John's World: That Internet-of-Things Thing

John's World: That Internet-of-Things Thing

Buzzword alert: The Internet of Things. Drop it into conversations as often as possible. Sprinkle the acronym “IoT” throughout your texts, emails and thank you notes like waterhemp in your soybean fields. This will identify you as a bona fide inhabitant of the 21st century.

As most readers know, my column is dedicated to helping readers keep up with the times and above all, to be deemed “groovy” by those around you. This is why I am now all over IoT (rhymes with “coyote”).

It would be helpful to know what IoT is, of course, but as we have discovered from previous technological advances, it’s not actually necessary. It could well be one of those things that by the time you do understand it, it’s over—like Beanie Babies or men wearing earrings. Yikes!

For the time being, here's a short, but doubtful explanation. Warning: Since many of us on the weeding edge of cultural progress operate with less than perfect information, I might make up some stuff, so it’s plausible. After all, the idea of appliances talking to each other is just nuts, so to explain this will need some creativity.

The Internet of Things is about empowering simple devices such as refrigerators and power drills to communicate with not just the user but fellow machines, manufacturers and inevitably, North Koreans. By sharing information about their operating parameters, external conditions and machinery feelings, it’s believed efficiency and support personnel billable hours can be maximized.

For example, I could have a washing machine I could operate from thousands of miles away. But why? I don’t want to operate it when I’m home. How about a refrigerator that texts me when my avocados are going bad? First of all, they are certainly not my avocados, and in my opinion, they’re always bad.

But the real epiphany will come the day you walk out of your house at the crack of noon to begin serious field work and find your cheerful machine technician working on what you thought was a happily functional tractor. “Your tractor notified the dealer last night of a problem with the thyrosensor delay plunger, so I came right out,” he will calmly explain, as if you should be happy. At that moment, you will fully comprehend the deviousness of the wily IoT.

Suddenly it dawns on you—your faithful mechanical companions can no longer be trusted. Suppose they rat you out about overriding the multiple “clean my filter/screen/rear window warnings.” Suppose they tattle about the remote outlet covers you don’t bother to position correctly when not in use. What if you get a note to go to the service manager’s office after class?

Talking machines will not likely sing the praises of the farmers who own them, I foresee. Bad as it sounds, imagine what a leased tractor whispers back to the dealer.

On the bright side, you might learn how The Neighbor can borrow your post driver for 20 minutes and return it in unidentifiable fragments. Depending on your connection speed, you might be able to arrive in time for an intervention.

We in rural America have been relatively unaffected by the ever more pervasive electronic surveillance of modern life. Who needs terabytes of video of utter inactivity and slowly rising material? And that’s just your desk. With IoT, the spies will be among us, constantly reporting back to the mothership who is naughty and who is nice. If you thought the Elf On a Shelf was creepy, welcome to the grown-up equivalent.

I suppose there could be a bright side. But it looks to me that once it gets up to speed, we electrochemical devices will just be more Things.  

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