The Internet of Things That Used To Work Better

In 1995 I attended Novell’s BrainShare conference in Salt Lake City. It was an interesting moment for a local-area-networking company on the cusp of the Internet era. Then-CEO Bob Frankenburg rose to the occasion. His keynote was my first introduction to the now-fashionable Internet of Things. Frankenburg talked up the idea of billions of connected appliances ranging from Las Vegas slot machines to refrigerators.

Almost two decades later that vision is coming into focus. It’ll happen, I’m sure. My vacuum cleaner, microwave, and stove will all be able to phone home. What worries me, though, is that the news they report is unlikely to be good news. Embedded chips won’t compensate for the crummy quality of today’s appliances. Things fail and break at an alarming rate.

That microwave oven we bought new in 2012? When the motherboard failed it was cheaper to junk the whole unit than to fix it. The new stove we bought last year? The ignition is failing and I have to reboot it to make it work. Rebooting a stove? That just ain’t right. And don’t even get me started on the many vacuum cleaners I’ve hated since I foolishly got rid of my mom’s vintage Hoover.

This isn’t just a first world problem, it’s a uniquely 21st-century problem. I’m sure we’ll have an Internet of Things. But I fear it will be an Internet of Things That Used To Work Better.

Posted in .

4 thoughts on “The Internet of Things That Used To Work Better

  1. Maybe it would be a little bit better if appliances were required to supply source code and a compiler ? Although I hate to think of what bad bugs in washing machine software could do!

  2. Whenever this came up in the past I always used to say “You won’t think this is so cool when you’re updating the anti-virus software on your toaster”…

  3. I’m pretty certain the IoT will come to consumers last – it has been percolating for years in the industry and it’s gaining traction – especially with the big-data concepts that make it feasible to economically deal with the amount of data that can be generated by things.

    That does not take anything from your argument against the throw-away culture. My early-80’s HP 15C RPN calculator looks and works like new while my kids latest Casio seems eager to shed its buttons after 6 months.

    I am willing to pay high premium for things that last and I know for sure I am not alone.

    Still part of the blame is on to the on-going silicon revolution and the coupled information revolution that ages devices and technologies way faster than their normal wear and tear would have aged them and as a result, manufacturers care less about longevity and consumers being consumers are (most of the time) all to happy to get new shiny incarnation of their appliance du-jour. I have a working Palm Pilot but no desire to even power it up…

    Let’s hope this is something that will pass – the environmental impact of these short-lived goods is huge. ‘Green’ trends along with slowing and maturing of silicon revolution may reverse the trend for the better.


Leave a Reply