In the ‘Internet of Things’… Please Remember the People


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When I was a very young mother (and this was a very, very long time ago) my mantra was ‘people are more important than things’. It worked the way a good mantra should, as an all-purpose stress reducer. It was especially handy after some bauble had been broken by the crashing of a particular toddler into a coffee table, or to calm things down after that same toddler started pounding on a sibling with a purloined toy. In other words, my mantra served equally as a reminder to myself, and as an influence on the moral development of my offspring.

People before things. I think it’s still worthy of consideration.

The other day, a former pro football player-turned-consultant told me about what goes on in the locker room when the team is not on the field. I have to admit, I was doubly disappointed. There were no lurid tales of cheerleaders gone wild; nor were there any heart-warmers about player’s moms showing up with homemade chicken soup or huckleberry pie. Not even a kid with cancer getting an autographed shirt from her sports idol. Nope. It was mostly the same as what goes on in the average living room these days: just individuals communing with their tablets and smartphones. Oh, dear.

‘But wait,’ you say, ‘they can’t all just be playing games! There’s Facebook and Twitter, sending selfies on Instagram, and texting, too.’ Yes, these pastimes do give the impression of social activity, but even then they may not actually be social, because no matter how many ‘friends’ or followers you’ve amassed, you’re alone with yourself and mostly sending one-way signals. There is no guarantee, and rarely an immediate way to know, whether or not even one person has seen, thought about, or cared what you just did.

Compare that with having a face-to-face conversation.

I can understand the appeal, having come of age during the time of beatnik culture. (This was before hippies, and way, way before the dawn of hip-hop.) Back then, alienation had been raised to an art form, but poetry was recited in coffee houses and listeners snapped their fingers to signify that the message was received, processed, and appreciated. There were creators, critics, patrons, and fans, in person and active on the typical team.

Today, we have an internet that can (and does) bring people together from all around the world to support a cause or to fund a startup business, and websites that personalize user experiences. But are these really personal connections – or just sophisticated transactions? The buzz-phrase ‘Internet of Things’ refers to an internet populated by inanimate objects that can be tracked and managed remotely. I don’t think it was meant to include people, but I worry if that might be where it’s headed.

As the word Alchemy describes the effort to transform base metals to gold, Dr. Joshua Lederberg coined the term ‘Algeny’ to describe the ‘upgrading’ of human organisms to generate better performance. In terms of giving people more knowledge, more range, and greater potential, the Internet of Things may seem to be a sort of ‘Algenist’s Apprentice.’ But like the Sorcerer, whose errant Apprentice misused powers that he didn’t fully comprehend, perhaps we should be aware. Not hostile or fearful. Just aware.

Consider this: those football players are surrounded by people whose job it is to polish and reinforce the interconnectedness of self, others, and team success. Their solitary communion with the Internet of Things is regularly replaced by green grass and a chalk-lined gridiron where (in an immediate and physical way) they crash headlong into their Reality of Teaming.

Yes, I have just capitalized Reality and Teaming. For those of us who are ‘on our own’ in exploring and experiencing the disembodied existence made possible in the internet and all of its things, Reality and Teaming may well be the saving graces.

Here’s to a warm and wonderful 2014. May all your interconnections be supportive, synergetic, and oh-so-satisfying!

Dr. Janice Presser
Dr. Janice Presser is a behavioral scientist, CEO of The Gabriel Institute, thought leader in talent science, author of six books on teams, and architect of Teamability® , the completely new 'technology of teaming'. Launched in 2012, the technology caps a quarter-century of behavioral science R&D, including nine years of software development. Engineered to identify and organize the foundational elements of team activity and team management, Teamability produces true analytics of team chemistry, and delives practical, repeatable business benefits.


  1. …offline, especially informal face-to-face, communication continues to be more powerful in terms of influence than online informal communication. And, although online interaction has dramatically increased over the past few years, much of the back-and-forth is what social scientists call ‘phatic’, or fairly passive (and, to some of us, banal and time-wasting). It’s the eating alone or bowling alone syndrome, writ large and worldwide: As you note, the Internet doesn’t really bring people together; but it does encourage idea-sharing and participation.

    The “Internet of Things” also has powerful business implications, both positive and negative. One of these is reputation and image, which leverages consumer behavior:

    Ultimately, it should be recognized by organizations and marketers that online and offline communication achieve different ends:


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