shut up: the presence of silence

shut up image


There’s one thing that is undeniably true. The world is getting noisier. Everywhere you look, someone is vying for your attention. And now, as we move into the era of the Internet of Things (IoT), it seems that even devices want a slice of the action.

The apps on your phone are alerting you if they’re not being used enough, if there’s something they’d like you to do, if there’s some interesting piece of news it thinks you should know. And now, your watch is telling you it needs some attention and your bracelet is asking you why you don’t go on long walks together any more.

It’s relentless.

So I’m going to take an alternative view because I think the industry can do better.

So where are we going with IoT?

After a first wave of innovations, we seem to be taking a more sinister turn. Big business has spotted a new way to send you messages and train computers to push your buttons. It seems the next wave of advertising and marketing is squarely focused on your digital presence:

Walk into a store and your phone will immediately start buzzing…

  • Hello customer, you’ve been here before, welcome back! We have some sales on, do you want to learn more? …
  • Hello customer, we’ve determined that you’d like this new product. Shall we guide you over to it? …
  • Hello customer, you should head to aisle 3, there’s a sale on that you might like…

Now at first that might be interesting. You might even have a positive response of “wow, this shop is seriously automated”. But after a short period of time, I can assure you that that’s going to get pretty annoying. And really annoying if you accidentally venture into a mall!

Or put another way, it seems like the next wave of IoT is about to spawn a very scary future: the birth of thousands of Microsoft Clippies.

But this time, taking physical form in our pockets, threaded into our jackets, and locked around our wrists. A view that the machine will take control of our thinking and we’ll all be marched around shopping aisles by these virtual assistants.

It’s a bit like the zombie apocalypse – but you’re the zombie as no one is in the least bit interested in your brain.

Because ultimately, none of this is about the customer. In fact, it shows contempt for the customer in every way. Quite frankly,

If this is the future of IoT, here’s my phone. Thanks.

So, I’d like to see an alternative future. One that puts the customer first. That puts the customer in control of their data and their experience. It’s about small data, not big. Rather than focusing on trying to train computers to speak to me, use them to improve my experience dealing with your people. It’s about permission and trust, not data mining and super cookies.

Technology should enable better personal connections. It should deliver better customer service, better support, better care. Connected people – rather than connected devices.

So here’s how I’d like to see IoT applied…

I choose to share my digital presence with vendors that I trust. When I go into my favorite shop, the shop staff are notified I just walked in. Because I’m important (though don’t ask any of my daughters to verify that statement). They can see who I am, what I’ve purchased in the past and have an idea of my interests. Because I trust them with this information. Their experience highlights products and services that I might like to hear about. They get an understanding of how best to work with me. My “notification”, on the other hand, is very simple. And, it doesn’t come from a device, but from a person,

Hey Steve, welcome back. How’s the new laptop working for you?

That’s customer service – at scale. And that is the sound of truly elegant technology at work to help the customer. Silence.

Or put more sinisterly, in terms that perhaps make more sense to marketers and advertisers 😉 I’ll quote Kevin Spacey from The Usual Suspects:

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.


Steve is the CEO of the cloud workflow company, ManyWho. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and three children. When not working to better the world of enterprise application development he can be found amusing his kids with his guitar playing.