Great post from David Stewart here about his experience moving into a house with a ‘smart’ thermostat and why ‘smart’ appliances are a stupid idea in general. Recommend reading the whole thing and the comments.
Rudolph Harrier makes an excellent point in the latter: that smart appliances are not actually intended for convenience, they’re meant as data-gathering devices. Hence their functionality is usually garbage because the convenience part is an afterthought designed to trick people into putting these Orwellian observation devices in their homes.
Remember that anything you have that is dependent on a company’s server or maintenance, in practical terms belongs to that company. They’ve sold it to you, but they maintain decision making powers over it.
Take this Google-sponsored piece on why to buy a smart refrigerator:
Smart fridges are worth it because you’ll be able to plan daily activities, check the weather, create a grocery list, and much more. Smart fridges are energy efficient which helps the planet and reduces your energy bill. As you can see, smart fridges are worth it because they’re highly innovative.
The first part, of course, can mostly be covered by a notepad and basic awareness (though to be fair, they do say there is “much more”). The second is that they’re “energy efficient” and “helps the planet”.
Because I am sure your refrigerator using slightly less overall electricity will have a huge impact on the environment.
On that subject, pay attention to the fact that corporations love pushing environmental issues. It isn’t disinterested. “Environmentally friendly” is a selling point, a reason for you to buy one (more expensive) product over another, a reason to upgrade, and, as in this case, a reason to purchase a device that the company retains partial ownership of. In fact, the benefit to the environment is so important that we should mandate that all fridges be ‘smart’!
Trendy environmentalism is trendy because it benefits the important people. Remember that.
Personally, I dislike smart devices chiefly because they introduce so many new points of failure. Internet goes down? Power goes out? Something goes wrong with that extremely delicate and complicated mechanism at the heart of the system? Goodbye refrigerator. And weighed against that is “But then I’d have to keep track of my food’s expiration dates on my own, and I might have a slightly larger energy bill.” That sounds worth the extra $1500-3000 (depending on how high-end a product you buy). You’re paying five times as much for something less functional and which you’ll likely have to replace much sooner.
I think a large part of the appeal is simply ‘future chic:’ the sense that we’re living in the Future, with the automated houses we were promised back in the old days. Except that the Jetsons didn’t bring up the issue of Rosie being programmed by her manufacturers to record the family habits so that they can sell the data to advertisers, or the fact that she would likely have been set to self-destruct in four years to force them to buy Rosie 2.0, or that criticizing the wrong ‘persecuted minority’ would trigger her “crush, kill, destroy” mode.
The tech arrived, but the corporations became giant and evil in the meantime. If you ever do get a flying car it’ll probably be programmed to plow into the ground if one of the passengers uses the ‘N’ word.
(Oh, yeah; they’re pushing self-driving cars now, aren’t they? And I’m sure lots of people will be dumb enough to go for it).
Convenience almost always means dependency, and you should always consider to whom (and to what) you are making yourself dependent.