When Walt Mossberg writes or talks, the tech industry and gadget users worldwide either tune in or read.

He’s Mr. Gadget.

He’s like the theater critics of yesteryear in New York who could make or break a new show with a scathing review or a hearty endorsement. Technology firms seek his counsel – and pray he doesn’t rip them apart in a review. He’s the consumer advocate for the common folks. If Mossberg says a device is user-friendly, consumers generally count on his recommendation.

“I’m a reviewer,” he warned. “I test products. I ask zillions of questions from the point of view of the normal person.”

So The Skinny had to ask the Wall Street Journal’s and All Things Digital’s premier tech columnist during his visit to the Triangle on Thursday:

“What’s the next big thing for all us normal folks, not geeks and nerds?”

“The Internet of Things,” he responded instantly.

So what’s that?

Well, it’s the rapidly developing technology-linked globe in which we live – with practically every device we own linked to the Net.

As for what devices will dominate?

“This,” he said, putting his right hand on top of a red iPad mini and a smartphone, “is the future.”

The North Carolina Technology Association schedule a “Thought Leader” event around Mossberg’s latest Triangle visit. He was spending time with Lenovo suits based at their global executive headquarters in Morrisville. (By the way, Chairman and CEO Yang Yuanqing was in town from Beijing for a visit. Coincidence?)

And for about an hour, Mossberg talked to a sold-out crowd of some 260 people about what’s happening in the constantly changing tech world.

For starters, he disagreed with a Lenovo executive’s assertion that we have entered the “PC-plus” era where PCs of some form remain integral to what we do.

“PCs have peaked,” Mossberg said.

The latest statistics from research firms such as Gartner and IDC confirm that view. Later Thursday, chip giant Intel updated its financials and to the surprise of no one who follows the PC industry in the slightest the company issued gloomy news.

PCs and laptops are faster than ever, can do more than ever, and in relative pricing terms are cheaper than ever. But the world has gone mobile with smaller, thinner, extremely capable tablets like the iPad and smartphones. Big PCs guys have “missed the turn,” Mossberg said. Not Apple. Not Samsung – on the smartphone side. Lenovo, HP, Dell and Acer are scrambling. 

Can they get back on track?

And what about Research In Motion, the makers of BlackBerrys? RIM is launching its new BlackBerry 10s later this month in an attempt to salvage its once bright future.

Mossberg asked the crowd how many carried BlackBerrys?

A handful at best raised their hands.

Mossberg, obviously surprised, conceded: “I actually thought there would be more.”

It hasn’t been that long since tech crowds were filled with “crackberry” users. Of course, this was just one event, but the crowd’s preference for other smart devices is a stunning example of just how quickly a tech giant’s fortunes can change.

In the world of the “Internet of Things,” companies no matter how big have to adapt – or die.

And Mossberg will be passing judgement on device makers to see if they truly are delivering what they promising to consumers.

After all, Mr. Gadget is their advocate.