1994 was an interesting year: OJ Simpson was arrested for two counts of murder after his ex-wife and her friend were found dead, 350,000 people descended upon Woodstock, NY, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original festival, Michael Jackson married Lisa Marie Presley, and Amazon opened its virtual doors.
Also, the sitcom, Friends, debuted.
For those of us who watched the six friends navigate through love and relationships in Manhattan, it seems almost surreal that the show first aired 25 years ago. However, the technology we have today shows just how far we’ve come from the world of answering machine mishaps, getting locked in ATMs, and false labor notifications due to faulty beepers.
Even the opening credits would be impacted by today’s technology. After dancing in the fountain, all six friends—Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Rachel, Ross, and Joey—collapse on a couch. Monica reaches out and turns off the light.
Okay, you might think. What’s the big deal about that?
Before we can understand the significance of the “outdated” opening credits, we need to fast forward and define a key disruption in today’s technology.
The Internet of Things (IoT) marries the technology advanced by the internet with everyday items to make those items “smart” and able to communicate. The SMART in smart technology was originally an acronym for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology, but has since emerged as a buzzword.
In essence, smart technology gives virtual life to inanimate objects. It might be a smart TV, a smart watch, or a smart lightbulb.
Going back to the Friends opening credits, if the sitcom was running today, Monica would never have had to reach over and turn off the light; she would have simply used her voice to command it to turn off.
Let’s see how each of the six friends would put their own personal twist on today’s IoT world.
1. Rachel Green, rich kid turned waitress turned buyer for Polo Ralph Lauren
It’s no secret that Rachel wasn’t the most attentive waitress when she worked at Central Perk Coffee House. Often, she could be found hanging out with her friends on their cluster of couches instead of paying attention to customers.
Rachel would likely have done well with “smart” coasters, which use sensors to weigh and determine how low a cup of joe has fallen. Each sensor would be tied to an app on her phone, alerting Rachel to bring the pot of coffee around. Of course, seeing as how she generally ignored customers yelling at her, she probably would have ignored app alerts as well.
Chances are, she would pay more attention to a smart hairbrush, like Loreal’s ‘Hair Coach,’ which senses hair types and even “listens” to the hair being brushed to detect split ends. Rachel would likely take the smart personal grooming to another level and create a smart makeup brush. It would detect changes by collecting data on skin quality and transmitting the information to an app. That way, dry skin or clogged pores could get the help they need before any trouble starts.
2. Phoebe Buffay, ditzy but fun-loving masseuse and aspiring musician
Phoebe would undoubtedly benefit from IoT inventions, but even more than that, she would benefit from telematic inventions, particularly when driving her grandmother’s taxi.
Telematics is an extension of IoT. A concept built by the US Department of Defense in the 60’s, it combines informatics (the information gathered) with telecommunications (the transfer of the data that was gathered). The telematics industry today combines GPS devices with other sensors in a vehicle to collect data. These sensors can essentially collect data on any component that may need to be measured, including location, speed, braking and turning patterns, use of seat belts, fuel consumption, etc.
Ideal for fleet tracking, telematics is also disrupting other industries. They can be used any time a company needs to monitor multiple vehicles, such as measuring driver behavior for insurance companies.
Phoebe would definitely be one to capture and sell the data collected during the friends’ road trips to upstate New York and Las Vegas, and roaming around NYC. By using the data collected from the cab to mark locations with construction and even potholes, Phoebe would be able to monetize their adventures… and perhaps buy a new guitar by selling the data collected.
Speaking of guitars, Phoebe could streamline her songwriting by connecting her instrument to IoT technology. With sensors on the strings of her guitars, she could churn out new versions of “Smelly Cat” or “Crusty Old Man” even more quickly. The sensors would pick up the correct notes, and transfer the information to a songwriting app. No need to slow the process down to write out the correct notes on a sheet of music paper.
Now, for a way to improve her singing…
3. Monica Geller, chef and mother figure to her five friends
As the consummate nurturer, Monica would thrive with IoT technology. Just imagine how she could improve her time in the kitchens of New York City’s finest restaurants. Smart cookware or grill tops could alert her to the level of food done-ness, but she would take it to the next level, combining food and taking care of people.
Smart forks, such the HAPIfork are already on the market to increase awareness of eating habits by measuring the time taken between bites, the weight of food on the fork, etc. Monica would likely invent a fork to detect the level of health of a user by collecting data from their saliva and transmitting that data to a device to measure stress hormones or even cancer markers.
Monica would also take protecting her friends to the next level by improving upon smart wearables to surreptitiously track her friends’ movements in the city. Knowing some would likely put up a fuss by being tracked, Monica would disguise the devices in items like a thick gold chain for Joey, and diamond earrings for Rachel.
