The Internet of Things – Supplied or Demanded?

Yves here. This is an extremely instructive analysis. And denizens of Wall Street may recognize the parallels to the old saying, “Stocks are sold, not bought.”

By Clive, an investment technology professional and Japanophile

Without promotion, something terrible happens… nothing! – P.T. Barnum

You might have heard of ukiyo-e, a style of Japanese art which caused something of a sensation when it was introduced to the West in the 18th and 19th centuries and is cited as having influenced members of the avant-garde artistic movement in the early 20th century. Little original ukiyo-e survived in its homeland and when, much later, it was recognised by the Japanese as an important aspect of Japan’s cultural heritage, the ukiyo-e often had to be obtained from foreign museums and purchased from U.S. and European collectors.

Contemporary western eyes recognised instantly that the ukiyo-e was something distinctive and valuable. I usually translate ukiyo-e as meaning “pictures of the world as it floats by” because that gives a sense of how ukiyo-e captures that which is fleeting, everyday and ordinary. Cheaply produced in large quantities, to the Japanese at the time it was mere basic decoration. I think it was seen in the same way as we might see a fridge magnet today. It, even at its most profound, simply captures something that was momentarily special at that point in time or, more mundanely, just brightens up a dull corner. The ukiyo-e’s ubiquity to the Japanese prevented them from appreciating how it enabled a vast number of snapshots of Japanese life and culture to be preserved.

I think today’s advertising is our own ukiyo-e. Derided, ignored, it turns into our culture’s background visual noise and decoration. Hopelessly passé as soon as it is seen, we don’t examine it and we don’t give it, usually, a second thought when we – its target audience – sees it as intended by the companies which pay for it. But my view is that it holds up a unique mirror to our societies and our prevailing cultures if we can take the time to look into it from a slightly oblique viewpoint.

This comes from the fact that, by necessity, advertising has to do an awful lot with limited resources in a very short space of time. When advertising has to assemble its message, it can’t afford the luxury of being too experimental or straying away from the familiar. Promotors of whatever product or service is being marketed instead have no choice but to rummage around in a dressing-up box of cast-off hand-me-down metaphors, well-known and well-understood concepts and simple, easily spotted references. Unavoidably, given the constraints, there’s often little opportunity to polish away gender, racial and class stereotyping. Social problems can either be seen, sometimes seeping through unintended or – even – actively called on to reinforce the selling point.

Compare this with academic or scientific research. No reputable academic or scientist wants their results to be “contaminated” with clichés, unwanted influences like peer pressure or inadvertent biases like sexism. But as a consequence, these things don’t typically get studied formally or, if they are studied, the act of studying comes with baggage all of its own. Well, we can redress the balance and do the studying ourselves, if we open our eyes to what’s going on around us a little.

As an example, I vividly recall the first time I saw, when visiting the U.S., a television commercial for prescription medication. I was genuinely shocked. I’d say that what made it most memorable was not just the shock at my initial reaction that pharmaceutical companies could – and obviously did! – advertise prescription medication but that people in the U.S. had so obviously normalised it. Having seen the commercial and being, as we say here, gobsmacked, once I’d picked my lower jaw up off the floor I spluttered to my companions who were watching the television with me at the time and tried to express some semblance of how stunned I was and how deeply, deeply wrong I found the whole idea to be. But they just gave me an odd look and, in a roundabout way, asked me what all the fuss was about.

When I pointed out how it was that they so failed to see how – through watching that commercial – it was so obvious to an outsider (a non U.S. resident) that here, laid bare, was a perfect illustration of who the various actors are in U.S. healthcare (or the healthcare market?), what their roles are supposed to be and how distorted the whole ensemble is, they were genuinely nonplussed.

Then came the really unexpected part. My fellow viewers – who I knew to be pretty liberal sorts – got, highly uncharacteristically for Americans, not a little peeved at my indignant questioning. In criticising the prescription medication commercial, it was like I was mounting an assault on shared American values themselves. This was because the commercial was the embodiment of certain American values writ large on the television screen. How dare, in effect my viewing companions asked, I suggest that what they get to see on television should be censored? And how did I have the nerve to think that they were not sophisticated enough consumers to know what was good for them?

The conversation went on for a little while as we ended up comparing the merits, or otherwise, of the U.S. system of healthcare and what it involved from healthcare users (consumers?) until one of my friends, who I always knew as being very mild mannered mentioned something about “death panels” in “socialist systems” and I knew that this was one conversation that had to be brought diplomatically to a close.

And who knows, maybe I should be talking to my doctor about Brilinta and asking if it could be right for me. And I had learned a great deal about U.S. culture in the process, just through that innocent – or maybe not quite so innocent – commercial.

One of the most powerful things about ukiyo-e was the way that, because the appeal was based on a here-today-gone-tomorrow transiency, it allows modern-day viewers to understand how changes in Japan, like the increasing numbers of foreigners, were viewed by contemporary Japanese people at the time. It didn’t try to be anything other than what it was. This is the parallel with modern advertising.

While it might seem unavoidably to us now as just another contributor to the daily assault on our senses and mental bandwidth, we’re actually in a privileged position to watch a new industry emerging – the Internet of Things – through how the vendors of the various products and services which make it up try to sell it to us. Although I do admit it doesn’t feel much of a privilege; but that’s just the point, we don’t appreciate it and we can’t wait to get rid of it from our much more important-seeming lists of things to take note of.

So please join me if you’ve got a few minutes in a slightly more formal study of the following examples of modern-day ukiyo-e and then see if you agree with me about what might be floating by us in our world today. The Internet of Things is a perfect place to start because, being new, it has to somehow – from an advertising standpoint – reference both the familiar (it is rare for advertising to attempt to do anything completely radical) but at the same time try to point out what the advertisers would like you to think you’re missing by not embracing this brand-new innovation.

As Japan gave us ukiyo-e, we’ll head there first to have a look at how air conditioner manufacturer Daikin is attempting to persuade a nation suffering from gadgetry overload (maybe they should be talking to their doctors to see if there’s a medication that could be right for them about that) to make room in their lives for another new invention. I’d recommend that you watch this short video twice – it is designed for television so fits into the 30 second slot format. On first viewing, just familiarise yourself with the content and the message (it is of course in Japanese so don’t worry about understanding the words, this isn’t necessary because the selling is done visually and I’ve included a precis translation below). Then, on the second viewing, try to examine consciously what else might be going on in this commercial that isn’t either overt or, even better, might not be what the advertiser intended to communicate.

[1] Voice Over: (young woman speaking off camera) “When I was a child and had a summer fever my parents were always there to make sure I stayed cool.”.

[2] A Middle-aged Couple fan their child who looks unwell and has a high temperature. They use a traditional Japanese paper fan. The window and Japanese shōji (paper screens) are open but there isn’t a breeze coming in.

[3] Young Woman, to camera: “…in the same spirit, I bought an air conditioner”. (for my parents)

[4] Voice Over: (man speaking) “During the day when the room temperature and humidity increases, the air conditioner switches on automatically”. Overlay: Graph shows room temperature increases to a range where high temperatures are injurious to human health

[5] The Middle-aged Couple from earlier are shown as older versions of themselves struggling to complete sedentary tasks like reading or (what looks as if it could be) Japanese flower arranging and are having difficulty maintaining concentration. The implication is that they are suffering from the early signs of heatstroke

[6] Air Conditioner: “The temperature is high, starting in cooling mode”. Visual Effect: The air conditioner’s smart controller is shown communicating with the unit. Caption: “High Temperature Patrol Mode” activated. The Couple take notice of the air conditioning starting and laugh. They are more animated and relaxed than previously.

[7[ Young Woman arrives at the house. Speaking to Couple: “Hi, is everything okay?”. The Couple are happy to see her.

[8] Picture: Product shot with inset of a ‘smart controller’. Voice Over: “Easy Air makes it simple”.

[9] Young Woman pets the dog and is shown speaking to Couple. Everyone is smiling and the atmosphere is convivial. Caption: “Re-thinking air conditioning”.

Next, we’re back in the U.S. for our next clip where smart thermostat manufacturer and Google (sorry, Alphabet) subsidiary Nest is promising to save us money on our utility bills.

I won’t summarise the contents of the Nest advertising here because it is U.S. in origin and in English but as with the one from Japan, it’s worth watching it a couple of times and try to notice what perceptional “hits” you get from it, both the obvious ones and the less obvious, possibly accidental ones.

Let’s now review both commercials and identify what the similarities are and what is different – and see what we might learn.

Both are for products in the same sector – home HVAC. And both are for products which are in the replacement or upgrade market – meaning that people almost certainly already have an existing version of the same product. So if the promoters are to be successful in getting people to buy a newer version of what they have right now, the new version must offer some quantifiable advantage. The advantage proffered in both the Daikin and Nest products is the same – home automation and connectivity.

