I’m the worst kind of connected. So connected I don’t even realize how connected I am. I’ve got devices connected to other devices connected to vehicles connected to email accounts connected to thermostats connected to appliances. The engineer in me thinks this is cool. Maybe someday, as I’m pulling out of my driveway, my connected oven will tell my connected vehicle that I forgot to turn it off. My connected vehicle will apply the brakes, shift into reverse, and take me back to the garage. Or better yet, remotely shut off the connected oven for me. And since everything is logged into Facebook, my connected vehicle will post a selfie and automatically tell all of my connected friends about its accomplishment. I won’t even have to lift a connected finger.
The CIA doesn’t need to implant a chip behind my ear to know where I’m at, who I’m with, and whether or not I remembered to floss this morning. I’ve done it to myself with all of this connecting.
My dentist assures me that floss isn’t connected. Yet.
I work in Columbus, Indiana, a cute little town with architecture that rivals that of Chicago and San Francisco (I’m not kidding). Columbus, Indiana is located about 35 miles south of where I live on the south side of Indianapolis, a not-so-cute big city with architecture that rivals Toledo.
I got into my car on a recent weekday morning to drive to work, and noticed a message flash onto my iPhone screen. It was Google maps, politely informing me that the route to Columbus was clear and it should take me 43 minutes to get there.
Even with no more than two or three sips of coffee in my system, this struck me. I caught my breath, dropped the phone on the passenger seat, and looked over my shoulder to see who was there. Was there a Googler living in my backseat sending me these messages?
I spent most of the drive trying to figure out how my phone knew where I was going. I have toast for breakfast on weekdays, but not on weekends. Did the connected toaster alert Google? I get up earlier on weekdays. Was the connected low-flow shower head the culprit? What about the connected alarm clock?
Then it occurred to me.
I’m not too connected. I’m too predictable.
The Google algorithms had figured out the pattern, that’s all. When I plug my phone into the USB port in my car at 6:15am on Wednesdays, I’m headed to Columbus, Indiana. The algorithm wouldn’t need to be terribly complicated to figure that out — even with just a semester of C-plus programming, I could probably code it myself.
This didn’t make me feel much better.
My phone knew where I was going without me telling it or asking it how to get there. My phone knew I wasn’t getting an early start on a west coast hiking trip via Boulder, Colorado, where I’d stop for a 2-day layover to sample street music and local IPAs. My phone knew I wasn’t headed to the airport to board a private jet to Madrid to close the big deal and then hit the town with our new business partners for tapas and martinis. My phone knew I wasn’t rushing to the ER, where I’d gown up for immediate surgery because there was a horrifying waffle iron incident at the local Bob Evans and I was the only surgeon in town skilled enough to perform such a delicate, life-saving operation.
No. My phone knew I was driving to Columbus, Indiana, to spend a good portion of the day sitting behind a desk typing characters into a screen, and the rest of the day sitting at a conference table with 4-10 other unfortunate souls typing characters into screens while pretending to listen to whoever happened to be talking at the moment.
My phone knew all of this, and more. Powerless to stop it, my phone did what any well-meaning travel companion would do. It told me the route was clear.
The reality of my existence hit me like a ton of bricks. Or a ton of feathers. A ton of something. I’m that guy. The guy 19-year old me swore I’d never be. Aren’t I supposed to be feeding tens of thousands of malnourished children? Playing to sold out shows at Red Rocks? Curing cancer?
This bothered me. I thought about it most of the day, wondering how this had all come to pass. I drove home in silence. No music. Not even a Freakonomics podcast. Thinking about it all. Could I still do all of those things I told myself I would do? Was it too late? Was I destined to live a life accurately predicted by 20-somethings with bad facial hair and closets full of hoodies?
I parked in the connected garage and walked into the connected house, all of this weighing on my mind.
And then I smelled dinner on the stove. And I saw a bottle of wine on the counter. And there were two boys sitting at the kitchen island doing their homework with the help of a beautiful woman who looked a lot like the girl 19-year old me fell in love with a couple of decades ago. And there was a third boy running to me with his arms extended, yelling “Daddy’s home!”
And everything fell right back into place.
And suddenly, the algorithms didn’t bother me so much.
Google might’ve known I’d be in that exact spot at that exact moment, but it had no idea that I was right where I needed to be.