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From his column Church Tech

church-tech-11-13One of the first objects connected to the Internet was a coffeemaker at the University of Cambridge computer lab. A camera was pointed at the device and the resulting video shared over the Internet. This enabled those throughout the department to peek at the pot before embarking on their java journey. Convenience was the mother of invention.

Since that time, we have focused more on using the Internet to find and transfer files from computer to computer. These include everything imaginable, from theological writings at the Wesleyan-Holiness Digital Library, to news articles about a favorite football team, from Alan Lomax’s archive of traditional music, to video exploring the linguistic abilities of a certain large, red canine.

While connecting objects to the Internet became a niche activity for a time, we are at the beginning of an explosion of devices giving voice to everything—an Internet of Things. By the end of 2012, it was estimated there were 8.7 billion things connected to the Internet, by the end of 2020 some project it will be 75 billion! Let’s look at a few examples of how we can and perhaps will communicate with our stuff.

Am I Blue?

With the Philips Hue your light bulbs can do much more than cast out darkness. You can use your smartphone to tint the lights of your home to always be on the rosy side of life. You can also set the system to wake you with an indoor sunrise each morning. When the light bulbs talk with your phone, they can see where you are and put themselves out when you drive away or light up to greet you as you approach your driveway.

And if you want to verify the lights did indeed turn off, and have not been cut off by the local utility company, you can purchase a Canary. This device has an array of sensors such as a camera, microphone, detectors for temperature, humidity, and more. If anything looks, sounds or feels unusual at home, it can call you over the Internet. You can also listen, look into your home, and verify that, indeed, the lights are out and your stuff is (or isn’t) safe. Hey, maybe this gadget could finally provide an answer to the question about trees falling in the woods.

There are also thermostats, heart monitors, and, yes, a washing machine that texts you when your clothes have had enough of sitting around damp and are ready to take a spin in the heat. And, if you feel guilty about leaving your cat at home all day, you can buy a Pet Cube. This thing allows you to see, talk and listen to and even play with your cat remotely by guiding a laser dot along the floor for kitty to pounce on.

Step This Way

Just around the corner, the Internet of Things will grow even more as we enable locations and objects to announce their presence to your phone with iBeacons. This is available as a small, colored, rock-like object that uses a special kind of Bluetooth wireless technology to help your phone know where it is indoors, and what is available nearby. In certain MLB ballparks in 2014, you will be able to store your ticket on your phone, which will sense your location and guide you to your seat. And, if you happen to pass a souvenir stand that is having trouble selling those retro three cornered ball caps, you might receive a coupon for 50 percent off.

Healthcare will benefit, as well. The potential exists for implanted devices to monitor health and immediately notify you and your doctor if your blood pressure or sugar level reaches unsafe levels.

Or imagine that as you walk around a car lot, your phone displays a video of you in the vehicle of your dreams zooming around the bend, waving to jealous friends. Just as our children are amazed that there was a time before color TV, perhaps one day our grandchildren will be surprised to see commercials that don’t feature themselves.

As with most technological advances, there will be benefits and costs to this brave new world. In a society where more and more objects gain voices and clamor for our attention, be sure to take time to look around you and see others once in a while and remember what Simone Weil once wrote, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

Mark Evilsizor has worked in Information Technology for more than 20 years. He currently serves as head of IT for the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo. Views and opinions expressed are strictly his own.

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