19 September 2013

When Every Thing Becomes Media.

“The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs. The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure. ” (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, NY, 1964, p. 8)

What McLuhan writes about the railroad applies with equal validity to the media of print, television, computers and now to the Internet of Everything (IoE).  The forerunner of this was the Internet of Things (IoT), which Kevin Ashton described in a presentation to Proctor and Gamble in 1999:

If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.

In 2007 founding Wired editor Kevin Kelly went about paraphrasing some initial thoughts by Tim Berners-Lee, describing four stages of the communication evolution leading to the emergence of the  IoT.

In the first stage, Berners-Lee identified the linking of computers was the link-up the network of networks, or the internet. The second, he said was the linking up documents and pages or the web. Back then we were at the end of the beginning of the third stage, where data is unbundled and in a form that can be read by any device on the web or what Berners-Lee calls “the World Wide Database”. In the fourth stage, he foresaw a “drift towards linking up the things themselves. You want all the data about a thing to be embedded into the thing. What we ultimately want is an internet of things.”

But now that’s been co-opted  to become the Internet of Everything (IoE). In August Cisco seized on it, claiming naming rights, creating a hashtag and a dedicated domain but also telling anyone who wanted to hear that it will create $14.4 trillion in total value for private companies over 10 years.

Cisco defines IoE as bringing together people, process, data and things to make networked connections and as McLuhan had already rightly identified, with the ability for the technology to turn all that information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experience and opportunity in much the same way as the technologies of the railway, telegraph, sound and cinema did.

And they cite “Metcalfe’s law” courtesy of Robert Metcalfe, well-known technologist and 3Com founder, who described how the value of a network increases proportionately to the square of the number of users. It’s 1 + 1 = 3. Then mash it with Intel co-founder Gordon Moore’s Law and the explosive power of the idea is even more greatly magnified.

In that analysis Cisco say that by 2015 as many as 15 billion devices will be connected, with a forecast 50 billion by 2050. When these machines, this media interact with each other, trading data with little intervention and without our knowledge, it might be safe to say, the IoE will be here.

But my IoE looks like this: computers, handhelds, an IP-enabled desk phone, smartphones and maybe my car but it’s on board computer isn’t connected except at the shop. Oh and then there’s Peter, my local delivery guy, he has a handheld scanner which I try and scribble on. I’m sure that’s connected. Yes, there are chips in some of my credit cards but from where I am right now this is still very much early stage in Ashton and Berners-Lee’s Internet of Things or even Cisco's IoE.

And as a strategist, many of my clients can barely deal with the data they have available now, if they even have it. Yet, the Internet of Everything is going to arrive and they’ll still be trying to deal with stage 3 of Berners-Lee’s communication evolution. More so, we are yet to see how the IoE this will pan out for consumer control where, for the most part, those connected things will be delivering data back to origin points determined by the media creators and not by the users. When this happens, marketing may well become an arm of technology and analytics and their application overlayed by neuro-scientific and behavioral-based brand insight and thinking, media will be everything and it will truly begin to transform our lives.   

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