This sort of advertising (for replacement purchases) can only use a sub-set of available selling angles on potential customers. Appealing to price sensitivity doesn’t really become effective because if you’ve already got the product and it works, any expenditure on a replacement is by definition highly discretionary. The pitch must be along the lines of “our new one is better than your old one”.

The “new and improved” element for both these products is that they are “smart” – they automate things that users either can’t do for themselves at all or can’t do very easily. But here of course is the first pitfall the manufacturers must avoid. In giving devices in your home more autonomy, you are ceding control to the device. While you may be happy with the device doing things you want it to, you definitely don’t want it doing things that are unexpected or unwelcome. This will always be a risk. So the advertising must offer a reward for that risk to offset it.

Here is where the two commercials start to diverge in their specifics – but they have the same approach which is to make an unspoken but unmistakable appeal to something a little deeper in our value systems.

In the Japanese advert, it might seem a bit too subtle to a western viewer, but a Japanese person will get the message straight away. At the start of the ad, the child is shown – and talks about – how her parents took care of her as a child. The woman then says – explicitly – “in the same spirit, I bought.”. In Japan, there is a profound and, even today, very strong, concept called in Japanese “giri” which isn’t easily translatable into a single word but can be thought of as a combination of “duty” and “obligation”. People feel (and do still act out of) a sense of responsibility to others. If someone has done something for you, you have an obligation back to the person who did it. The woman’s parents looked after her when she was younger and now she has to look after her parents now they are older. “Can’t buy me giri” (it doesn’t sound quite as good I know) the Beatles may have sung, had they been Japanese. Perhaps not, but the product maker is certainly suggesting that you can perhaps buy something that is a reasonable facsimile of it.

Turning to the Nest advertisement, here I will offer my interpretation of what is going on. But I am slightly disadvantaged because I am not a U.S. citizen. So I can’t avoid possibly making the same cultural faux pas as I did with the prescription drugs commercial and treading on cultural corns in the process. I hope I don’t give any offence here. And the point is that I’m asking readers to review the material consciously and come up with your own views about who the various actors are in this new market and what we’re being presumed to be thinking and doing. Right, amour on, shield at the ready.

What positively slaps me on the face about the Nest U.S. advertising is that it is blatantly money- and self- orientated. Certainly compared to the Japanese equivalent – there is no appeal to family responsibilities or responsibilities to broader society. There is, literally, money being scattered around by big business, consumers’ hands are shown, again – verbatim – grabbing for that dough. The reward is dollars, pure and simple. A worse fear put into viewers’ minds is, there could be dollars being handed out and someone else is getting your share. As a European, it strikes me as crass and unseemly – this sort of ad style would only be run by a low-rent discount operator hawking cheap rubbish. And yet here is the same approach for an aspirational high-end product in the U.S. What does that say about how the manufacturer views its customers and worse, if that were possible, what does that say about what is assumed to motivate Americans? Okay, you can start throwing your rotten eggs at me now.

As I’ve said, I don’t intend any offence here – and am more than happy if readers let me have your own, quite possibly differing, view. But that is the overall impression the U.S. commercial leaves me with.

Moving swiftly on and changing the subject, both these products manufacturers are sufficiently self-aware to not be able to ignore the second problem inherent in “smart”, “connected” technology – privacy and intrusion. The air conditioner shown logs presence data (it knows if you’re home or not and even which room you’re in) and will step in and take action if it thinks you’re not doing what you should be doing. The thermostat has to do similar things – it has to tell the power company if you’re home and if you’ve ignored the demand reduction request from the utility. They can each, not to put too finer point on it, snitch on their customers. But again, both manufacturers diverge in their method of trying to offset that downside.

The Japanese ad makes an appeal to emotion. The woman buys the air conditioner and lets it spy on Mom and Pop because she cares. Winston Smith-san is apparently quite content to have a telescreen installed at his parent’s house if it might stop them dying from heatstroke and he doesn’t have to visit as often. And Japanese manufacturer Daikin adopts a decoupled approach to the really Big Brother elements of smart appliances via an interesting variation in product design compared to the Nest thermostat. Internet connectivity is added separately – and optionally – to the smart air conditioner. The product itself is Internet of Things capable and can send a high temperature warning message to a smartphone app (it is strongly implied in the commercial that the woman has received a message to the effect that her parent’s house was getting hot hence the visit to them, which is reinforced by a similar looking actress appearing in the marketing literature for the smartphone app), but this isn’t shown on screen or in the same advertising.

The Nest thermostat can also be disconnected from the Internet but the design of the product’s “Rush Hour Rewards” feature, unlike the air conditioner, doesn’t allow the feature to work off-line. To get the rebate from your utility, you have to run the thermostat in Internet of Things mode. The manufacturer makes the justification on the basis of efficiency – through invading your own privacy we (the manufacturer) gain data, we use our expertise and that data to improve the operation of the power generation and grid system. That saves us money and we cut you in on the deal. Winston Smith is also apparently quite happy to have a telescreen installed in his house if he can participate in a revenue sharing scheme with Big Brother. Well, George Orwell certainly never saw that one coming.

Overall, I think Nest’s approach to privacy, or lack of it, is more honest even if it is hardly overt. But Daikin’s approach to product design is more thoughtful – you can opt-in to the Internet of Things (or not) without affecting the feature which is the unique selling point of the product.

That has covered some of the elements which are visible in the advertising, the actors which are clearly put in front of us to, it is hoped, convince us to buy the product. But what about those agents whose presence isn’t directly observable but which can be detected by inference?

Both the products examined in this analysis purport to utilise technology and market-based solutions – specifically, the monitoring, reporting and automation of activities in residential buildings which is now given the label “the Internet of Things” – to solve problems of one sort or another. Japan has an ageing population of a scale which has never before been encountered in human history. The U.S. energy addiction and the impacts it has needs no introduction.

First and foremost, these products and the advertising pictures created for them represents a consumer-led approach rather than any possibility that government policy or social reform might be able to achieve equivalent results. This is especially noticeable in these home- or domestic- market products. Take, for instance, the Japanese house featured in the commercial. It seemed, most unusually for a Japanese residence, to exist in a vacuum, with no neighbouring houses or community visible at all. Locally provided senior care obviously wasn’t going to look after the old folks. As for family, well, they couldn’t call round to check until later in the day – after work.

Also, is it just the heat which is threatening the health of that charming-looking Japanese couple? Is *the* problem as simple as the elderly not being aware of the dangers of excessive heat and the creeping effects of heatstroke rendering them unable to take effective action – for which a “smart” air conditioner is *the* answer? Research into heat-related deaths strongly suggests otherwise:

The [1995 Chicago heatwave’s] death toll was the result of distinct dangers in Chicago’s social environment: an increased population of isolated seniors who live and die alone; the culture of fear that makes city dwellers reluctant to trust their neighbors or, sometimes, even leave their houses; the abandonment of neighborhoods by businesses, service providers, and most residents, leaving only the most precarious behind; and the isolation and insecurity of single room occupancy dwellings and other last-ditch low-income housing. None of these common urban conditions show up as causes of death in the medical autopsies or political reports that establish the official record for the heat disaster.

And the U.S. targeted thermostat ad was even stranger. The dark-suited hand that was throwing the cash around – whose hand was that supposed to be? The utility company’s, presumably. But power companies don’t just go around giving their money – their profits – away. Regulators in federal, state or local utility commissioners’ offices make them do it. But the market-based solution shown sits uneasily atop of the regulatory “interference” that enabled it and which gave rise to the (presumed and hoped for) consumer demand for the new product.

Then there was all those houses in the neighbourhood leaving the A/C on at 72 degrees all afternoon. Who lives there? What are they thinking? If degradation of the commons (those brownouts and rolling blackouts) are caused by their actions – or inactions – but this cannot be prevented unless they all purchase this particular product, what does that say about the societies we live in?

Of course these are just advertising and you don’t expect paid-for promotional material to discuss negative points. And as they are new products, no-one has any experience on how to sell them effectively. Or even if they will sell in the quantities anticipated. If these approaches to selling the products work, then the next versions of the commercials will contain similar themes. But if we keep watch and keep noticing and find that points like privacy, security, social responsibility, regulatory requirements, better transparency on who is being paid by whom or similar start to feature, then we’ll know that Internet of Things manufacturers are having to address questions they are, initially at least, happy to evade right now.

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    1. jgordon

      I was confused about why you hadn’t translated the first. Not that it was anything worth commenting on I suppose:

      Woman: Ah, refreshing! 28 degrees is it? Wait–28 degrees?!
      Announcer: Daikin’s 28 degrees! But you know it’s different from 28 degrees!
      Woman: Each room is controlled so it’s comfortable… in other words… that is… Saving Energy!!

      Well it’s not way too off the mark from something that might be seen in America.

