In praise of the ‘dumb home’

By Patrice Lewis

In this age of the “Internet of Things,” when homes are getting smart and smarter, my husband and I proudly live in a dumb home. In fact, it’s getting dumber and dumber. (Interpret that as you will.)

My husband and I don’t need a refrigerator hooked up to the internet. We don’t need smart mattress covers communicating activities to a central location. We don’t need smart cars that tell us where to go or how to drive. We don’t need windows that close themselves when it rains or lower the blinds when it’s sunny. We don’t need a washing machine that starts remotely. We don’t need smart toilets with a built-in Alexa to “set the mood.” We don’t need lighting that turns itself on or off upon request. We don’t need smart ovens that download recipes and lets us play games while dinner is cooking. We don’t need smart aromatherapy diffusers to make the house smell nice. We don’t need smart TVs that take over and perform functions we didn’t ask for and don’t want. We don’t need smart shoes that lace themselves and customize to our feet. We don’t need a Fitbit to track and report our every movement, down to our heartbeat and footsteps. We don’t need smartphones that spy on every movement, every message, every conversation, every banking transaction and every trip we take.

Above all, we don’t need Alexa, whose eerie presence listens in on every conversation (and goes “rogue” once in a while). Did you know there are some 28,000 items that now work with Alexa? That’s creepy.

Proponents of “smart” technology praise its advantages, which, they say, include “control at your fingertips,” safety, accessibility, energy efficiency, cost effectiveness, convenience, comfort, peace of mind, flexibility, security, appliance functionality, “home management insights,” resale potential, sustainability, savings, quality of life and less stress.

In the article “The True Benefits of the Smart Home,” the author concludes: “You can’t buy happiness. We know that. But, more money means less stress, and that’s something you can’t beat. As cool as it is to tell Alexa to play the latest single from across the room, having more room in your budget is even cooler. And plus, energy-efficient homes put a considerably less amount of strain on the environment, making life better for all of us. So do yourself a favor, start replacing those old appliances with smart, sustainable devices that will actually make you, and the rest of us, a little happier.”

Wow, so smart products will save the world! End global warming! Cure the common cold! Eliminate dust bunnies under the bed! And make us “a little happier”! What’s not to love?

The implication, of course, is with all these advantages, why would anyone choose NOT to surround themselves with smart products? (The Bible verse “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” comes to mind.)

It’s obvious what the disadvantages of “smart” technology are. Some recent headlines:

Catch the drift here? Over and over and over again, the problems are obvious with “smart” technology: Loss of privacy. Mining of data. Constant surveillance. Even mind control. This is “smart”?

As Wired put it, “What you’re about to lose is your privacy. Actually, it’s worse than that. You aren’t just going to lose your privacy, you’re going to have to watch the very concept of privacy be rewritten under your nose.” Homes are getting smarter – and creepier.

I should point out our “dumb” home is perfectly modern and comfortable. We have all the appliances we need to make our lives easy and convenient. The difference is, those appliances don’t spy on us and report our data to some third-party source, which then sells those data to advertisers. Arguably the exception is our two computers; but since we cling to software no more recent than Windows 7, hopefully most of the data mining will bypass us. We also pay in cash whenever possible, don’t have smartphones, avoid social media, refuse to save things to the “cloud,” and otherwise continue to be irascible and difficult. I figure Google knows enough about me; I don’t need to spoon-feed it any more information.

How long before America falls prey to the social rating system currently used by Communist China? Collaboration between the Big Five Big Tech (Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook) and Big Brother is increasing, and increasingly invasive. Apple Chairman Tim Cook bluntly describes the process: “We shouldn’t sugarcoat the consequences. This is surveillance.”

Technology has its uses – we’re thankful an elderly widowed neighbor in poor health has Alexa – but for those of us who are able-bodied, this kind of smart technology is not only invasive and pervasive, but it smacks of the dystopian future featured in the Pixar film Wall-E.

Think “smart,” folks. Dump the Internet of Things. If nothing else, walking over to shut your own windows will burn more calories … and that’s healthy, right?

Leave a Comment