The Internet of Things is the New Feudalism

I recently discovered Bruce Sterling’s 30-page essay called The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things, (download on which outlines how the current paradigm of Big Data mining is turning all of us so-called “customers” into feudal slaves.

This is how the big five — henceforth known as GAFAM (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft) — work. They give us cool, useful tools that we often don’t even have to pay for. We revel in this apparent generosity, we flock to their tools. And suddenly they are using us — by overtly mining our data and our photos, our check-ins and our purchases, our web searches and our habits. All thanks to the “free” software — and in some cases hardware — that they provide. We’re all wittingly or unwittingly, handing over our data because, well, Grandma wants to see your graduation photos on Facebook.

ESSAY SUMMARY: If the hype is to be believed then the next big thing is the Internet of Things. But is it what you think it is? Because the Internet of Things is not about things on the internet. A world in which all our household gadgets can communicate with each other may sound vaguely useful, but it’s not really for us consumers. The Internet of Things serves the interests of the technology giants, in their epic wrangles with each other. And it is they who will turn the jargon of “smart cities” and “smart homes” into a self-fulfilling prophesy. In this piercing and provocative essay, Bruce Sterling tells the story of an idea that just won’t go away because there’s too much money to be made and a whole world to control.

I’ve been reading this all weekend in short spurts because there’s much to digest. And because, for a tech-loving writer in the 21st century, this affects my reality as a curator, as a marketer. It’s really nothing that hasn’t been said before. It’s just that Sterling says it without pulling punches.

Bruce Sterling is a thought leader, a science fiction author and editor, a columnist for WIRED. He’s been thinking about this stuff, following this stuff, creating fictions about this stuff, years before there was even a working internet.

His view isn’t law. But it’s a solid, well-crafted explanation of the current paradigm. Even if it is an argument that posits no solution. After all, how do we live without GAFAM? By going to ghost town social networks like Diaspora*, and By flocking to new, untested tools like Ello? By completely going off the grid and living in communes in remote forests, away from Wifi and RFID and cell towers?


The bitter truth is: we know we’re being spied on. We know our data is being mined. But we use GAFAM’s tools anyway, because they’re convenient and useful, and so finely ingrained into our habits as to be impossible to excise.

Once more, repeat after me, there is no privacy.

There is only “use and be used.”

Good luck to us.

Download Bruce Sterling’s “The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Things” (.epub):

Image credits: from

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