      1. Clive

        I often wish I had more space than I already take up because there’s a lot that could be included but I always fear readers not having time or patience enough to wade through everything. Naked Capitalism is one of a very, very few places where we do get the opportunity of longform coverage as our editor doesn’t do us the discourtesy of assuming we’ve got the attention spans of a nat, unlike pretty much every mainstream media channel. But there are limits !

        I, in some respects, thought the first commercial was even more interesting than the second (but unfortunately it wasn’t so geared towards the IoT market which was what I really wanted to cover). Yes indeed, as you say, a whole commercial about electricity saving — which I thought was the main selling point being used — not just about demand shifting. And I’d say that it was product innovation which was responsible (not just IoT gimmickry). A lot of Japanese markets are ruthlessly — and genuinely — competitive. This does do what capitalism promises but often doesn’t deliver, namely meaningful product evolution. By comparison, the indiginous U.S. HVAC industry resembles a cosy cartel — and this is apparent in the sluggish pace of product development.

        Of course, nothing is quite that simple and “the market” includes embedded agents like installers, wholesalers and service shops who might not want to shake up the product mix. And increased product variation pushes a cost onto installers, service shops and end users because the installed product base is more complex so inventories are larger and more complicated, more knowledge is needed to perform maintenance on all those different product types, and so on.

        Plus you’ve got consumers who might be reluctant to try anything too new. There’s a whole other article waiting to be writtng in that lot about how more competition can, ironically, mean higher costs for consumers…

        1. jgordon

          Regardless, I was truly impressed by your post. Too often on NC people fall into predictable and limited ideological frameworks regarding government, money and markets. Especially in our culture, anytime unquestioned assumptions and traditional frameworks are challenged is a rare gem. I think your post deserves to be more widely circulated, lengthy or not. And I think it’d be great if you pursued similar posts in the future. It’s really that good!

  1. jgordon

    Did anyone else notice that the voice coming from the air conditioner was the same voice used for the Navi in Serial Experiments Lain? Damn, talk about meta. That’s super creepy!

    Anyway, this post ranks as the best thing I’ve read yet this month. So insightful and awesome! I particularly like the word about the strange cultural abnormalities afflicting Americans–rather than being offended by it, I was impressed. Americans need to understand that their behaviors, beliefs, and mental models are flagrantly bizarre and unhealthy.

    I don’t think it’s a large stretch to connect this to the fact that middle aged poor whites are dying off at an incredible rate. Considering the Ik tribe, it’s seems entirely possible for a culture to reach a point of total degeneration and self-social mutilation, and (especially white) Americans are much further down that path than just about anyone else in the world.

    1. jgordon

      I’m going to expand on the Serial Experiments Lain topic a bit. The more I think about it, the weirder I feel. Serial Experiments Lain is an incredible deep and abstruse anime produced back in the 90s, the dominant motif of which was the disintegrating boundaries between the digital/information world and physical reality. (Spoiler) Ultimately the conclusion it arrived at was that physical reality had in a sense become subordinate to technological/informational/digital reality (which led to profound feelings of hubris, disconnection, alienation, anxiety etc among the various characters).

      So here, Daikin has chosen to use the voice of Navi (it is exactly the same voice. I just checked) from Serial Experiments Lain for their own product. The Navi, as you’ll recall, was the instrument that first introduced Lain, who previously was technologically illiterate, to the digital information world. I would say that Daikin was both aware of what they were doing by making this reference and are subtly illustrating their philosophy and goals. These guys are creepy.

    2. Massinissa

      I must say, I never expected JGordon of all people to watch anime, much less something like Lain.

      Did you ever watch Neon Genesis Evangelion?

      1. jgordon

        Yes, I actually learned Japanese to watch anime.

        I never got into Mecha though. I prefer fantasy like Utuwarerumono or psychological stuff like Haibane Renmei. Well these days I’m more into Chinese Wuxia, so I’ve been learning Chinese.

  2. Steve H.

    : None of these common urban conditions show up as causes of death in the medical autopsies or political reports that establish the official record for the heat disaster.

    The extreme example. A delightful foray into teasing out the underlying attitudes that lead toward new causal factors that are invisible to insiders.

  3. Christian B

    Loved this comparison. I take offense in your caricaturization of the US ad only because it is true and I live in the US, but only guilty by being forced to live in these borders.

    But on the Nest, you missed an important flaw that they also fail to point out. The energy surge price protection will only work for early adopters. Because once everyone has a Nest the power surge will happen earlier in the afternoon as all the households catch on to turning up the air earlier in the day, meaning the power companies will have to deal with a new surge time (which will cost them more money to deal with) and the Nest will have to recalculate a new schedule again. And on and on it will go, technology becomes a snake eatings its own tail.

    The problem is not a surge in power use, the problem is that there is too many people acting in their own self interest.

    1. Clive

      Yes ! Thanks you for bringing up such an important point. I had sussed this out but had to omit it from an already bit too long piece (any longer and Yves would have sent me to Verbosity Boot Camp). The whole Nest premise is riddled with pseudoscience, not least the aspect you point out. It’s the same thing that applies to vehicle navigation systems which “route you away from congestion”. Of course, someone — a lot of someone’s — have to be sitting in the congestion in order for it to be detected then drivers starting their journeys later can avoid it but not those who are already in it.

      As you say, the rebate from the utility is only squeezing the balloon.

      I’d go further in saying the whole approach is actually counterproductive for CO2 emissions. The pre cooling or pre heating strategy is effective up to a point but it takes more energy to (pre-) cool from, say, 76 degrees down to 70 degrees than it does to cool from 82 degrees down to 76 (it gets harder in terms of energy input because the cooling coil is less efficient the closer the indoor ambient temperature gets to coil temperature). Now, this may be offset by the fact that outside air temperature may be lower so the outdoor coil can give up heat more easily. But it’s dubious and I’d say overall you’re using more energy which means, in total for that day, more emissions.

      And so much depends on the building you’re trying to control the space in. If you have a multifamily building (which is more likely to have masonry walls and concrete floors/ceilings) then you have a better chance of using the thermal mass to pre-heat or pre-cool successfully. But in a single family residence of the sort that is typical in the US (with lightweight construction such as wood framing) then unless it is a really good thermal envelope with few air changes per hour the strategy will be at best marginally effective.

      But I wonder if the inference of IoT devices being new and somehow super high-tech is used by manufacturers to create an impression of a magic solution which just doesn’t add up if you weren’t so beguiled by the novelty of it.

      1. Jamie

        It’s the same thing that applies to vehicle navigation systems which “route you away from congestion”. Of course, someone — a lot of someone’s — have to be sitting in the congestion in order for it to be detected then drivers starting their journeys later can avoid it but not those who are already in it.

        Of course this is *the* dynamic inherent in selling privilege. These are high end products, not mass market commodities for “everyone”. Both ads are, in the final analysis, selling privilege, not product. You can buy giri. It is the privilege of wealth. And you can buy something that distinguishes you from (and raises you above) the mass of imbeciles turning their AC up like lemmings. This is not “keep up with the Joneses”, it is be the Joneses. I think the blatant message om the American ad that you will profit financially is just a mask to the real selling point: you will be “better” (smarter) than everyone else when you buy this. And I don’t doubt that the result of the program will be, not just an evening of the load, but an overall increase in energy consumption, i.e. a further disintegration of the community… but you will be one of the privileged few who “did something about it” so they are also selling you moral superiority.

        1. Christian B

          Yes! That smug look you can see on the peoples faces in all those commercials when the dude watches his neighbor suffer trying to open his trunk without the stupid little techno trick of waving his foot under his bumper. Cruel, isn’t it? Instead of helping your neighbor you just supposed to do better than them and when they fail have a good effing laugh over it.

          All these commercials are selling us are slaves and slavery, instead of a person we have turned it into technology.

          What a sick bunch of people capitalism has created.

          1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

            Don’t forget the gender component to this kind of cultural training, how many ads show the hapless and dumb husband, doing something wrong around the house, and then the mostly forgiving but smug wife shows him what an idiot he is (“no dear, of course you should use THIS dishwashing liquid”). The appeal is to other wives (the ones who are buying the dishwashing liquid in the first place) and the message is “buy this liquid and you too can score a few points against that Neanderthal spouse of yours”. She’s usually much better-looking than he is, too, which opens a variety of other subliminal narratives.
            And thank you, I am also shocked when I see pharma advertising in the US, I especially like the ones that don’t even tell what the pill is supposed to treat: “The Little Purple Pill: ask your doctor if it’s right for you”. Now THAT’s marketing, selling a product without any description whatsoever of its function.

      2. rusti

        I always sense a kindred spirit in your posts, Clive. Internet of Things is a buzzword that I encounter on a daily basis and sometimes even have the misfortune of attending conferences where this is the primary topic of discussion. You touched on my feelings very well with this:

        First and foremost, these products and the advertising pictures created for them represents a consumer-led approach rather than any possibility that government policy or social reform might be able to achieve equivalent results.

