The “Internet Of Things” Is Probably Making Us Dumber

July 24, 2013



When I stop to think about all of the items I have lost in my lifetime — wallets, keys, CDs, golf clubs, a freaking saxophone! — it makes me nauseated. I bet I have lost thousands of dollars worth of stuff on account of my own carelessness.

Luckily, I have reformed my ways.

Over the course of several years, I have become freakishly habitual (which is different than obsessive compulsive) about where I place and keep things. Throughout the course of a day, I am constantly snapping mental pictures as part of a very intentional effort to never lose anything ever again. My recall is now so clear, my wife often texts me to ask where her things are.

This process of sharpening my memory may be for naught now that the Internet of Things has delivered us a product that basically renders the human memory obsolete. It’s called Tile, and it’s a stroke of I-always-wondered-why-that-didn’t-exist-yet genius. Here’s how it works:

A Cloud-based mobile app that will help you locate any item upon which you have stuck a fancy little chip? Had this existed in 1998, I would have never been forced to quit middle school jazz band or lost my dorm keys in the Metrodome on my third day of college. I could have just dragged my knuckles through life, peering at my iPhone whenever I needed to find something.

Technology is great. Except when it isn’t.

Tile reminds me of the three seasoned climbers who died scaling Mount Hood in northern Oregon in December 2009. While the climbers worked their way to the 11,250-foot summit, the weather turned treacherous. All three perished. It took three days to find the first body, and the remaining two bodies were found eight months later. Not one of the climbers chose to wear a locator beacon, a safety device that signals emergency services when a climber is in need of rescue.

You would think search and rescue teams support climbers wearing these beacons. You would be wrong. From the Portland (Ore.) NBC affiliate:

Steve Rollins of Portland Mountain Rescue told KGW that a locator beacon would not have helped searchers in this case.


He added that the Search and Rescue community in Oregon unanimously opposes mandating that climbers carry beacons, and that “the public tends to take increased risks when they carry devices such as beacons because they feel they will be rescued if they carry one.”

The problem is similar with Tile. Possessing a device that can help you find lost things basically invites you to lose them.

By definition, Tile is more than a technology. Where technology is defined as the practical application of knowledge, Tile is the practical replacement of knowledge. And that’s dangerous territory, hoss. Do we really want solutions so advanced, they replace the very cognitive traits that have kept humankind atop the food chain for eons?

Internetting things for the sake of convenience is great. Example: Nest, the smart thermostat that allows me to control my home temperature at all times from my phone. I love it. Internetting things to create something like Tile, though, is like putting a supportive brace on a perfectly healthy joint. Eventually, the joint will weaken, forcing you to actually require the brace.

I don’t think we want to go there. 

I understand that practicality Tile aims to deliver. I would love to try it sometime. But if we continue to rely on gadgets to perform extremely basic human functions like remembering where things are placed, I worry our tech dependency has reached a pitiful low.