The Internet of Things (IoT) is paving the way for a more connected future with convenience and efficiency at its core, but it could also be about to cause a global increase in blood pressure. How should we respond?
Speak to any futurologist or tech maven and they’ll tell you that the IoT is the future: by connecting devices to the internet and getting them to communicate intelligently we will revolutionise the way we live, work and play.
The advancement will shape future cities, save energy and automate tasks; it will improve our understanding of the world and augment our way of life altogether.
It’s all true: the IoT really is a game changer. There are a range of benefits – smart systems deliver power when we need it and saves it when we don’t; fitness trackers tell us when we’re about to keel over and instruct us on what to do about it.
At the municipal level, smart street lighting systems will know when to turn on for citizens passing by, bins will tell the council when they need emptying, and sensors will share pollution readings in real time and alert the right people when a problem arises.
These and a thousand other applications can only be a good thing. But some applications, while undeniably clever and progressive, could impact on people’s lives in ways we haven’t planned for.
Baby monitors are a good example. Before they were available, parents would check on their kids during the evening to make sure they were okay. Non-smart monitors – like walkie-talkies – enabled mums and dads to listen more closely without leaving the lounge.
But the IoT has taken monitoring to a whole new level. Parents now have real-time access to their baby’s vital signs – breathing, temperature, body position and movement – throughout the night. One small change in the child’s status and alarm bells sound.
The new units are designed to prevent cot death, so they are certainly a good thing. But an undesired by-product is the impact these devices could have on adult sleep patterns, not just when alerts pop up, but the distraction caused by the very existence of the device.
Many aspects of our life will be enhanced by the IoT, but it doesn’t look like serenity will be one of them. An always-on workforce is constantly in touch with important projects, which allows for fewer mistakes, but it also means downtime is increasingly becoming a thing of the past.
Activity trackers help us get fitter, but the constant flow of information, not to mention the alarms that ring or vibrate when you’re inactive or do something wrong, are a constant low-level source of distraction and, potentially, stress.
People with smart watches are essentially strapped to the IoT – more so as new apps are released to control progressively more aspects of daily life. To get full use of the gadgets, we’re encouraged to wear them throughout the day and place them next to us to charge when we sleep.
In the worst case scenario, the constant connection between us and our digital selves could start to make us less, not more, efficient by robbing us of sleep and creating a procession of distractions from our everyday lives.
Tech brands need to wake up to this version of the future or risk helping to create a major progress trap; one in which people have all the tools to live productive lives but are too knackered or stressed out to do so.
Bosses should be aware too and implement working structures that allow for genuine periods of rest. Without proper provision, rates of staff burn-out could increase, setting employers back rather than forward.
By allowing the IoT to develop in a way that protects its users, and creating a working environment in which people can reap the benefits of connectivity without succumbing to its pitfalls, we stand a much better chance of creating a win-win situation without the bitter aftertaste.
Although the IoT will create hundreds of interesting investment opportunities, investors should be aware of unwanted side effects and the negative consequences new inventions could have. These ripples might seem small, but they could in time build into something more serious and potentially damaging to the company’s value.