        In my day job, I have developed “Internet of Things” hardware/software to do a lot of fun stuff. Having better granularity in the various feedback loops of an advanced system, as well as the ability to easily introduce new sensory data gives you a higher degree of control at the cost of increased complexity. A lot of these features (predictive maintenance, energy management, etc) are subject to rebound effects and left to our own devices we in “the industry” are just going to swing wildly at any application that looks like it might be profitable. The many people who think we’re approaching some technological utopia with all this effort are delusional.

        We should have an effective and democratically accountable regulatory framework can help steer engineering brain power in a direction that serves the common good rather than having us idiots on the ground dream up applications and then try to convince people it’s something they need.

      3. Christian B

        The point you made about Nest not really caring about the environment is crucial, since one of there other selling points is that if you buy it you will techno-save the planet by reducing energy! Such a great device, only in that you can market it to everyone, no matter the political persuasion.

    2. FluffytheObeseCat

      Guys, turning on AC earlier in the day mutes and spreads summer surges, it does not time-shift them entirely. Much of the late afternoon/early evening surge in domestic electricity use is due to lighting and appliance use (ie microwave or water heater). Lights and household appliances will continue to kick on mainly when the user is in house.

      Time shifting air conditioning is and will remain a net ‘good’. The problem with the “internet of things” as currently envisioned and marketed is that the pushers of these technologies (and their perceived early adopter audience) are self- interested assholes. Of the Silicon Valley persuasion.

      1. Clive

        Yes. That isn’t entirely wrong, the “peak lopping” generation capacity is a pretty hideous waste of resources (it might only be needed for a few hours per day, but it sits there consuming at the very least tickover and maintenance overheads — even solar or hydro generation incurs these).

        But reducing, rather than merely shifting, demand is the best approach for reducing CO2 and other emissions (which vary with the fuel source) so that is where policy responses should be targeted. The Nest “Rush Hour Rewards” feature isn’t complete greenwash, but it isn’t all it is made out to be either.

    3. Thure Meyer

      Yes – in trading we call that “front running” or arbitrage. And, everybody figures it out very soon, so the advantage goes away

      It sounds great but the so called savings evaporate quickly.

      On the other hand, it will provide some gaming opportunities for smart software developers or possibly whole neighborhoods could play against each other.

  4. Bubba Gump

    Well IoT and “smart home” devices is actually my field, so I have a long engineering background on these issues. The “green tech” revolution, which my business focused on *heavily* starting in 2009, was a complete failure. There are plenty of points to make, but here are a few.

    Regarding Nest:
    1) Nest actually doesn’t work all that well, and we don’t recommend them even to friends and family. There are data showing that the majority of Nest users turn off the “smart” adaptive features, and it tends to be for a number of reasons – primarily that the thermostat location is generally not optimal for the occupancy sensing feature. There are other options (for instance, ecobee) that offer easy ways to set a schedule and gain Internet access. Honeywell network thermostats are what HVAC contractors typically offer, and they work pretty well too. Honeywell would like to sell you a compatible home security system and basic automation on their platform, so they’re happy to spiff the HVAC contractors to sell the tstats.
    2) Nest has long had issues maintaining wifi network connectivity. This is sometimes due to the thermostat location but from the number of complaints we have heard, it seems to be a systematic issue.
    3) Most importantly, people who are willing to pay the premium for a Nest also (generally) will also pay a premium for comfort. This creates an interesting nexus of human choice in which one wants to be economical/green but not at the expense of comfort.
    4) The privacy issue is real. There have been controllable thermostats long before Nest. But nobody was willing to buy those companies for $3billion. It was obvious that with Nest there was something else going on that would enable that valuation.

    On home energy:
    1) The energy consumption of a building is largely baked into the cake at design time, and finalized at construction. A thermostat does not save energy unless it affects comfort. There are certain improvements that can be made at an acceptable cost, primarily having to do with lighting and ultra-efficient furnaces, boilers, and water heaters. But the envelope loss is really what drives conditioning cost.
    2) We have done several projects with complete circuit-level power monitoring. The lion’s share of electrical energy use is HVAC, followed by clothes washing. Lighting is high in the mix if fixtures are not LED. This is in the US.
    3) From a design and control standpoint, LED lighting is still relatively difficult to dim and doesn’t look good at low dimming levels. Incandescent/halogen color temp drops (more red/orange) with dimming level, whereas LED/CFL maintains it or rises to be more blue. That doesn’t fly with designers. Advances are being made on this (“sunset dimming” from Cree). Dimming systems that provide the best results with LED fixtures/lamps are more expensive.
    4) At the extreme, some houses for the wealthy are actually designed to be running heating and cooling at the same time. Sometimes this is due to sun exposure, more typically out West. But I have seen HVAC systems running radiant floor heat while running the forced air in the same space slightly cooled. It really can be quite comfortable, but is obviously wasteful and expensive. At the top end, utility bills are insignificant compared to comfort. But it’s certainly not “green.”

    On privacy:
    1) Family patterns are easy to decipher with circuit-level power monitoring. Just as an example, one of our clients rarely cooks at home. Another seems to always be doing washing (well actually it’s the house staff doing the washing). Occupancy is generally noticeable either via power monitoring or via occ sensors in the house that are being used for things like security, lighting, or HVAC. It’s an eery feeling to gain that level of personal insight into household habits, and it makes me a bit uncomfortable to be in the position to know it. This data is clearly actionable for marketing. Power monitoring is becoming smarter, so that circuit-level sensors aren’t necessary to determine trends. And occupancy sensing is becoming more common, e.g Nest.
    2) The ideal in development is sensor-sharing between subsystems. This is common in commercial buildings. E.G., the lighting control system has occupancy sensors for auto-on/off. The data from those sensors are shared with HVAC and possibly other subsystems like security. I think this will be how IoT develops. IFTTT is a way to get there now.
    3) Geek-level products and services have limited appeal but we can see the revolution coming in accessible systems. The driver for these systems is the recurring revenue opportunities for service providers. That means what you will end up seeing at a mass-accessible level is always a tie to a central server for functionality, and either data-sharing or a paid subscription model for your service access (or both). It’s in no service provider’s interest to offer you a self-contained system that sends them back no data. My business is keying in on this to maintain our selling point at the high-end — our systems are self-contained (and very very expensive).

    On supply vs demand for IoT:
    There are some great benefits to automation – think “don’t water the garden if it just rained”, or “make sure I don’t come home to a dark house,” or “drop the shades on the east windows in the morning, then have them follow the sun angle around to the west during the day.” It’s actually been a rough road to find the “killer apps” for energy automation though due to the comfort issue. And over-automation is truly annoying. The tech hasn’t been there until recently for a typical homeowner to configure basic automation actions themselves, and that is crucial to mass adoption. It takes a lot of resources to make that easy, and it is being paid for by recurring revenue to service providers through either subscription agreements or data-sharing behind the scenes. What I mean is, it will be both supplied and demanded. And the payment line will be blurred – that’s a feature.

    1. Franklin

      What do you think “Smart Meters” are? Our utility, Pacific Gas & Electric, the barbequers of a whole neighborhood in San Bruno and the managers of two nuclear reactors on the California coast, clearly states on their bills that they have the right to sell your personal data.

      A hacker can read your meter and tell when you are home leading to a safe burglary.

