I have a dream. Not a metaphysical dream of sorts, but a dream about the future, our lives, the world we live in, and how technology will increasingly play an important part of lives. I have a dream, and it goes like this.
One day, I will wake up to my digital alarm clock, and as I hop in the shower, my clock will send a signal to boot up my computer, log onto the Internet and download my email. My computer will be the hub of my life, much as it is today. How wonderful it would be to have intelligent devices around us in our homes. A fridge that know its contents and expiration dates and will warn you when milk is about to expire. Or a Digital TV that automatically knows the TV Guide and can be programmed to record the shows you don’t want to miss. A DVD player (VHS is dead) that has your entire video library in its memory and can keep track of how many times you’ve watched a particular movie, or even update your web page whenever you bring home a new movie. Or better yet, even track the movies you’ve rented. I don’t know about you, but I’m always renting movies I’ve already seen.
On hot days, right before I Ieave work, I can log into my home network and turn on the air conditioning. On cold days, the heat. I can program my computer to remind me to water the plants, feed the fish, and use that year-old hamburger that’s in the freezer. I can use my web site to solicit feedback about what movies to watch, what new foods to try, and whether or not Fiji is a great place for a vacation. Recommendations can be stored, and cross-checked with flight availability and notify you when a particular airline has a sale price. If five people recommend the same book, your computer can automatically check to see which online bookstore has it on sale. Once I have read it, I can write a review and record my thoughts and store them as well, all of which is accessible from anywhere in the world courtesy of the Internet. I will have control over how much information I want to share with my family, my friends, or even the entire world should I choose to do so.
I dream of a bookshelf that knows what books I own, all the while communicating with my computer, logging when I remove a book, loan one out, sell a book, or buy more. Sales receipts can easily be read by an inexpensive device, forever storing how much money you’ve spent on food, on medicine, or other personal items. Digitizing everything surely will make tax preparation a lot easier, with specialized programs sifting through the data looking for exemptions you may have missed.
Always on the lookout for new ways to make money, this data could be sold to corporations who are craving the information that will give them an upper hand on their competitors, to predict the next hot trend, or attempt to figure out what makes 30-year-old white males buy what they do. Privacy is of little concern, since companies would quickly pop up to fill the need of buying this information and stripping it of personal identifiers before it was passed on to the corporations, who really only want numbers. They could care less what your name is, they simply want to know what people are buying and why.
Supermarkets, perhaps, are the on the cutting edge of being able to take advantage of such data. Knowing what products sell well in a particular area of the country will allow them to assure that there is plenty in stock, and perhaps even email your fridge when your favorite items are on sale.
Bookstores would benefit tremendously by knowing what the local residents had on their bookshelves. And local residents would benefit by being able to access a database of what books, music, and videos they had at home, perhaps even right from the store via an Internet-enabled kiosk. Instead of trying to rack your brain to remember the title of a particular book or the name of a particular author, you could look it up right there at your local bookstore. In fact, having access to personal data in any commerce arena would be a tremendous benefit, potentially avoiding the dreaded return or exchange because the color was wrong, the food contained an allergic inhibitor, or you forgot that you already had that video.
It’s not about giving away all your secrets, habits, or personal information. It’s about putting you back into control of that information. No longer would you be subtly influenced by advertising media and blatant in-your-face marketing, but you would be able to solicit opinions from existing users of a particular product or service, all accessible via the Internet and piped right into your personal profile and home network on a regular basis. Companies will re-tool their advertising campaigns and customer service teams to help you get the information you need and want, and help you make an informed decision. The more information you have and the more information you are willing to give up, the easier it will be to make the decision to purchase or not.
There’s no doubt about it, the wired lifestyle will some day be a reality. The technologies are being developed, the beta-testers are providing valuable feedback, and the early adopters are lining up at the door. The question isn’t how, but when. I believe it’s only a matter of time.
Posted by Cameron Barrett at July 18, 1999 11:59 PM