In a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, the studio audience had a good hearty laugh about a character’s use of RFID – tagging, scanning, and tracking every item of his clothing – to “simplify” the process of packing for a weekend trip. Though we shared in the laughter as Sheldon happily takes only three hours and eleven minutes to enable himself to track the distance to and weather conditions around each pair of his socks, one question does come to mind: just how far-fetched is the idea of everyday RFID use for consumers?
While the sitcom character is making an exaggerated and absurd use of the technology, finding it necessary to explain step-by-step the elaborate system he’s created, the truth is that RFID has become so integrated into our society that most people don’t even realize just how much they benefit from it. In fact, if on a typical day of errands, you drove your child to a doctor’s appointment, swung by the public library, and treated yourself to a little shopping, you could encounter RFID at every stop along the way. RFID in your keys gets you into your car. RFID in your toll pass keeps you moving along the highway. RFID in hospitals tracks your son or daughter’s medicine. RFID in library cards tracks the books you’ve checked out. RFID in clothing tags tells retailers if your favorite styles are in stock (they should be, with the technology uniting the supply chain as well). And the list goes on.
However, if you were ever to strike up a conversation with someone about how cool and useful RFID is, you would get a lot of reactions eerily similar to that of the character’s roommate in the The Big Bang Theory clip. But perhaps that is a testament to just how effective RFID is as an integrated technology. It’s becoming so pervasive that people don’t realize it’s been making their lives easier and will continue to do so on much broader levels as it gets more widely adopted by both businesses and consumers. So while our friends from The Big Bang Theory continue their back-and-forth (and somewhere, someone plays the laugh track on repeat), the reality is that RFID typically isn’t even part of the conversation – it’s in the background simplifying data collection and enhancing processes so we can concentrate on our everyday activities.