Should the future be frictionless?
Annoying commute? It’s friction. Hassle to get your kids ready for school in the morning? Friction. Takes too long to turn on your favorite playlist in the car? Friction. There’s a simple yet misleading equation that’s showing up nowadays, and it looks like this: anything that bothers you = friction. Imagine it’s forty years from now, and there is no “friction.” You don’t have annoying snafus in your daily routine. Everything runs smoothly, and you’re never left cursing the stupidity of your buggy Bluetooth headphones or the inconsistent functionality of your coffee pot. It’s the frictionless future you’ve seen in every minimalist advertisement for Apple or Amazon. It’s 100% snag-free. But would you want to live there?
A word of caution
What value does getting you through life without moving a muscle add to the world? Here, we need to be careful about what we’re aiming for as we build IoT devices: we don’t want to solve problems that do not exist. We don’t want to end up on this Twitter page or making the IoT mistake hall of fame. The IoT has the capacity to address problems beyond that venture beyond lifehacks. It’s less about “hacking” our daily routines and commutes. After all, you can’t really “hack” being a thoughtful, helpful, creative, and constructive member of the workforce and your society as a whole.
Make it count
We, as a species, are capable of a lot. We can work hard and accomplish great, world-changing, earth-shattering things. But we can be really lazy, too. Having to click ‘play’ when autoplay isn’t on is a pain, and reordering groceries with Seamless instead of leaving the house thrills us. Catering to even the slightest of our desires— like this toilet paper tracker— isn’t inherently evil. By all means, Silicon Valley, keeping making your gadgets! But what if we focused our ingenuity instead on something worthwhile instead of on streamlining your bathroom routine? The exciting truth is, IoT technology can help us do powerful things like reduce waste, promote health, and encourage creativity.
Connecting everything to an information superhighway could mean miles of progress for us all. Environmental monitoring with connected devices would help us keep our air clean. IoT applications in the healthcare industry would allow for the collection of patient-gathered data which would make studying disease—and eventually curing it—a real possibility. While we’re still far away from the world depicted in the movie Her, the smart assistants we’ll have in the future can open up door after door of creative and empathetic potential. So, for now, let’s ask ourselves a question every time we invent a new IoT device: does this invention address a real issue? If yes, great. If no… Well, surely someone will buy a smart hairbrush.