      The SmartMeters are constantly transmitting on their own radio “mesh network”. It is true that each meter’s total cumulative use is only received once every four hours by the utility, and in this data packet the 4 hour period also has a memory of how much electricity was used in one hour increments, that is how the utility can break down your usage for TOU pricing schemes, (only if you have a SmartMeter)
      The mesh network requires each meter to be transmitting data 24/7, because the mesh network uses the meters as repeaters for other meters, that is how they accomplish getting the usage data from meters far away from the Data Collector Units (DCU’s) mounted on power poles. The electromechanical meters (like the one on my house) do not transmit anything at all, so they don’t use any power. My meter is only read once every other month now, they don’t and can’t send out a meter reader once every four hours so they can’t put me on a TOU pricing scheme.
      Even though each meter is a repeater for up to 200 other meters in their mesh radio network, the duty cycle is probably around 50 %, meaning that they are pulsing on and off transmitting.
      PG&E has roughly 7 million digital radio electric meters (aka SmartMeters) transmitting 1 watt of RF power 24/7, but changing electrical energy to RF energy is only 75 percent efficient, meaning it takes 1.25 watts of electrical energy to transmit 1 watt of RF power.
      Therefore, we have 7 million new SmartMeters using 8.75 million watts operating on a 50 percent duty cycle each hour 24/7. That is 4.375 megawatts per hour. Most smaller coal fired, LNG fired or nuclear powered power plants put out about 3 megawatts, the medium sized plants put out about 5 megawatts, and the largest ones put out 10 megawatts.
      Therefore, the addition of SmartMeters has added a new load of 4.375 megawatts per hour to northern California’s power grid, that is almost the equivalent of a medium sized power plant. SmartMeters increase greenhouses just by the way that they operate (radio transmitters). That cost far outweighs the fact that PG&E was able to lay off 75 percent of their meter readers, PG&E still employs meter readers in Marin.
      The big selling point of SmartMeters was the fact that they are TOU capable, and that enables the utility to charge 20 percent more for the same electricity used during peak hours, it is an extra bonus for the shareholders of PG&E.
      Unfortunately, it won’t save any energy or reduce greenhouse gasses at all. Most people don’t know anything about it and hardly even look at their bill, but some do and will try and not use as much power during peak hours if they can. They will put off doing laundry and many other chores during peak hours, and then do those chores during non peak hours, they will still use the same amount of energy, just at a less convenient time, not saving energy or reducing greenhouse gasses at all.
      I never allowed PG&E to install a digital radio electric meter on my privately owned meter enclosure, anyone had the option to keep their trusty electromechanical meters if they wanted to (like I did), they call it “opting out”.
      Right now most commercial customers were forced new SmartMeters, but not all, I know a few businesses that refused the SmartMeters, but as of this time, those commercial customers who have SmartMeters are on a mandatory TOU pricing scheme. Of course, the owners and managers of large buildings, shopping centers, office buildings, supermarkets sewer and water treatment plants, BART, big box stores , refineries and factories etc., etc.are required by laws to keep their employees comfortable, and in the summer many people flock to stores just to enjoy the air conditioning. I’ll bet that the electric bill for a Whole Foods store is around $20,000 PER MONTH !
      If the managers turned off the AC during the peak hours, they would surely lose customers and big dollars, so they cannot curtail their hours of energy use at all, they just have to pay more for it
      Now, the master plan for the SmartMeters is to mandate Time Of Use programs for residential customers starting in 2019.

      1. different clue

        When smart meters were forced upon us, my very first thought was that the eventual purpose was to remotely shut off our appliances at the “cheap” times of day and remotely turn them on at the “expensive” times of day, so as to remotely run up our bills. Was I being too suspicious-minded?

        1. different clue

          Where I was they claimed there was no such thing as opt out. Eventually enough pressure from enough people got opt out if you were willing to pay an extra meter-reader per month fee of $25.00 or whatever it was. I was too mentally frazzled and distracted for other reasons at the time to insist on opting out and keeping my dumm meter.

      2. Bootsthecat


        Thanks for noting how much power is used to collect smart electrical meter data. By chance do you happen to have a reference for the values noted.

        I wasn’t able to find out from PG&E if their contract with Opower (the folks that provide the online data summaries, captured from the Smart Meters, which is available on-line for review about 36 hours after the power was consumed) was structured such that they would get a discount for having less bits of information from our billing meter stored and manipulated after we opted out of the Smart Meter program about 3 years ago.

        Opower still gets our monthly summary data from PG&E to put on line for our viewing pleasure. My wife and I opted for a time of use rate (TOU) rate schedule about 10 years ago from PG&E as we thought we could shift our demand to minimize our power usage at peak times. A digital, not analog, meter was installed at our home (that we had to pay $277.00 for) to keep track of our kWh usage at the two time frames that effected our kWh charges from PG&E. We put a small PV system in place back in June of 2006 (after a few $500/month electric bills). Our existing digital E-7 meter captured our net usage at the same two time intervals it had previously been capturing after it was programed to go bi directional (which cost me an additional $170+). Our digital semi smart meter (manufactured by GE) had communication capabilities, but they were never turned on by PG&E. When PG&E decided to roll out their “Smart Meter” program to our rather rural area they decided to go with a different revenue meter manufacturer and the information captured and sent to PG&E was not the same as the GE meter. It was missing some rather important details for real time management of our usage. We have to pay $10.00/month (for three years) to have our original digital TOU meter, from GE which provides us more real time data then the SMART meter which we gave back after a three month trial, to have our meter read. Our meter will be read once every two months, vs monthly, starting this month. Our mail gets delivered at the end of our driveway so I was a tad surprised that PG&E didn’t contract out with the USPS to come up the driveway once a month to read the meter if they didn’t trust us to provide accurate data.

        I am a bit unsure how Nest keeps track of the demand response capability they are offering- ie the details that is of the instantaneous demand over very specific time periods.

        Thanks for all the details in your post.

  5. Vatch

    I usually translate ukiyo-e as meaning “pictures of the world as it floats by”

    Thank you. I’ve seen the translation “floating world” several times, and I never understood what that was supposed to mean. Your translation makes sense to me.

    1. Clive

      I hate that conventional translation of ukiyo-e ! I if I had my way, it would be removed from every Japanese-English dictionary in existence. And the first thing students would be taught was how to come up with a better version. Like you found, it just doesn’t explain what the pictures are all about.

      1. ambrit

        Curious, but I thought that “The Floating World” referred to the red light districts of the major Japanese cities.

        1. Uahsenaa

          No, “floating world” is the term for a general contemporary aesthetic. The pleasure quarter would be yuukaku or kanrakugai or even Yoshiwara, the district in Edo where the most famous pleasure quarter was located.

            1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

              Interestingly, I don’t know if the Gion in the Gion pleasure district is related to Gion Shoja.

              Gion Shoja or Jetavana: 園精舎] (Skt.: Jetavana-vihara; Jpn.: Gion-shoja) A monastery in Shravasti, India, where Shakyamuni Buddha is said to have lived and taught during the rainy …

              Is that irony or liberation?

              And the famous opening verse of the Tale of Heike mentions Gion: The sound of the Gion Shoja temple bells echoes the impermanence of all things;the color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline.

              Are we talking about less consumption here? Anti-GDP growth?

  6. Uahsenaa

    A few things immediately strike me, and if this verges into wall-of-text territory, I apologize beforehand.

    The ukiyoe parallel is apt perhaps for even more reasons than you enumerate. It’s important to note that the “floating world” was not just a genre in art and literature but a complete aesthetic ideology which shaped how writers in the Edo period saw the world at all. It was so heavily focused on the comings and goings of urban life and Edo urbanity, that it all but ignores the prevailing power structure of the time: landed lords and the peasantry who served them. In fact, according to the medieval warrior-farmer-craftsman-merchant hierarchy, town dwellers, i.e. craftsmen and merchants, were at the very bottom of the pecking order. Yet, when it comes to the art and literature of the time, we see almost nothing of those first two castes, unless it’s, in Hiroshige’s rather tongue-in-cheek depictions of the Tokaido, as an unwashed mass of workers in the fields, as travelers pass by, in which the peasants are functionally equivalent to the landscape and not subjects of interest in themselves.

    I make this point, because in advertising, like the ukiyo, it’s just as much about what is obfuscated as what is being propositioned on the sly. Your pharmaceutical ads, for instance. Take Cymbalta (duloxetine), which is a bog standard SNRI, meaning an ordinary anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication. Yet, when you see Cymbalta advertised on American television, it is propositioned as a medication for fybromyalgia, a form of nerve pain/damage that is itself not well understood. As an anti-depressant, Cymbalta would have an incredibly hard time finding market share, because nowadays there are so many and so many generics that another one would be entirely impractical and certainly not worth the R&D costs. However, as a more targeted drug, it could easily find a market share. The ailment chosen here is a brilliant one, because its primary symptom is generalized pain. Now who over a certain age doesn’t suffer from aches and pains for which they can discern no proximal cause? The ad convinces a number of people to go to their doctor with “pains” to suggest to them they may have fybromyalgia. The doctor is likely overburdened and just wants the person gone, so she notices that the patient is covered for the medication, writes a script, and sends the consum–err, patient on her merry way with a medication that, in the end, might be functionally equivalent to three ibuprofen and a glass of water.

    Which brings me to the Japanese advert, the first one actually. The woman coming home to her apartment is surprised to discover that despite the temperature being 28C, the room still feels cool. Basically, the thing controls the humidity in the room, and this is proffered as a revolutionary innovation in HVAC design. Except, my Mitsubishi AC condenser from my old apartment, which had been installed in the mid 90s, had a built in dehumidifier. When my friends came over, they would marvel at how cool my place was and thought I ran my AC constantly. When I informed them that I hardly ran the AC at all and just the dehumidifier they acted as if I were talking about some alien technology, when, in fact, it had been bog standard on Japanese HVAC appliances since at least the 80s. No one ever used the functionality, though.

    The advert relies upon a longstanding obfuscation of what was always the case to reveal, as if by miracle, the “new” technology that will improve your life. This is so often the case in new media (heavily dependent upon design principles established by print periodicals in the 19th century [<–my own research]) as well as new "hard" goods, long existing methods and technologies that are repackaged by advertising as "innovations."

    To come to a point, then, this is why I appreciated the consideration of how urban life creates social circumstances that either create or exacerbate the problems new technologies presumably solve. Looking more closely at what isn't being discussed leads us to precisely these kinds of conclusions.

    tl;dr – well done, Clive, though the ukiyo analogy is more apt than you realize.

