June 6, 2017

The Internet of Things Connectivity Binge: What Are the Implications?

Theme 4: More people will be connected and more will withdraw or refuse to participate

A portion of these respondents – 15% of them – said they expect that some people will choose to become more connected in the future, while others will opt out of the hyperconnected life. But most who articulated this theme said they feel that more will connect than will disconnect. Some predicted a trend in which some people become more connected at first and then pull back after serious IoT-connected infrastructure problems arise. Other respondents scoffed at the potential for the I0T advancing much by 2026, saying the technology will not be ready to be widely adopted.

Some will embrace it and some will ‘opt out before it happens’

Some respondents predicted that the future will be a mix of those who buy into full connectedness and those who partially buy in and partially opt out. Kjartan Ólafsson, head of the department of social sciences at the University of Akureyri, Iceland, commented, “I doubt that being ‘disconnected’ will be a viable choice in life. People might have a choice of various levels of connectedness however and some people might opt for (or aim for) some kind of limited connectivity.”

Many more people will connect, and hacks, attacks and illicit algorithmic control will increase. Most people won’t understand this and will do nothing about it even when it becomes clear.
David Golumbia

Steven Polunsky of Spin-Salad.com commented, “The marketplace will make Internet of Things a reality and people will have little choice. Eighty percent will adopt, actively or passively. Twenty percent won’t, either, because they choose not to or because they can’t afford to.”

Ryan Hayes, owner of Fit to Tweet, commented, “I agree that both will be trends. More people will disconnect but even more will become significantly more connected. I saw Amanda Palmer speak at SXSW and she made a comment related to this that stuck with me: ‘The most punk thing you can do today is disconnect. If you really want to be punk, go throw your phone in the lake.’”

Karl M. van Meter, sociological researcher and director of the Bulletin of Methodological Sociology, Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, wrote, “I cannot mark both ‘Most people will move more deeply into connected life’ and ‘significant numbers will disconnect,’ but that is what is happening and will continue to take place during the next decade. There will be great discrimination concerning for what being ‘connected’ is better than being ‘disconnected.’”

An anonymous senior security architect who works for a non-U.S. national telecommunications provider said, “Disconnection seems to imply fully unplugging. I simply expect a relatively low rate of adoption over the next five to 10 years, rather than seeing people move more deeply into connected life. Greater adoption will lead to real headline-grabbing incidents unless the security and privacy of these solutions is given more thought. ‘Fail fast’ is not a recipe for success when playing with other people’s security cam footage, their remotely lockable front door or the self-driving function of their car.”

An anonymous respondent who works in government said, “I would have answered ‘Both.’ There will always be a segment of society that understands and rejects the ‘Big Brother’ parallel.”

David Golumbia, associate professor of digital studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, said, “Many more people will connect, and hacks, attacks and illicit algorithmic control will increase. Most people won’t understand this and will do nothing about it even when it becomes clear.”

George McKee, a retired research scientist who began online in 1974, replied, “People will become more connected, like it or not. Utopian dreams of happy, healthy, disconnected societies will be fulfilled only in isolated groups, like the Amish and the Mennonites.”

An anonymous futurist and impact investor commented, “The answer is yes to both options. There will be a 95/5 distribution with most opting for connection, with a relatively large group – 5% – trying to live in the ‘real’ world. This will only last a few decades, however. Eventually we will all be connected.”

An anonymous principal security consultant wrote, “Both of these are likely true, in fact. There will likely be many people who want to stick with non-connected devices for one reason or another, but most people will likely adopt them for the ease of use and convenience features. Outages are treated as the price of doing business already: If a major ISP or power supplier has an outage, it already causes significant problems, but customers are used to this and rarely cause significant trouble for a supplier. It seems likely that this will continue, at least in regard to non-critical equipment: If your smart light bulbs don’t turn on or they flicker repeatedly it’s annoying, but not the end of the world. Some people will choose to avoid this problem entirely and others will choose to put up with it.”

Ed Lyell, professor of business and economics at Adams State University, said, “I believe many more people will choose to disconnect from the increasingly interconnected world. Yet the majority of people will accept and even embrace the Internet of Things since it will make their lives easier and more comfortable, perhaps even saving money. Yet criminals will also do well and hacks will occur. People are like water or electrical circuits and follow the path of least resistance. Thus, going along with industry-designed changes will be acceptable to most.”

An anonymous web and mobile developer commented, “These threats are an evolution, a transition, of existing threats. As with every evolution, good and bad things evolve. There will be some time needed for people to adjust and take adequate security measures.”

An anonymous network architect at a major international telecommunications company said, “It’s just starting, and security implications have not been thought through enough. There will be a huge uptake at first, then some well-publicised disasters, and people will withdraw until a more secure second generation evolves.”

Adrian Schofield, an applied research manager, observed, “Both answers apply. Millions will connect because they are at low risk and the convenience factor is high. Thousands will disconnect because they become targets or they fear becoming targets. However, fear of losing wealth has never stopped the relentless pursuit of wealth.”

An anonymous respondent replied, “Major attacks, etc., may put a significant number of people off using these technologies, but after a certain point it will become impossible to fully participate in society without them. Perhaps a greater number of people will form alternative low-tech communities.”

