “as media gets digitized the internet becomes the motive carriage for all other media” and as a result of this, the pattern of communication is changing. The old pattern of ‘one to many’ (ie Newspapers) is changing to a ‘many to many’ pattern (ie blogs and forums). So how does this change affect the relationship between media technologies and audience?

media_convergence-shutter-ubj 580

Suddenly the role of the audience is developing from that of a consumer, to a prosumer. Audiences are no longer just passively consuming information, they are actively creating it. Because this has happened, the nature of media technologies have also developed. Now there is an abundance of information literally flooding these technologies and the media itself has changed from an organized stream of information created by legitimate providers, to a convergent mass of shared information created by illegitimate prosumers. This modifies the relationship between audience and media technologies as audience now rely on information sourced from all medias everywhere instead of relying on that created by industries and or governments. The internet is no longer just a source of information but a platform for innovation.

prosumer4

The Mobile phone for example is a convergent media technology that allows information to be spread freely and rapidly. As a result of this, information becomes readily available that may not have previously been able to exist. During the devastating Shichuan earthquake of 2008, people were actually able to report the earthquake as it was happening. They were taking photos sending texts, even uploading footage. People all over the world were able to access this news literally moments after earthquake had happened and within half a day donations sites were already up and running. Similarly with the London Bombings first hand information was shared freely without editing or filtration, giving audiences a full scope of the situation, not just a mediated snapshot. “In both cases there was a reluctance or inability for the authorities who had any knowledge of what was happening to inform the public”…. “mobile phones were then, relied on to exchange information, as there was little in the public domain” (The Mobile Phone and the Public Sphere, Janey Gordon).

The influx of news being created by illegitimate prosumers is taking a toll on the gaming industry as it is becoming harder and harder for companies to keep aspects of their games a secret and maintain a sense of control. Convergent platforms, such as GameSpot, allow people to share viral information within the public sphere. The ability to do this affects the relationship between media technology and audience because suddenly audiences are able to interact with media technologies in a new way. Now audiences are able to gain access to viral information before they are supposed to as well as upload their own information as they please. No longer is there a mass, one way, communication stream between audiences and media but a dynamic web of collective communication.