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What Will It Be Like When You Are Online All The Time?

Sandra Prior
Jun 5, 2008
Totally Wired

A man walks down the street, waving his arms and talking to himself. No problem, he's dictating an email. A woman sits on a park bench, stabbing at a pocket computer with a plastic stylus. Is she selling shares or checking the contents of her fridge?

A boy slumps on the bus, eyes concealed by dark glasses. He looks half asleep, but his busy studying for his college finals. Hands free computing, online fridges, glasses that double as video screens... the future is wired, but not in the way you've become accustomed to. Before long, you'll be online in a dozen different ways, as and when you need to be.

You'll connect to the appliances in your kitchen as easily as you do to computers on the other side of the world, and you'll control them as if you were on the spot.

Wired Homes

The traditional double storey house, with two power sockets in every room and a single phone point, is due for an update. What's interesting about the internet home is not so much the technology involved, but the fact that it isn't a one off showcase. By the time you read this, wired homes will be the norm all over the UK and the USA.

From the outside, the internet home is just another five bedroom house. It doesn't look that different from the inside either, unless you're the sort of geek who goes around counting power sockets, data points, routers, PCs', webcams, ADSL lines, and ordinary phone lines. Altogether it contains $1 000 of network gear, most of which is standard off the shelf equipment.

Future homes will have the ports, cables and switches built in. The extra wiring will add value. It'll be a selling point when you move. If you want to make the most of your wired home, you'll have to add the computers and other goodies. Probably you won't do this yourself, because setting up a router isn't as simple as plugging in a toaster. You'll call an expert.

There will be companies that specialize. It is pretty straight forward to set it all up, and a lot of the boxes will arrive pre-configured, ready to be personalized for an individual family. Another key feature is the Hometronic Home Controller, a wireless system that controls the central heating and switches appliances on or off. It can be hooked up to the net for remote access, enabling you to log on to your house as you leave the office and turn up the heat. It isn't on the market yet, but should be available sometime soon.

Being able to control your house from anywhere has its attractions, but you wouldn't want some ne'er-do-well hacker switching on the lights at 3:00am, or turning on the aircon in the heart of winter. How secure is the internet home?

New for Old

You might not want to move house just to Netrify your life. However, the network infrastructure could be retrofitted to existing homes, just as people add central heating. High speed wireless networks will save you from ripping up the floor.

Why would you network your home? The benefits aren't that great. You can play quake with your kids. Several people can share a printer and the internet connection. You can check on your new baby using a webcam. Wired homes will become the norm when companies start selling Internet-enabled appliances. Electrolux is working on a screenfridge that brings the Net into your kitchen. A web browser gives you access to online recipes, a video camera lets you record messages and a scanner keeps track of your food. When you run out of beer, it prompts you to visit an online superstore.

All these appliances could be built today, using current technology. They'd be expensive, but that's not the sticking point. The reason they aren't in your local furniture and hi-fi store is because there isn't the infrastructure to support them. For the screenfridge to work, barcodes need to be replaced by radio tags that can be read from any angle. You aren't going to pass your tub of butter over a scanner each time you put it away, so the fridge needs to be able to track it automatically. That means Electrolux has to work with supermarkets and food companies to change the way products are labeled.

Even then, how does the fridge know whether you're putting back a nearly full tub or an empty one that need to be replaced? And supposing it decides to order a new tub, who's going to take delivery of it and put it into the fridge? You are. Real life is full of real things that can't be converted into ones and zeros.

Clothes, furniture... computers. If you're going to be the brawn that moves everything around, you might as well supply some of the brains. And speaking of brainpower, wired life will involve more planning ahead. There's no point in turning on the coffee machine from your bedroom if it doesn't already contain water and coffee. Turning on the oven from the pub might save you a few minutes, but you won't be able to check if it's empty. Sure, your smart oven will sound the alarm when its contents catch fire, but you'll end up making tea for the fire brigade instead of cooking pizza for yourself.

Wherever you Go

Once your house is totally wired, you could just stay in it and have all those real things delivered. You could even change your name to DotComGuy. More probably, you're going to want to go out and take the internet with you.

If you're the least bit interested in cell phones, you'll have noticed a lot of fuss about WAP, the Wireless Access Protocol, which enables you to access the internet. It isn't the internet as you know it. Instead, you get selected bits of selected sites, trimmed to suit tiny screens and the 9.6Kbps data transfer rate of GSM networks. (GSM, or Global System for Mobile, is the technology used by digital mobile phone networks in the UK and South Africa). More interesting services are being developed all the time and WAP will soon become full multimedia rich.

Bandwidth is now less of an issue since the inception of GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), a much faster data transfer service.

Everything, Everywhere

Ultimately, you'll need to know whatever you need to know, no matter where you are. Remembering things will be less of an issue, because your technology will tell you where you've been, who you've seen and what you're supposed to be doing next. Being in the right place at the right time won't matter as much either, although there'll still be times when your physical presence is required.

Don't imagine that you'll be able to give up thinking, because you'll still have to make the hard decisions. Do you want to be a firefighter or a brain surgeon? Should you wait for him/her to call? Should we invade Iraq and Iran and get blown to pieces by suicide bombers? Will your kids end up in therapy if you make them eat all their vegetables, including the Brussels sprouts? Technology will bring you information, but it doesn't have all the answers.
About the Author
Sandra Prior runs her own websites at http://usacomputers.rr.nu and http://sacomputers.rr.nu.
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