  7. John

    I see from this essay that you are coming along fine with your Neoliberal Reeducation Center Reprogramming Course located somewhere in the north of England. I hope the privations of the camp are not too rigorous and that you can cope with the daily beatings. May TINA be merciful.
    But you give yourself away in your last sentence with the obvious sentiments about, “privacy, security, social responsibility, regulatory requirements, better transparency on who is being paid by whom or similar”.
    Starting with the title, supply side or demand side, is good. Supply side only is better.
    You know that one of the greatest and most devout worshippers in the church of Neoliberalism, was your own Baroness Lady Thatcher, prime concubine to the one true deity, Mr. Market and his bitch goddess consort, TINA. She worshipped with every orifice.
    All of your analysis about the American HVAC commercial is accurate. It is always about the money and it is always about ones self. The first two commandments Mr. Market passed on to his obedient servants thru TINA.
    #3″There is no such thing as society” articulated by Lady Thatcher comes up in the Japanese commercial. Your comments indicate how they are burdened with retrograde social concerns such as the “circle of on and giri”. If they would simplay strip it of all the nonsense and understand it as the prime directive of Mr. Market, “buy and sell”, BTFD and sell high, whatever….they would have it. All praise to TINA.
    The wonderful achievements, such as your CCTV system in the UK and all the back door info gathering in all computers, allow facilitation of the transactions of “buy and sell’, with greater frequency and efficiency. May HH Mr. Market be praised.
    Your discussions with your American friends indicates their full indoctrination into the improved American health profits delivery system. Of course the old socialist model of keep them heathy until you cut them off and they die is retrograde. In the refined American system, you keep them unhealthy with a lifetime of suffering from which you cull a life time of profits and then they die with a big final payout of several weeks in intensive care. You Euro laggards are only achieving half the profits available in health care.
    I could go on, but I see on my monitor that you are scheduled shortly for your daily indoctrination intensive. Embrace the suffering. TINA
    All hail Mr. Market,
    Your friend.

  8. ambrit

    I was working at Lowes when the Nest was promoted heavily as a money saving product.
    One thing we noticed was that a large chunk of the group that bought this “innovation” were worried about their electricity bills. Generally, then, this group of people lived in larger houses, as measured in square feet. The main feature I heard praised was the machines ability to be programmed. At definite times of the day, the air conditioning was tasked according to occupancy and degree (NPI) of exertion. It was pretty easy to steer these customers over to the Electrical Department to ‘upsell’ them to adding an electric water heater timer. The Internet of Things aspect of the Nest was not ‘pushed.’ Indeed, many people voiced strong resistance to the idea of the machine being in constant contact with ‘outside forces.’
    I always wondered why the Nest manufacturers didn’t offer a simpler, programmable thermostat, with perhaps individual room isolation dampers.

    1. alex morfesis

      Nest will allow gurggle to understand when you are home and you nic wont usually change so your marketing instrument will deliver the most efficient ads(efficient meaning most profitable)…also much can be understood about how you live and your marketing susceptibility…do you wear a sweater or walk around half naked in the winter indoors in january…if i know what your neighbors keep the thermostat at your anomalies can be accounted for…if the programmer knew enough about housing structures the program would adjust for wind factors and directional issues such as does the sun bake on the wall outside your unit or is it blocked by other buildings…my limited experience with nest is it is vaporware…and one thermostat is usually useless as it will warm up that room or area in home but not the rest…or cool it….they might be ugly but old bldg nyc window units are much more efficient than most single family home units…that is if someone bothers to insulate the area between the unit and windows edge…in greece the per unit costs might be high but with a ac/heating micro unit in every room one can control the costs…in the us those units were three times the retail cost in greece…
      Sherman act enforcement is going the way of black and white films…
      Dumb instruments cant much help sell the microdata marketing nonsense gurggle has been able to “sell” on its pay per sale pay per view late night tv to internet marketing bonanza…buy if yahoo and aol had not turned the start page into something that looks like a backroads mexican jitney, gurggle would still be pitching for a tenth round of capital from its abwehr funders

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        As Ambrit’s question suggests, one can gain all the benefits of the internet of things without the internet of things. You correctly point out why that isn’t in the cards.

      2. jrs

        yes but so what, the smart electrical meters that you are required to have already do that, track your electricity use by time of day. Oh but you have a choice, oh choice what a joke, I rent, choice is for rich people (who buy Nests and stuff). And I don’t know that any of the smart electrical meters are made by Nest.

        1. Brooklin Bridge

          Unfortunately a solution only for the rich, but one could install house batteries as part of a solar installation – or even independently of it – that would hide the current usage and particularly the ability for individual appliance analysis and recognition by digital broadcast meters that would instead be feeding the batteries at regular intervals. There may be even simpler solutions.

          The broadcast part and unknown health issues with the transmission is what concerns many and that can only be removed if they remove those damn meters.

          1. different clue

            I wonder if “Faraday screens” or “Faraday panels” could be placed on inside walls “opposite” where the smart meter hangs and radiates on the outside side of the wall. Would that at least keep most of the radio waves out of the house itself?

            1. ambrit

              Considering the ubiquity of radio frequency devices today, a “Faraday Screen House” will be required. It can be done. During WW2 the Navy figured out how to degauss entire ships to defeat magnetic mines. (As to whether this will result in a giant rerunning of the Philadelphia Experiment or not, I dunno.)

    1. ambrit

      What’s peculiar about the “Marketing Guide” is that, where I worked (in retail,) the emphasis was always on “making the metrics” and not too much on how to efficiently ‘push’ any particular product. I will go out on a limb here and assert that most ‘floor level’ employees never got to read the specific marketing guides for individual products at all. One of the mid level ‘floor managers’ probably, (as happened in the store I worked in,) read the document, (on their own time of course,) and communicated a synopses to their underlings.

  9. rusti

    As a European, it strikes me as crass and unseemly – this sort of ad style would only be run by a low-rent discount operator hawking cheap rubbish. And yet here is the same approach for an aspirational high-end product in the U.S. What does that say about how the manufacturer views its customers and worse, if that were possible, what does that say about what is assumed to motivate Americans? Okay, you can start throwing your rotten eggs at me now.

    I had an interesting experience with this recently. Another US National and I who have lived in Europe for a number of years were hosting an American-Thanksgiving type dinner for a group of friends of various European nationalities. To make the experience more authentic, we were streaming an American sporting event on a laptop in the corner of the room.

    There were a number of comments from the others about how every time they glanced at the screen there was some sort of absurd macho truck commercial being shown.

    I also noticed that myself and my friend were instinctively programmed to watch the game itself (between commercial breaks that is), despite the fact that neither of us particularly cared about the outcome.

    1. susan the other

      I can forgive the basic capitalist obscenity of shameless advertising if it’s funny. Like the big-screen TV ad showing avid fans of a Thanksgiving football game jumping and screaming at the the TV set while in the background we see 3 great danes jumping up on the just-set table to devour the giant turkey and nobody even notices. Or the 2 guys moving a heavy server through some office cubicles where one guy stops at his desk to show the other guy some nifty app on his computer and since his hands are holding the server he has to butt click. But the pharma ads are the worst… except when you hear people making fun of them by reciting long lists of playful contraindications in their everyday conversations. Etc.

  10. tegnost

    Thanks Clive for another enlightening post. Sorry for the run in with the thought police regarding the drug ad, sounds all too familiar…”Is there some kind of problem here, consumer?”

  11. Brooklin Bridge

    There seem to be so many differences bewteen 19th century popular art that is sold for it’s own decorative value by relatively small firms or individual artists/entrepreneurs and giant multi billion dollar industries with high tech marketing technology developed quasi scientifically with over five decades of accumulated knowledge seeking to sell, not the art, and not even just the product, but an exceptional degree of control over the lives and minds of the targets. It’s hard for me to see a comparison of the snippets of contemporary life analogy. The former is much closer to actual, if simplistic, representations of daily life – granted from the pov of the artist, whereas the latter has little if anything to do with representation and everything to do with deep analysis of human psychology for the purpose social manipulation and control.

    One of the biggest differences is that the decorative art seeks to show and illustrate aspects of contemporary life (and the object is primarily it’s own marketing) whereas the internet of things ads seeks to hide the real purpose of the product; in particular the fact that being connected to the internet is almost totally unnecessary to achieve the “stated” purposes of helping grandma and grandpa or reducing energy consumption and everything to do with nefarious analysis, data gathering and control.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      To expand a little on the last paragraph of my comment, a manufacturer could easily enhance one of the standard chip thermostat chips to maximize energy efficiency in a house or to be aware of and take care of grandma and grandpa without the ability to send data to outside entities or allow remote control. This could include communication between objects in a house but not outside of it and/or it could communicate with the owner or user of the product through encrypted non internet network protocols. There is little to no need to send all this data to third parties. And if these things are so “smart” then why do they need to be controlled by those third parties?

