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The internet of things: an elephant in the room that threatens to squash us

By Lewis Blackwell

April 4, 2013 | 5 min read

I've had coffee with an ambassador who represents the elephant in the corner of the room.

© Yang Liu/Evolve Images. Courtesy of our partners at

It is a virtual elephant in a virtual room. But it is a room we're all in and the elephant threatens to squash some of us. Even in virtual rooms there's only so much space.

The ambassador's name is Andy Hobsbawm. We'll get to the elephant's name in a moment. Andy's something of a digital guru (in the Digital Hall of Fame, no less ) and one of the founders of the business EVRYTHNG.

He and his colleagues are concerned with developing 'the internet of things'. That's the elephant. They point out that we are at a point where everything significant that we buy could carry a digital signature to be uniquely identifiable and connected so as to create a web of things. The life of that bottle of water on your desk, or the shoe on your foot, can be trace-able, link-able, and thereby carry intelligence. About you as well as it.

It sounds a little far-fetched and yet it is already here. Andy's company is doing projects with the likes of Diageo, while the link between Apple and Nike+ is well established, enabling our running shoes to chat to our iPhones and computers and entertain the web with our efforts to get fit.

Anyway, Andy's business gives me a headache quite quickly as I struggle to imagine the implications of the humungous data generated by everything we touch. And then there's the data generated by mixing up the data with other data in order to create more data that predicts the future and reshapes our existence. Got that? Just a little scary, yes?

I don't mind my bike or my fridge talking about my habits but the implications of underwear or individual deodorants having their own Facebook page, or the web-of-things equivalent, is mind-boggling. What if - oh dear, how embarrassing - you don't appear to have a deodorant life? Too much information or not enough, either way as we become even more defined by our consumption this could get vicious. I can sense a lobby forming to say our rights are being eroded in ways that go way beyond what Google's done to us so far.

But never mind the encroachment, there seems an inevitability about the internet-of-things. It's going to creep up on us rather fast – elephants do move amazingly quickly – and then sit right on us. It could crush several aspects of the media and marketing landscape we know and love and earn our livings from.

The internet-of-things will change how we define and spend across media, what we think of as marketing, and how we conceive and design products. Just a few alterations to consider then.

Everything becomes media (once again, Marshall McLuhan's crazier statements become true). Everything will be developed and designed with a view to how it is no longer a dumb product but one that communicates. Endlessly. We will need to plan and control the interaction with a stream of information from the birth of the product through all its mediations unto its death. Us do part. Of course, in some cases, our death may come the sooner and that will be a little blip of data in the life of the product.

I'll finish by mashing this thought with something shared by Sir Martin Sorrell recently. He wrote that American consumers spend less than 10 per cent of their time on newspapers and magazines, but more than 20 per cent of marketing budgets are spent on these traditional media.

And these consumers apparently spend a third of their time on the internet and mobile while only 20 per cent of budgets are spent on those media.

Sir Martin concluded that things must change. His clarity with stats, and his position at the head of the mighty WPP, makes it seem inevitable. The pressure is mounting and at some point the spending – and thinking – will slide more rapidly from traditional to digital. But some of that digital media is already looking old. What the internet-of-things proposes to do is reshape aspects of the digital offer, adding a higher level of measurement, accountability and control that makes the case even more compelling to spend there. The future of media and marketing will look very different again.

Now I've forgotten to tell you the elephant's name. Feel free to propose one below. A delightful old media souvenir to the best suggestion.

Picture © Yang Liu/Evolve Images. Courtesy of our partners at


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