An anonymous executive director for an organization advocating digital rights in Europe wrote, “There is a big gap between ‘most people’ getting more connected and ‘significant numbers’ disconnecting. The correct answer is likely to be in that gap. Companies are desperately trying to connect everything, in the hope of harvesting useful data – from Bluetooth toothbrushes to period blood receptacles. This massive flurry of activity will take years to settle down and we will need to have worked through numerous scandals of data leaks and discrimination before we will be able to answer this question in a meaningful way.”

An anonymous professor of media production and theory observed, “The question seems to suggest a kind of opt-out movement. It’s possible. One thinks of the ‘back-to-the-land’ movements of the ’60s. That kind of disconnecting might come in the next generation, one that sees real losses in terms of human possibility from over-engagement with the Net. And that seems remote. People love being bathed in concern, even if it is only via a Fitbit. The smart home is just around the corner, and the smart self-driving car is a reality (and the first fatal accident in one).”

An anonymous respondent responded, “People will not willingly or voluntarily disconnect. They may modulate. A little. But they will not disconnect. Look, families stay together even when the families are demonstrably dysfunctional and the individuals in them recognize and agree to the dysfunction – even when it’s mentally and physically abusive and harmful to stay together. Look what it takes to disband a family that objectively 99% of people would agree needs to be disbanded. This doesn’t make staying together right or good. It just is. Social bonds are strong. Very strong. Electronic connections – they’re just an easy, relatively cheap, diffuse, pervasive, ubiquitous way to maintain and manifest social connections. It doesn’t mean that people won’t also seek collectively effervescent experiences – raves, concerts, sporting venues. It doesn’t mean they’ll forgo physical contact. Or going to restaurants. But they’ll also maintain their own social networks/connections in those venues. Disconnect? Ridiculous.”

An anonymous respondent said, “Never mind personal privacy being violated or the risk of fraud. Over time, we will grow hardened or thick-skinned to these possible penalties of connectivity.”

Right now the IoT isn’t that grand, so why worry either way?

A number of respondents – most of them thinking mostly of consumer-oriented applications of the IoT such as “smart-home” items rather than the key global infrastructure for sectors like transportation and finance – said it certainly doesn’t appear to be likely to provide much value to individuals. Cindy Cohn, executive director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote, “I think the Internet of Things is being wildly oversold and most of what they are building people won’t want – not because of ransomware, just because they are dumb ideas. What I hope is that people will demand better security for the things that they do find useful.”

Maybe I suffer from a lack of imagination, but there is a limited utility to the Internet of Things except in certain circumstances.
Anonymous respondent

Paul Dourish, chancellor’s professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine, commented, “Being able to remotely check the contents of one’s fridge or switch lights on and off with one’s phone simply aren’t terribly compelling applications.”

An anonymous executive manager at an NGO replied, “Currently, the IoT is more like a cargo cult than anything fact-based. Over time, areas where connection offers benefit will become clear, and areas where risks outweigh gain will also become obvious and die off. There are going to be horrible, horrible errors made and a great deal of damage done.”

Several other anonymous respondents agreed, saying that in the short term many flawed or irrelevant IoT devices and systems will disappoint consumers:

  • “The improvements in one’s life from the IoT are nominal and not worth the risks. I want to use technology to fix real problems, not to tell me when I need milk.”
  • “Lots of people are already turned off by the connected home and other IoT BS. I could foresee a robust marketplace for ‘old-fashioned’ consumer products that just do something really well without the bells and whistles. For example, a dumbed-down smartphone with limited icons on the screen, or a car with push-button interfaces instead of a touchscreen operating system.”
  • “Current corporate practice related to device support (i.e., the mass deactivation of devices made by the company Nest) doesn’t encourage people to depend on these systems.”
  • “My dream is that highly connected vehicles will make cars less attractive as products as minor electronic glitches render them inoperable and unfixable and mass transit will become more attractive. It could happen, right?”

Another anonymous respondent observed, “In my view, the problem is technology that puts the user in a place of dependence on a third party. If a user doesn’t trust that third party, that technology does not serve their needs. A key step toward establishing this trust is creating free and open source software (FOSS). One example of this is the mobile encrypted messaging app Signal. However, since software often uses servers that users do not control, there is still an element of trust needed. In the end, I think users will judge the IoT just like any consumer product and choose products that are a net positive. Just like the litany of $19.99 exercise equipment bought from TV infomercials, many IoT devices and services will end up in literal and metaphorical dusty attics.”

A few of these experts argued that the hype around the Internet of Things would have the lifespan of a fad and eventually fade. An anonymous participant wrote, “If people begin to disconnect (as many likely will), it will be because they crave the desire for simplicity and occasional solitude. Once more people take the internet for granted, they’ll use it more sparingly for the few things they truly need. Those weird buttons from Amazon that reorder laundry detergent for you don’t add enough value for the average person. Maybe I suffer from a lack of imagination, but there is a limited utility to the Internet of Things except in certain circumstances.”

An anonymous respondent predicted, “This one won’t work out. This is a fad to ‘connect’ your toaster to your toilet. People may actually learn that having your front door locks connected to the internet is a very bad idea, and that keys are pretty great after all.”

Another anonymous respondent agreed: “The term ‘connected life’ is unfortunate. The term ‘connected world’ is a fad. People were always connected with others. Let’s go back and read Alvin Toffler.”