      There is very little value to giving away control of your data and your lives to third parties – and that is so obvious that the MAIN purpose of such advertisement campaigns is to hide that particular fact. The ability to push people’s inner buttons may contain some truths about exploitable contemporary human traits, but that is quite a stretch from artistic vignettes of daily life.

  12. Winston Smith -- Kubo


    Thanks for the article nice comparison, something my wife (Japanese) would agree with! I miss Japanese commercials!

    One thing to note too, is that many Japanese, at least outside of Tokyo, is that they don’t like to turn on the AC or central heat unless it’s absolutely unbearable or on the verge of death!

    もったいない! (Mottaini – or what a waste!) is what my wife, would say when suggesting the AC or heat.

    So even though I’m in SoCal, it’s been in the high 30s and low 40s on some nights which is cold for here since.

    When we lived in central Tokyo, even in the high heat and humidity of August we would rarely put the AC on. Though we did have the せんぷうき (Electric fan) on! (Well sometimes)


  13. Jacques Rigaut

    Once upon a time, the kind of pharmaceuticals advert you described _was_ banned in the U.S. So, your friends must be young indeed to have taken issue with your commentary.

  14. susan the other

    About promoting the internet as a time-saving invention. One of the most important tasks we face is reducing and eliminating auto trips. I would say remove auto travel altogether and just telecommute everything. So, although advertising is not known for its subtlety in the US, it is as subtle in its own way as the Japanese ad playing on the conscience of the daughter worried about her parents. The underlying mind-control-message is the same – concern over something other than immediate personal gratification. Almost amusing. We use ever more sophisticated propaganda to just tell each other the truth. No?

    1. ambrit

      Another alternative to the auto is the densepack metropolis. Some large cities work well in that mode. I don’t think we’re going to get to Gibsons’ BAMA. Too many constraints.

  15. flora

    Wonderful post. Opened up a wide range of thought, starting with art history and making me laugh at one point when remembering this scene from a Peter Sellers movie. And so forgive me, I don’t intend to be flippant and will have something better to say (I hope) after watching the 2 ads a couple more times.

    “they are “smart” – they automate things that users either can’t do for themselves at all or can’t do very easily. But here of course is the first pitfall the manufacturers must avoid….you definitely don’t want it doing things that are unexpected or unwelcome.”

    Like Dr. Strangelove’s arm?

  16. jsn

    Your comments on the coarseness of the American ukiyo-e is all too true! The NeoLiberal era has dismantled whatever humanity the three decades of the New Deal had bequeathed Americans.

    In the last week, I’ve tried to be supportive as the children of friends have explained depressingly surreal “accomplishments”. One, at 19, has gone from working for a payday lender on commission to hawking an “airb&b” type service, also on commission. This, he calls “real estate”, a proud sense of accomplishment on display in a sort of declasse Glengarry Glenn Ross way, as if the one weren’t already the definition of the other.

    The other, at 20, was beaming about the A she got at UCLA for a “science” paper that showed the pyramids were engineered by aliens and foot noted “Chariots of the Gods” and numerous other pop frauds from my childhood. “Creative writing” I hoped, “science” she insisted… Our erstwhile great public institutions of higher learning teaching future Fox audiences to refer to manufactured narratives as proof against curiosity.

    Both are bright young people who have been miseducated into credulous conformity and sociopathic anti-realities which are all they are offered to “make a living” from. I feel my world dying around me and can’t imagine what theirs will become…

    1. different clue


      I have no advice for the ultimate problem. I might offer an antidote for the strictly proximal problem of her believing in her pyramid paper. Its a book about the building of the pyramids. Don’t let the title ” The Riddle Of The Pyramids” scare you. The book explains in convincing detail how the Egyptians built the pyramids all by themselves without any supernatural or space-alien intervention. What the author considers the “riddle” of the pyramids to be is . . . “why” the pyramids were built. And he gives a very convincing political-social science/evolution of culture-civilization reason for “why” the Egyptians built the pyramids. The book is so engrossing that she might be too involved in it to put it down by the time she realizes it is giving a “strictly mundane-earthside” history and explanation of the pyramids. Here is the link.

  17. JerryDenim

    “talking to my doctor about Brilinta and asking if it could be right for me”

    ‘Side effects may include nausea, heat stroke, night terrors, incontinence, constipation, diarrhea, hair loss, paranoia, suicide, blindness, abdominal rash, schizophrenia, panic attacks, corneal scarring, indigestion, impotance, difficulty or pain urinating, skin melting or loss of appetite. ‘

    I always love the insane list of utterly horrifying side effects people are willing to risk in order to treat minor or fake disorders like nail fungus or armpit sweating.

  18. Brooklin Bridge

    Ultimately, the internet of things is intended to support and mandate a rental model where one doesn’t own appliances or heaters or AC (even though they may be bought and paid for) but rather owns a service contract that includes those devices along with a hideous but inescapable legal agreement about ownership of the data generated as well as ultimate control, beyond allowed tweaking, of the objects themselves. The internet of things – a marketing term if ever there was one, contains in itself all the nuanced meaning about our contemporary society.

    In order to pull the wool over the public’s eyes to get them to swallow them potatoes, the advertisers have to know one thing and they seem to know it well: the public is brain dead, has been for some time, and is getting more so as fast as the advertisers can dish it out..

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Frankly, it’s a perfect compliment to the TPP and siblings; might as well remove household sovereignty if you are going to do away with National sovereignty. And the ISDS about whether you are cold or warm hungry or thirsty or whatever will be done remotely by people you never see or elect depending largely, no doubt, on just how fat your purse.

  19. different clue

    Clive, your post deserves slow and careful reading-through and thinking-through. Before I do all that in a slow and thorough way, for the moment might I suggest that you had the bad luck to meet the wrong liberals (of whom we have many?) I and some people I know or know-of find massive drug advertisements on screen, tube or print to be harmful and dangerous. (Perhaps my work as a pharmacy technician exposes me to a skewed sample of people).

    Also, the ukiyo-e were impartially recording everything of interest to every maker of the ukiyo-e, whereas advertising is single-purpose focused on strategically and tactically manipulating the mind of the viewer and engineering/guiding the viewer’s behavior toward the advertisers’ desired response. Given that the advertiser must spend its precious time and money on appealing to “what works”, the advertisment would indeed be an accurate picture of the advertisers’ belief about what are the various ports-of-entry into the brain of the viewer.

    By the way, I thought I remember reading somewhere that the literal translation of ukiyo-e was . . . fleeting-floating. Am I wrong about that?

    1. Clive

      No, you’re remembering correctly — some translations fudge the question of what the best word to use is and end up hedging their bets with a mish-mash of “fleeting” and “floating” in an attempt to not deviate from dictionary meanings but in the process miss the important nuance element from the original Japanese word.

      The culprit is “浮” which does usually mean in English “floating, float, rise to surface” if used as a verb. The problem with taking the narrow translation is that, when we forget about the context, which in the case of a ukiyo-e picture is an artist drawing what is happening right now, passing through their vantage point, it all ends up some horribly clunky and, worse, not very helpful word salad.

      It is potentially dangerous to stray too far from dictionary meanings when translating (and I am certainly not immune from doing some howlers now and then!) but I’d rather always leave the reader with a more natural even if not a “purists” translation than stick rigidly to dictionary meanings and miss some useful and interesting subtlety.

      I’m always eternally grateful to other Japanese speakers who offer their own interpretations — I’m firmly of the opinion there is no “right” or “wrong” translation (unless someone’s made a big boob) and the best results are from collaboration.

      1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

        Clive, how do you compare these paintings to that “Along the Rive During the Qingming Festival” Chinese painting?

        1. Clive

          To my shame, until I searched on Along the River During the Qingming Festival just this minute, I’d never heard of the work! I could spend several happy lifetimes attempting to scratch the surface of Japan’s cultural heritage — China I’d better let remain a mystery trapped in a riddle inside an enigma etc. etc.

          1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

            I find it interesting to get a glimpse of the everyday Chinese life almost 1,000 years, the shops (already very capitalist), the way people dressed, how the moved their products, etc.

            It was a particularly prosperous time in China. I see claims that the GDP of Song China was $2,280 per capita and the entire Song Chinese GDP accounted for 80% of the world’s GDP.

      2. different clue

        Somehow when I first read “fleeting-floating”, the “floating” part of it to me meant the kind of floating that a butterfly does as it flutters by. That was how I had understood that “floating” in this context.

  20. NeqNeq

    That was a fun read. Thanks Clive! Its always fun to see how firms represent products as a way to satisfy/participate in cultural norms!

