The API for Your Life

There’s an old cable yarn about a corporate office engineer on the receiving end of a trouble call that had escalated to his desk. It involved a distraught customer, convinced that her appliances were talking to her, and the set-top box was the conduit.

He listened, thought for a moment, then asked her to get a piece of paper and a pencil. She did. He then calmly described a complicated method, known only at corporate, and he really shouldn’t say — to permanently quiet the set-top. It involved tin foil.

The instructions took more than a half hour to describe. She read them back to him and hung up, gratefully armed to shut up her set-top, for good.

This all took place in the late 1980s. Set-tops were analog, and didn’t even connect bi-directionally, let alone with cameras, sensors or Internet connections.

Which brings us to the Internet of Things (IoT), and the Internet of Everything (IoE). What’s coming are sensors on all the stuff we buy, which we can activate or not.

How long did people not use the HD part of their HDTVs? Ten years? The technology was there. Its usage rose in step with the content made for it.

The same thing is happening now. Connectivity becomes a feature set for the things we buy. Its usage will rise as it is made useful. (And for those of us who long for Faraday Cage clothing: We don’t have to connect the sensors to anything … but … how can we be sure?)

Here’s how you’ll know it’s happened to you: Your gadgets clutter up with apps to control your individual belongings. Or maybe your “home” app folder will hold it all.

The point is this: We don’t have a choice. Soon enough, it’ll be as hard to buy everyday items without sensors as it’ll be to find a car with a manual transmission.

If that’s the case, then, it’s probably time to stop focusing on how very much we don’t need to know the number of oranges left in the refrigerator, and instead start daydreaming about how our belongings could be more useful to us. (Warning: This can be addictive and time-consuming.)

Ultimately, it’s about choosing the elements of a monitored world that matter. It started with counting steps, and tricking out home alarms with automated ways to turn out the lights, and turn down the heat.

Sensors link to the apps that control them by way of an API (Application Program Interface). The API for the life of the distraught cable customer would protect her from appliances that talk behind her back. The API for the stuff of the gourmand’s life would go long on food data.

The answer isn’t about who wins, Zigbee or Z-Wave or whomever. It’s absurd to think that only one or the other will wind up in homes. Likewise for monetization prioritization. It’s about who gets it right, when it comes to the APIs for our lives.

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