Rise of the Machines (aka: The IoT)

Imagine this: It is 6:00 in the morning, and a gentle, Siri-like voice begins to speak from a recessed speaker mounted in your bedroom wall.

“It’s time to wake up, Dave,” she says. (Your name, of course, is Dave). As the minutes tick past, and you still don’t rouse, her voice becomes a bit sharper. “Wake up, Dave,” she says, “or the alarm will sound in ten seconds.” Ten seconds later, your bedroom lights flash, and a shrill alarm begins to sound. As you finally sit up in bed, stretch, and yawn, the alarm abruptly stops, as sensors in your Fitbit-type wearable device register your alert state.

“Shall I start your coffee for you, Dave?” asks the house computer, her voice once again calm and serene. You give your consent and head for the bathroom, which triggers the shower to begin streaming water at a perfect 105 degrees Fahrenheit. As you continue your morning routine, your smart house warms your floor tiles, fills you in on the news, and informs you of traffic conditions before you head out the door for work.

Sounds cool and futuristic, right? Like some impossible, sci-fi novel dream?

The Jetsons future

“But all of those things can already happen,” says one of my kids in a bored tone. “The technology already exists for all of that.”

“Also, it would be lame,” said another of my kids, “because a hacker could just break into your smart home system and start playing jump scare sound effects or make you wake up to the Hamster Dance song.”

“Or make all your lights flash at two in the morning,” said another of my kids. “Or make your water freeze in the middle of your shower. Or change the computer voice so that it sounds like Fred Figglehorn.”

This is true. (And would be totally funny if it happened to someone who was not me). And my kids are right — most of these are not unattainable ideas, and in fact, already have the technology to make it so. If you’ve got the money, you can actually turn your house into a Star Trek-worthy, super-connected smart house where numerous electronic devices talk to each other and interact with you via your home wireless network. Welcome to the IoT, or Internet of Things, the fastest growing and hottest buzzword I technology today.

Internet of Everything

Of course, when you work in the IT industry, your tech-savvy kids tend to become fluent in current tech concepts, and the IoT is as familiar as Chroma keyboards and wireless 802.11 ac routers. They also learn to become aware of the need to secure one’s home network, smart or not, from intruders of the malicious, or just plan mischievous kind.  Whether or not you speak geek, the IoT is here to stay, and already taking a prominent role in our lives.

Mother and daughter making dinner using futuristic interface

But it is certainly not without its security risks. Just as people are slowly learning that one must do with personal computers, it is imperative to educate ourselves about the potential risk of attacks on home networks and cloud-connected smart tech devices. Not sure where to start? Check with your device manufacturers or internet service provider for ideas. Read some of the great free information provided by the FCC and others about how to protect your home network from outside intruders. Create strong passwords to protect your IoT devices. Keep software updated and patched. Need more ideas? Well, you can always ask Siri.

Viva la Vida Virtual (aka: Be There)

Our Wi-Fi stopped working yesterday for like, five whole minutes. In our house, that constitutes an emergency. “Fix it, Mo-oooom!” groaned my kids, who are convinced that I can now fix anything computer and network-related. “I was in the middle of a video game/homework research/Skyping with friends!”

tech addict kidsI’m pretty sure my household isn’t the only one like this. It’s a fact of life; we now live in a society that is oversaturated with tech. Wearable tech, smartphone tech, computer tech — it’s everywhere. And thanks to the IoT (Internet of Things), all of our millions and billions of tech devices can even connect to the internet and communicate with each other.

Ten years ago, when the internet had made the leap from a cool new trend to an everybody-has-to-have-it necessity, we all marveled and said, “We are more connected than we ever have been before.” Which was true. Only now, we are more connected than ever to the 100th power.

Or are we?

looking at cell phone

What does it mean to be “connected?” Is it really about the invisible streams of data — the googols of imperceptible bits flowing through the air, linking one computer to the next? Is connection the ability to trade emoji smiles and offer virtual {{{hugs}}} when someone is struggling? Are we more connected because of the speed with which we can post a pretty photo or meaningful quote, then click like on that of another fellow human being? It is amazing, isn’t it? We are now so connected, that we can share every bit of our lives without ever being in the same room. We can be there without being there.

And we forget.

staring at computer screen

We become so absorbed in our virtual worlds, that we lose sight of what it means to live a full and rich life. We’ve created a new kind of normal, in which we stare at silent photos of nature scenes and drool over plates of well-presented exotic foods. We huddle in groups, hunched over our phones, each chuckling at some private joke which doesn’t exist beyond the screen. We forget how he throws back his head as he laughs, eyes catching the light. We stop noticing the light and airy way she walks, as though dancing on tiptoe. The tiny details of the real world are faded, like an Instagram photo with a vintage filter.