  21. flora

    Wonderful post. After watching both Japan ads and the US ad multiple times my sense was that the ads say a lot about the manufacturers’ anxieties.
    Sure, all the ads are presented as answers to the viewers’ anxieties. In Japan – filial duty, isolation from the group ( aging parents) , and only secondarily worry about uncomfortable temperatures.
    In the US – the environment, overcrowded suburbs (in contrast to Japan ad), losing money, being a team player, and again only secondarily about uncomfortable temperatures. Both ads are moralistic in tone, instead of a jubilant offering of an upscale product to “the best people”. That emphasis on soothing current cultural anxieties combined with a not too subtle moralistic tone makes me think NEST and Daikin are very anxious that their products may not be as popular as they hoped. (Who wouldn’t want to pay for and install spyware in the house? It’s a mystery.)

    Great post, Clive. Thanks.

    1. flora

      And there’s the whole issue of what to do when your IoT device becomes an abandoned or orphaned IoT device. When its cloud provider or vendor go out of business and your IoT device becomes a non-IoT device, or worse, a brick. People have been using MS and OS long enough to think of these things.

      1. Clive

        Not just a theoretical risk — one of the first internet enabled refrigerators ran on an O/S that went out of support from its vendor and could no longer be security patched. I guess owners were supposed to just live with the risk or throw the thing in the dumpster, even if the rest of it was still working okay. It retailed here in England for 2,000+ pounds which is a lot to write off after only just over 5 years. Part of me can’t help but think “serves them right for buying it” but that lets the manufacturer off way too easily.

  22. kevinearick

    Red, Blue & Imagination

    There is control, there is money, and there is life. History is a compilation of expedient, self-obsessed, groupthink decisions; control is an illusion the majority perpetuates upon itself. It is essentially a gravity buffer.

    Money is what those left in control from the last cycle define to ensure compliance with the illusion of control for the next cycle, and left to its own devices can only result in economic slavery. Trump is a product of the media, he is berating the media, and lots of people will vote for him because he is the best of bad choices, fulfilling the best as enemy of better prophesy. Voting on the best of bad choices is not life.

    Consciousness emerges from gravity as the counterweight. The brain continuously folds in on itself, creating a radiator we call consciousness, allowing us to inject imagination as an input. You want to reward your imagination, which you can expect the public to penalize, to the extent it effectively propels you into the future you seek.

    Tesla’s work is largely responsible for this century’s economic growth, but it has been turned back on itself to confirm the past by legacy interests, which you should expect. Those Nobel Prizes are derivatives popularized for the purpose. Left to legacy, you will shortly be living in a cave again, which is what FANG is all about, replacing life with media.

    Development is a two step forward, one step back process. You privately build two bridges ahead and drop one into the gravity of public perception when you are well onto the third. Of course those who are not bothering to develop their imagination, subjecting themselves to a self-obsessed brain, are going to penalize you, if they see you. What stops the majority is the need to live the lie of popularity, a consumer demand FANG is designed to supply.

    Of course those surrounding you, who have succumbed to the gravity of History, are going to tell you that you can’t beat the system. You are not trying to beat the system; you are building a life. Of course you will encounter increasing resistance from a growing mob as you develop potential, and if you succeed that same mob will temporarily offer you popularity, to drag you back into the fold.

    When you walk into town, looking at its demographics, real estate control, and behavior, you are either the new meat to be taken advantage of, or a threat to be removed. If you present a threat, you will shortly be on a slippery slope to prison. In any case, you want that part-time job to present normalcy, which also gives you vision and mobility.

    For all the reasons discussed, starting a real business, producing a real profit providing for others, selling at a capital gain and moving forward is a good idea, until you are ready to slow down. As provided at the beginning, those ready to slow down should have parked in treasuries with a CAD exit, because war bonds get pumped with stocks, increasingly junk bonds, over the course of volatility, until the currency has run its course, and shale was pivotal. Labor skips the market all together because it rests when it is dead.

    Funny, what happens when a population wakes up to the reality of demographic collapse, after destroying its own financial system and finding itself engaged in a war it cannot win. You always have where you are, the bridge to your future, and your future. Labor positions itself at the crossroad, and treats History as noise.

    Expect the critters to threaten MAD suicide, as if there is a shortage of gravity in the universe.

  23. casino implosion

    There’s a big new ad in my subway station for Oscar health care which pushes you to get a personal fitness monitor in order to save on your health insurance. I feel like jumping up and down and screaming to the oblivious straphangers :”Fools! Don’t you see where this is going!”

    All part of the thing-ification of humans. (that’s the resolution to the conundrum of artificial intelligence—if we can’t make computers “think”, then the solution is obviously that people aren’t “thinking” either). Taking our place in the internet of things.

  24. Ignacio

    Although these are new products, there is already some history in marketing such novelties and bussiness schools surely teach on the introduction of this kind of stuff in markets. Consumers are divided on, those very open and eager to try any new thing/app/gadget/connection (some say these are your best selling agent), and a gradient of consumers to those very reluctant. It seems to me that the US ad is clearly oriented just for those who wellcome any new thing and tells them they are smart and will save more money. The japanese ad goes sentimental but is also oriented to the youngers seemingly more eager to try new thingxs

    1. Clive

      I’d completely missed that “aren’t you a clever (potential) purchaser” approach but it is definitely in the Nest ad.

  25. twonine

    About 10 years ago RFK, Jr’s scheduled appearance to talk about thimerosal on ABC News was cancelled. During the half hour broadcast, sans RFK, there were 15 pharmaceutical ads. Put me on the path to NC.

  26. craazyman

    wow. Clive if drug commercials and gadget commercials do that to you you’re going to freak like a supernova when they start showing commercials for driverless cars.

    that’s the ultimate in irresponsibility and unrestrained licentous lassittude. somebody is too lazy to get behind the wheel and drive, so they send the car by itself. If you wanted pizza from a place that doesn’t deliver, but were too lazy to drive to get it, that could be a time for a driverless car.

    Let’s say you live 14 miles away but you really, really want the pizza and you’re too lazy to get up off the couch. You can send the car!

    What they would have to do is appeal directly and unashamedly to laziness and make it seem like a virtue and the reward for some abstract and unnamed acccomplishment that the driverlesss car company suggests you have achieved. It’s beneath you to make the effort to drive 14 miles. That would require movement, off the couch. Haven’t you done enough already? It should be obvious. You just need a back up to go retrieve the car if it gets lost. You wouldnt want to risk having to do that yourself, since that would defeat the entire purpose of your lifestyle

      1. different clue

        Of course if you were someone that someone within government wanted to have assassinated, and they knew you like pizza, they could see which pizza place you get drone delivered pizzas from.
        And then one fine day they could send you a pizza-bomb in a box.

        1. ambrit

          Too true. The Droners, (not to be confused with mantra chanting Bodhidharmas,) have already asserted that anyone of an “innocent” nature harmed when the ‘target’ goes boom were ‘fair game’ to begin with. Also, do note that the Droners are beginning to “Privatize” the Far Kill program. Soon enough, the Terminate Decision will not be solely a government prerogative. (Since this will be an usurpation of the exclusivity of the use of force doctrine, the definition of “government” will have to be revised.)

  27. David

    What a wonderful article. As to ukiyo-e, only one American ever approached the quality of the Japanese woodblock artists:

    Helen Hyde.

    We have several of her works hanging in our home and most guests rave about them and the skill of the Japanese artisans including a professor of art history who told us we must be mistaken, that only a Japanese artist could have created such works.

  28. different clue

    The Amish will refuse to buy smart internetted things. If the Amish are a big enough market for someone to produce to, that means that non-Amish could also find and buy these dumb netless things. Another market for dumb netless things might be the sort of DC appliances run off batteries such as are found on boats and yachts and RVs-Campers and remote locations. People who are willing to buy just enough solar electric panels for their house to run a few off-grid DC “survival” appliances could get certain crucial dumb netless appliances that way even if no other way.

    Oh, and . . . people who buy many guns and thousands of rounds of ammo for their homes because freedom and just-in-case . . . will also be a strong market for dumb netless untrackable unsurveilable appliances.

    And there may emerge an “after-purchase” specialty of stripping the chips out of smart internetted spyappliances. Of course the makers warranty would be voided by stripping the chips out, but some people might resent the chips so much as to accept that side effect.

    1. ambrit

      “Jailbreaking” electronic items is a niche market now. Would it make it to mainstream status? Here’s a ten bagger for someone.

  29. different clue


    I am just now beginning the slow-work through your post. I have watched the Japanese video and read the translation. Before I do any thinking or noticing I first have to ask: is the air conditioner a new consumer appliance to Japan? Do the Japanese currently NOT have household/apartmenthold air conditioners? Is this ad trying to sell its Japanese audience on the concept of “air conditioner”? I just want to be very sure on this point one way or the other before I attempt any further noticing or thinking.

    1. different clue

      Well . . . I should have read the next few paragraphs first. It appears that the Japanese do indeed have air conditioners so this ad is trying to sell them a “different kind” of air conditioner. I will now go back to reading the post.

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