With Chandler… there wouldn’t be a need to hide the tracking device. She’d simply order him to wear it.
4. Chandler Bing, sarcastic jokester and ad executive
Chandler could capitalize on IoT technology by combining his former career as a data analyst with his current position in an advertising agency. Chandler would combine smart houses with advertising by collecting data on the preferences of select users and using that data to hone the direction of his copywriting while working for the ad agency.
When he and Joey lived across the hall from Monica and Rachel, Chandler would also take the technology of the smart egg tray—detecting when an egg is about to go bad—to a new level. Not limited to eggs, he would invent a way to inventory the contents of Monica and Rachel’s refrigerator to enhance food raiding parties.
“PIVOT, PIVOT, PIVOT!” After the episode where Chandler helped Ross move a couch to his apartment, Chandler would likely have avoided further dimensional catastrophes by devising a sensor system. By attaching sensors to a piece of furniture and the obstacles it needs to navigate, he would ensure the heavy items could be moved efficiently, avoiding Ross’s bellowing orders to pivot the couch.
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5. Joey Tribbiani, actor, goofball, dating extraordinaire
Joey would take advantage of IoT technology to further his acting career. By tapping into the internet, he would invent a way to track the progress of jobs going out to audition. Never would he miss an audition again, nor would he be at the mercy of his agent, Estelle. He could also use the “fly on the wall” data gathered in audition rooms to determine competitors’ styles.
But, as Joey would be the first to point out, life is about having fun. One of his favorite pastimes is foosball. Between Joey and Chandler, the competition could get pretty fierce. IBM has already created an IoT foosball table, but Joey would take it to the next level by creating smart foosballs themselves. With the data captured by moving balls across the table, Joey could easily detect speed and other patterns to determine how to finally take Chandler, who can win without even trying, down.
He would likely also install cheering within the balls, and slip one into his pocket for whenever he needed his own cheering section. As he learned in “The One with the Football”, he certainly can’t handle his own victory dance while in the game.
In fact, Joey would likely take the technology to other sports as well. Who knows what trouble they would get into? One thing is for certain: the traditional Thanksgiving football game will be even more entertaining.
Of course, Joey is not without his mishaps, and applying telematics to some of his ill-fated road trips would help insurance companies mitigate risk by measuring driver behavior and making adjustments to prevent potential accidents. Imagine how telematics combined with personal sensors could help keep Joey awake during a long road trip!
Telematics would have also been beneficial when Rachel, Joey, Phoebe, Chandler, and Ross headed for a ski trip. A “smart” taxi could have automatically shut off the car when it sensed the doors were locked, the engine was running, and nobody was in the car.
Fortunately, even without telematics, Joey was able to jimmy the lock with a wire from Phoebe’s undergarment that day, but no amount of lingerie was going to help the fact that the car then ran out of gas.
6. Ross Geller, father, paleontologist and serial husband
Ross’s technology would undoubtedly be connected to IoT technology, underscoring his intelligence both at work and with his friends.
His debate with Phoebe about evolution would be vindicated when using IoT to measure why opposable thumbs set man apart from other animals as they evolved. He would likely develop a smart prosthetic to provide opposable thumbs to a variety of animals. “Armed” with this device, he could underscore man’s advancement by proving other creatures are too simple to “grasp” the reality of what this ability would do for them (puns intended).
Ross would also use IoT technology to help streamline his relationships. At the end of season 4, when he was marrying Emily, for example, he would use smart technology with earbuds to remind himself to say “Emily” when speaking their vows, instead of “Rachel.”
Also, he would piggyback on developments such as a virtual autopsy to be able to learn more about his paleontological subjects with non-invasive methods. No need to crack open a fossilized dinosaur egg to learn more about a lizard fetus, or disrupt other long-dead subjects to examine the history of the earth.
Telematics could also have spared Ross the embarrassment of accidentally turning on the police car’s red strobe light in the episode: “The One with the Ride Along.” With sophisticated telematics, a squad car could be set to “undercover mode”, as Officer Gary initially planned, disabling any identifying signals or sirens to give them away.
No doubt, while wading into the world of IoT and telematics, the good friends of Friends would have some enjoyable mishaps along the way. One can only imagine Phoebe botching a device to evade tolls, like the Texas man who covered his license plate to avoid paying tolls…and was caught.
The IoT and telematics industries are poised to keep disrupting traditional processes, and would no doubt have brought Friends to a whole new, tech-friendly level of fun, mishaps, and comradery. What are some other “inventions” that would advance your favorite characters?