We forget what it means to be there.

There, in the moment. When the dark clouds peel away, revealing a fiery red sunset. And the air smells so damp and rich with fresh rain that you breathe it in. And not for a moment do you think, “I must take a photo of this gorgeous sunset to post on Facebook!” Because you are too busy being there. Tasting that spicy shrimp, drizzled with garlic butter. Holding her hand as you stroll through the city, paying attention to the lines and curves that form each building. Listening to your daughter as she tells a funny story about what happened at school that day. Leaning forward, drinking in the details about the people who surround you. The fragrant smell of soap, mingled with minty toothpaste. The scuffed shoes, worn hands.

real connection puzzle piecesThe good parts of life that stoke your senses and settle in your memories don’t translate well across a fiber optic underground cable. They don’t always appear on screen. Ten years from now, you won’t remember the goofy cat video your brother-in-law’s cousin shared on your Facebook wall. Your text conversations and virtual adventures will be forgotten as quickly as PDAs. The things that will matter then are all around you now — live, and in 3D. Imagine! You can travel to countless new locations anywhere in the world. You can get up close and have face-to-face conversations with real, live people. You can be there. You can connect with the world at real-time speed, with no lags. What’s more, you won’t even need Wi-Fi.

real people talking over coffee

Girl Power! (aka: Barbie, What on Earth Happened to You?)

Techie BarbieFirst of all, let me just say that I was a total Barbie girl. I was one of those girls who stubbornly refused to stop playing with Barbie dolls until long after my middle school peers had already lost interest. I adored her pink, perfect world of glittering outfits, miniature accessories, and stupid plastic shoes that would not stay on her dainty little feet. While other young teens were busy flirting with real-life boys and experimenting with styling their own hair, I was locked away in my bedroom, acting out these same things with Barbie, Ken, and the gang (including a few unfortunate punk haircuts).

Barbie careersTo me, however, Barbie was about much more than wearing cute clothes and having pretend sex with Ken (oh come ON…every girl in the history of Barbie fandom has tried that at least once). Barbie was the ultimate symbol of Girl Power. We girls can do anything! We can be teachers and doctors and zoologists! We can be high-powered office executives by day, and all dolled-up for a smokin’ hot date by night. We can work hard, and then buy ourselves a dream house, a townhouse, a pink camper, and a matching Corvette. If nothing else, the Barbie campaign of my childhood taught us girls that we could have it all and be it all, and still look great doing it.

So what on earth happened?

Computer Engineer Barbie

Just in case you’ve been living in a cave that is deeper underground than my cave, here’s the scoop: Mattel had a book, published in 2010, titled, Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. Like me, many people cheered the concept. Hooray! Barbie is helping to encourage young girls to consider STEM careers, which continue to be largely dominated by men. Good for Barbie! However, as you read the story, you are met with the sad reality – Computer Engineer Barbie is a fraud. Sure, she comes up with a cute idea for a video game, but then she explains to Skipper,

” ‘I’m only creating the design ideas,’ Barbie says, laughing. ‘I’ll need Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.’ “

Seriously, Barbie?! You’re a computer software engineer and you can’t do the coding for your own game without help from the men? What’s happened to you? And as if that weren’t disappointing enough, Barbie inserts her flash drive into Skipper’s computer and – whoopsie – ends up infecting the computer with a virus. So, does Computer Engineer Barbie use her brain and her education and disinfect the computer herself? Of course not! She calls the boys, who eagerly offer to remove the virus for her.

” ‘Hi, guys,’ says Barbie. ‘I tried to send you my designs, but I ended up crashing my laptop — and Skipper’s, too! I need to get back the lost files and repair both of our laptops.’

” ‘It will go faster if Brian and I help,’ offers Steven.”

Ugghhh!!! I am guessing that clueless Computer Engineer Barbie had fake sex with her boss in order to be hired for her IT job. Luckily for girls everywhere, Mattel has pulled the disaster of a book and apologized for supporting such garbage. And luckily for everyone, an awesome IT consultant named Kathleen Tuite created the Feminist Hacker Barbie website, where users can edit the original text of the story to create a better version. Twitter users have also chimed in, with their – uh, more colorful editions of the story, using the hashtag #FeministHackerBarbie. One of the coolest things to come out of this whole fiasco has been the number of really smart women, many with IT careers, who have stepped forward to rewrite Barbie’s airhead words (and the patronizing responses of her male coworkers) with much more appropriate and witty dialogue. Now that is true Girl Power.

Dude, Where’s My Flying Car?

Jetsons car The 2000s were supposed to be the defining moment – the shining boundary that separated the archaic past from the future. Goodbye to the era of The Flinstones; hello to the age of The Jetsons. Well, here we are, in the year 2014, and I have just one question: Where’s my flying car?

