Disconnecting from the IoT: Are we in too deep?

People using smartphones

For some, the internet of things (IoT) is a wonderland of information and communication. For others, they prefer human interaction, and not to be bothered by the constant bombardment of alerts on their devices. For the latter, the IoT is making it virtually impossible not to be connected in some shape or form, and to make matters worse, as we spend more time in the IoT, the more connected we become — making it harder and harder to back out and disconnect. Some predict that soon, the IoT will be impossible to detach from.

Today, 49% of the world’s population is connected online and an estimated 8.4 billion connected things are in use worldwide. These numbers are only due to increase exponentially with time. The IoT carries enormous technical, social, and professional benefits, but not without consequence. In many cases, what makes the IoT so great also makes it dangerous. The IoT is much too vast and complicated to decide whether to embrace or reject it on one factor, but it will help to understand the implications of an ever-expanding IoT completely. But sooner rather than later, you will have to decide if you will take the red pill or the blue pill.

The technical implications of the IoT

It is a technical marvel that we have an estimated 8.4 billion connected devices in the world. Computers, smartphones, tablets, and even smart TVs can communicate with each other and relay information over the Internet for streaming and many other capabilities. But having so many capable devices connected to each other — and the Internet — does not come without serious risk.

The good

An astronomical amount of data and information can be accessed and shared through an increasing number of devices. From cars and smart homes to wearable technology, it has never been easier to access the Internet and communicate with other devices and people. This communication, exchange of information, and automation provide cost-saving and convenience that the general public is coming to rely upon on an everyday basis.

The bad

The IoT is a security and privacy nightmare. In many cases, it is the very same connectedness that the public enjoys that leaves us open to cyber attacks. DDoS and malware attacks such as WannaCry have revealed the vulnerabilities of connected devices and data on the unprotected networks. Cyber attackers can hack and blackmail their way directly into our personal data that we keep on our devices, or blackmail their way for money or other personal gain. With more and more devices becoming connected, it is not out of the realm of possibility that cyber attackers can take over a whole city or country. If something is not done about the security issues of the IoT, it could lead to catastrophic outcomes.

The professional implications of the IoT

The IoT is revolutionizing the professional landscape. Data, and the instant transferring of data, is just too beneficial to the success of virtually every industry today. It has even come to the point that our education system recognizes the connective and informational benefits of the IoT, and students will need the internet and connected devices to better prepare themselves for the workforce. While the IoT is exploding onto the business world, we have to be wary of the negative impacts as well.

The good

Healthcare, manufacturing, and even the agricultural industry are just a few that are taking advantage of the IoT. Wearable technology can help patients and physicians become aware of and treat medical conditions. Data analysis and automation are assisting in the predictive maintenance and machine performance in the manufacturing field. Smart sensors can remotely monitor agricultural equipment, providing efficiency and cost-effective methods in tracking control pumps, chemical levels, and soil profiles. The IoT is taking over small and large-scale tasks for many industries — changing them so much, that they will not be able to go back.

The bad

As the IoT automates tasks, it also takes jobs away from individuals who would generally fulfill these roles. The IoT is shifting job roles from humans performing duties to compiling the data and providing application techniques for devices and algorithms to perform these tasks. People without these skills may find it difficult to keep their jobs and compete in the job market. Additionally, there is the persistent threat of privacy and security vulnerabilities. As more and more industries adopt these devices and connect their data, cyber attacks loom in the shadows.

However, as businesses see it today, the benefits of the IoT outweigh the possible security threats. This may be a dangerous admission, as a hack or data breach can cripple a business or corporation.

The social implications of the IoT

We are living in an age where we can talk to people all over the globe in real-time. Additionally, the IoT provides us with all the up-to-date information we could ever wish to know. We are only in the initial shockwave of the IoT, and the coming years will see even more devices connected into our everyday lives. This can be great in the correct dosage, but a saturation of these things can be harmful to our way of life.

The good

Whether you are a Luddite or not, the IoT has improved the quality of life for millions of people. The far-reaching applications of the IoT and its devices, ease of communication, flow of information, and monitoring and automation are becoming the way of life for many people. In fact, the conveniences of the IoT are creating a demand for more devices we can implement in our lives to make the IoT a more substantial part of it. But we may also need to consider the detrimental impacts the IoT brings before we further connect ourselves — maybe making it impossible to disconnect.

The bad

Security and privacy threats are reason enough for some people to want to disconnect from the IoT. However, more problems arise when we start making our connected devices a more significant part of our everyday lives. The more we lean on technology and everything it can provide for us, the more we develop a reliance on these technologies.

We have gotten to the point where technology addiction is an epidemic in many regions of the world. Technology addiction has become such a problem that we are starting to recognize it as a disorder. We are being introduced to technology at an increasingly younger age, and people will more easily become addicted to things such as selfies and status updates on social media — prompting some tech weary advocates to consider a social media detox.

With our dependence on technology, it’s not unrealistic to think that we may grow out of touch with the real world. However, this does not deter many people from embracing the IoT and making their home a smart home, and even imagining smart cities. A security threat or power outage could be disastrous to a smart city and its inhabitants. If in any way this tech fails, the humans that rely on it would be lost.

In conclusion

The IoT is not a perfect entity. However, it does provide some elements for a better quality of life. Who knows, maybe as the IoT advances, it will reduce its security vulnerabilities — but that’s not the only problem. Sooner or later, we will have to make a choice in either embracing or disconnecting from the IoT.

Furthermore, the longer we stay connected, the more we won’t be able to back out. In most cases, it is a matter of preference when making this decision. Will you end up like Wade Watts in Ready Player One, fighting in the virtual reality universe of OASIS? Or, will you forgo all civilization and its technology like Chris McCandless (without the tragic outcome, ideally) of Into The Wild?

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