The internet is inescapable. No longer confined to a beige computer in your parents’ basement, it’s now a part of how we drive our cars, flush our toilets and even keep an eye on our sleeping babies. Depending on how you see it, we’re either living in a futuristic utopia with virtual assistants at our beck and call or a surveillance-state nightmare where digital barriers are mounting between the haves and have-nots.
The Internet of Everything captures this modern predicament and looks at what happens when we opt for the convenience of connected “smart” objects without fully understanding the potential consequences to our health, our communities and the planet.
Reformed techno-utopian dad Brett Gaylor explores the people and places that make the “Internet of Things” tick, travelling from his family home in Victoria to the awe-inspiring tech markets in Shenzhen, China. He visits the Consumer Electronics Show, sits in on startup investor pitches and participates in digital rights protests.
Gaylor’s award-winning documentaries Rip! A Remix Manifesto and Do Not Track have examined our relationship with the internet over the years, first marked by fascination and obsession, then growing discomfort around the abuse of our private information, and now a sense of overwhelming confusion. As the physical world and the internet merge, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Our homes, our bodies and our cities are increasingly being programmed by algorithms.
In The Internet of Everything, we meet startup founder Kristina Cahojova who is developing a Kegel device that transmits fertility data from women’s vaginas to the cloud (yes, really). We also meet a survivor of domestic abuse who was terrorized by her ex in their “smart” home, and visit Hangzhou, China, where citizens are rewarded when their behaviour conforms to social norms — such as exercising or using public transit — and penalized when it doesn’t.
In Toronto, we’re immersed in Google parent company Alphabet’s innocuous-sounding pitch for Sidewalk Labs, a proposed digitally responsive neighbourhood “built from the internet up.” But activist Bianca Wylie, a founder of #blocksidewalk, asks “Do people want to be having a test bed in a neighbourhood where people will live?”
Economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin proposes that these digital disruptions are part of a third industrial revolution, arguing that the internet is as significant a development as railroads and the internal combustion engine. But have all of our personal experiences been commodified in the process?
In Barcelona, we meet the city’s chief technology and innovation officer Francesca Bria, who has a public-spirited approach toward employing personal data, using it in projects that benefit the common good, such as reducing noise and air pollution. We also visit research institute Fab Lab Barcelona, which is at the forefront of a potential manufacturing revolution. They’re aiming to have everything in the city locally produced within 40 years to reduce waste and carbon emissions associated with shipping.
The Internet of Everything is a fast, funny and enlightening take on the vast reaches of today’s connected world. It investigates the “techlash” without falling into nostalgia for a simpler time or pessimistic doom and gloom, embodying the spirit of the early World Wide Web maxim: “Let’s share what we know.”