Wireless connecting is great, I'm lovin' it.  Everything is getting smarter - computers, tablets, phones, cars, refrigerators.  Which isn't to suggest that people are getting any smarter.  Case in point: the e-cigarette.  Pioneered by Blu, electronic cigarettes release a nicotine-laden vapor instead of smoke, and the packs are equipped with sensor devices that emit and receive radio signals that let users know that other e-smokers are nearby.  When an e-smoker gets within 15 meters of another e-smoker, the packs vibrate and flash a blue light.  The packs, which sell for about US$60-$80 for five reusable e-cigarettes, can be set up to exchange information about their owners that can be downloaded onto PCs, like contact information on social networking sites, smoking history, IQ score, favorite Lady Gaga song, whatever.  Even better, the packs vibrate to inform their owners that they are near a retail outlet that sells Blu cigarettes, so that they can blow more of their hard-earned American greenbacks.  Blu researchers have not yet perfected the pack to cough along with the vibration, and I'm not holding my breath.

There you have it, social smoking for the social networking era.  According to Blu founder, Jason Healy, "You'll meet more people than ever, just because of the wow factor."  As in 'Wow, you look so cool puffing on a fake cigarette and blowing out blue vapor!"  The key advantage, and I don't deny it:  they allow users to avoid smoking bans in public places because they release water vapor instead of smoke.  And supposedly they have practically no ill health effects, although the jury is still out on that claim.

Later versions of the e-cigarette promise the possibility of tethering the device to a smartphone through an app, allowing for more real-time communication, and there are plans to develop a monitoring system so that the packs will report back to e-smokers (and perhaps their doctors) about how much they are smoking.

If you want to see a Blu e-cigarette in action, check out Matt's You Tube video.

I don't know, try as I might, I just can't identify with Matt.  Is this the typical e-smoker profile: young, impressionable, male, and a marketer's wet dream: "I got sucked into marketing...look at this [package], how beautiful it is"?

I can understand how a product like this might be appealing to those trying to kick the real thing, but I just don't get the social connection element.  And apparently I'm not the only one.  Forrester analyst Charles S. Golvin, who has studied connected devices, such as Nintendo's new hand-held 3DS gaming devices that communicate with each other when brought into close proximity, believes that the Blu idea reveals how digital connections can get ahead of the reasons for connecting:

The way that groups of affinity are conferred just by physical proximity makes a bit of sense.  If someone walks by with a Nintendo, great, I share a common interest.  The fact that I walk by a smoker?  Seems like a weak link."

Adam Alfandary, a 24-year-old tech start-up employee also was skeptical about the e-cigarette, suggesting that the reason he lights up the real thing in the first place had to do with its social aspects. Mr. Alfandary scoffed at the idea that a cigarette device would do the social connecting for him: "I think that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life.  And I'm saying that in full acknowledgment that smoking is one of the dumbest things I can do." 

I think e-cigarettes are just the beginning.  Imagine the possibilities - e-ankle bracelets, so that people under house arrest can connect with other people under house arrest.  Dominique Strauss-Kahn would never be bored again!  And what about e-umbilical cords, so that newborn babies can connect with other newborns sharing their birthday?  The possibilities are endless.

Source:  Joshua Brustein, The New York Times, 10 May 2011.