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.