Internet of Things

The Internet of Things Is the Real Person of the Year

January 10, 2016

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS, and he is a columnist with InsideSources. Many publications, following the lead of Time, name a “Person of the Year.” This year, Time chose German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

According to Time, the criterion to be chosen is “the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or ill, and embodied what was important about the year.”

So at this year’s end, I think it is time for those who make those choices to add a co-equal category: things. Things change everything. They have throughout history, but with increasing rapidity in the last 150 years. And they do it more dramatically now than ever before.

The magazine’s first “Person of the Year” (actually, back then it was “Man of the Year”) was Charles Lindbergh in 1927. He was hailed for his first solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean on May 20-21 that year.

Huge and brave as Lindbergh’s flight was, it was the airplane, not the man, that changed aviation.

People change the way we live, but so do things. We now talk about the “Internet of Things,” where our home and work machines are all connected to the Internet. With this connectivity, a farmer will plow his fields from the local diner; and Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, will have his drones ring the doorbell when they deposit parcels.

The unfolding political year will have much sound and fury. Candidates will promise that if elected, they will change the country for the better. Yet technology might change us more. Ergo, we should have a “Thing of the Year.”

I hereby declare the Internet as the “Thing of 2015.”

Why now? Because this was the first year we stopped being aghast at the changes the Internet is bringing about and simply accepted them as a reality — just as 100 years ago, the automobile went from being a novelty to being part of the fabric of life.

This Christmas was the “Internet Christmas.” We bought more from Web retailers than ever before, and did not marvel at it. It is just “the way we live now.”

For holiday greetings, the Internet began to beat out traditional cards sent in the mail. Emailing your greetings is less labor intensive, and easier to personalize. Next year, expect more e-cards. If I worked at Hallmark, I would be pushing for additional electronic products before cards become another quaint piece of Americana on display at the Smithsonian, like rotary dial telephones.

I have not welcomed the Internet over the years. I like things the way they were. But this year was seminal for me: I decided the Internet, even the “Internet of Things,” was OK. Particularly, I like the way the Internet reaches out to the sick, the shut-ins, the truly lonely and the homesick. I can send Christmas greetings to family and friends in Austria, England, South Africa and Vietnam, as I have, from a little device balanced on my lap. Wow!

Yes, with the Internet, you and I can fly across the Atlantic faster than Lindbergh could gun his throttle.

Here are some things that might change your life more than any political figure in the year ahead:

  1. A prototype of a driverless car may zoom down a test track.
  2. Home 3D printing will spread — so if you break something, you can make a new one.
  3. All your appliances and gadgets will start speaking to each other: Using your cell phone, you will be able to defrost a steak in your home refrigerator while you are at work; or you will be able to get a diagnosis by taking a selfie of your inflamed eye.
  4. Your electricity may be generated on the roof of your house, and a robot may make your bed.
  5. A whole new generation of rockets will offer space rides.
  6. New materials, only one-atom-thick, may enable you to fold up your television and put it in your pocket.

Forget the politicians. Better ask the “things” what is in store; they are starting to talk to each other, and I do not want to be left out of the society of things.