They were supposed to be here in the future. The pop culture of my childhood assured us that the future would be like a cross between Back to the Future 2 and The Jetsons. Self-lacing sneakers! Instant food! Suburban neighborhoods in the sky! But alas – even as we approach 2015, we must still bend over to tie the laces of our sneakers, and cooking an edible meal in the microwave still takes an annoying two minutes. Maybe we took a wrong turn and somehow landed in a dystopian future.

Future Technologies We Are Still Waiting For:

Hoverboards

Admit it — you know you’re still waiting for your chance to hop on one of those babies and soar around the neighborhood like Marty McFly. It’s on the bucket list of every Gen Xer. Sadly, other than the Tony Hawk hoverboard hoax, the technology still does not exist.

hoverboard

Still waiting for real-life Hoverboards

 

  1. Flying Cars

Really, I don’t even want to fly one, due to a slight fear of heights. I just want to see the vision brought to life. Just imagine – streams of cars flying through invisible freeways overhead, while down on the ground, the rest of us float along on Hoverboards and miniature, Power Wheels versions of flying cars.

Eyeglass televisions / telephones
Imagine if we were able to watch television and answer the phone and everything using our eyeglasses. That would be so…wait, what? That already exists? Oh yeah – Google Glass!

Google Glass

Google Glass is actually really, really cool tech.

  1. Trips to the Moon

Nope…although millionaires may choose to travel to outer space for a day of anti-gravity kicks, we still can’t hop on a spacecraft and take the family for a casual camping trip on the moon. Too bad. I was looking forward to helping my kids earn a scouting badge for space travel.

 

Robot Servants

Okay, I’m gonna come right out and say it. I’m glad that we don’t have robot servants like Rosie the Robot. Not that it wouldn’t be incredible to have a robot servant. It’s just that Rosie, with her low-tech blinking lights, wheels, and choppy, robotic voice, would be kind of a let-down. I want my future servants to be realistic – like a cross between The Terminator and the androids from I, Robot.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&docid=siOcTKAw9UB6HM&tbnid=2KJgurY8dfl63M:&ved=0CAUQjhw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thepaltrysapien.com%2F2012%2F07%2Fwhere-are-our-robot-servants-and-other-gizmos-asks-david-graeber%2F&ei=9yEXVNeREYO4ogTvnoGABw&bvm=bv.75097201,d.cGU&psig=AFQjCNEmwXWPyLc6txoQAltZZSFM3gPzqw&ust=1410888572333853

It’s actually rather impressive how many future predictions from The Jetsons and Back-to-the-Future have already come to fruition. Just look at the amazing technology we are surrounded by that were no more than science fiction just a couple of decades ago – flat screen televisions on our walls, video conferencing, mobile tablet computers, and 3D movie super-sequels instead of original material (Jaws 19, anyone?). Luckily, there are also a few future predictions that did not come true, such as moving conveyor belts inside our homes (pretty sure that wouldn’t help the obesity epidemic); or houses built on stilts as high as the stratosphere (because I kind of like being able to breathe, and because falling off the front porch could be a real bummer). I’m also really hoping that when the year 2063 actually arrives, our society will not have reverted back to the patriarchal, homogenous culture that apparently still existed in the Jetsons future. In that regard, perhaps we really have arrived in a sort of utopian future. Except for the lack of Hoverboards and flying cars.

Surrounded By Friends (No Kindles Allowed)

The Kindle is an impressive bit of technology. Really. I can see why so many people love it. Just download a few dozen books, and voila! An entire library in the palm of your hand. No need to surround yourself with cluttered shelves overflowing with books. Such speed! Such convenience! Such an improvement, right?

For some, yes. But not for me. You see, books are more than just clutter for me. During a lonely childhood, books were my faithful companions. Throughout a turbulent adolescence, they were a source of comfort. Whenever the world has grown too noisy, books have been there to soothe me with a gentle whisper of rustling pages and the faint smell of dust and ink.

Many people, I imagine, would prefer to sit in a stark, spotless room and read stories on the glowing screen of an e-reader. But in my daydreams, I am curled up in a soft, shabby chair, worn novel in hand, surrounded by shelves overflowing with my very best friends.

Favorite Books of All-Time

(Note: This list could change at any time, as I am always reading and discovering great new literature).

To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee

East of Eden — John Steinbeck

A Tale of Two Cities — Charles Dickens

David Copperfield — Charles Dickens

Harry Potter Series — J.K. Rowling

The Lottery (a short story) — Shirley Jackson

Brave New World — Aldous Huxley

About Love and Other Stories — Anton Chekov

Pride & Prejudice — Jane Austin

Jane Eyre — Charlotte Brontë

Inherit the Wind — Jerome Lawrence

Websites for Readers

Goodreads

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Shelfari