In praise of the dumb home
'I want my appliances to sit there like the stupid objects they are': Michelle Parise
by Michelle Parise
The thermostat. Light bulbs. Baby monitor. Door locks. The refrigerator. The coffee maker. All internet-enabled objects that are part of the smart home revolution.
And now you can control it all with a smart hub, a tiny speaker that just sits there, like a fancy, creepy air-freshener on your coffee table, collecting and sending data back to your overlord Google. Or Amazon.
You know what's not creepy? My stove-top espresso maker. I put tap water in it, and then the grinds, and turn the stove on. Seven minutes later-- I turn the stove off and I'm having un caffè. Because it's a stupid coffee maker, in my perfectly stupid home.
It doesn't grind and brew on demand. It doesn't have geo-location tethered to my phone so it knows when I'll walk through the door. It doesn't read my sleep patterns on my FitBit and make me stronger coffee accordingly. I don't even have a FitBit! But if I did, I would find it really creepy if it was talking to my coffee maker while I slept.
Amazon Echo and Google Home are supposed to be the centre of the modern home. A hub for all of your lazy, lazy whims and desires. Turn out the lights! Order me a pizza! Play me the new Beyoncé song! Put the kids to bed! It's like we're turning into the screen-obsessed, never-get-out-of-chairs humans from the movie WALL-E.
There's something about the smart home and the internet of things that just seems so...infantilizing. We're already mired in our own self-centred desire for instant gratification.
I see everyone around me relying on apps to do everything now, as if they're perfectly happy to just not learn how to do simple things we all used to know how to do-- like reading a paper map. Or phoning a human being to order delivery. Or writing out a grocery list.
Do I really need an app on my phone that's connected to an air-freshener on my coffee table that's connected to my fridge which tells the air-freshener to tell my phone to tell me that I need to buy milk?
No. No, I don't need that. I open the fridge and I see I need to buy milk and I write it on a piece of paper and then I go and buy milk. With a 5-dollar bill.
Look, if you need Google and Amazon to connect all the things in your home to their servers and that giant database in the sky, then I'm not going to judge.
Okay well actually, I am judging you. But only because I care. I worry about your hands. Remember those? You used to adjust the thermostat with them! And turn on the lights when you walked into a room. And turn the lights off when you left the room! Hands are AMAZING. If you got 'em, you should use 'em!
We can debate whether for us humans, ignorance is bliss. But when it comes to my home there's no debate -- I like my ignorant, not-tethered-to-the-internet objects. I just put my key in my front door, go inside, and on turn the lights. With my hand.
I want my appliances to sit there mute like the stupid objects they are. Waiting for me to use them as the tools they were intended for. And that is bliss.