In 1988, the New York Times published an article about “smart” appliances. They weren’t called “smart” back then – in fact, they didn’t exist yet – but the writer was predicting they would make life easier for us in the not-so-distant future.
The article said that someday we’d be able to use our car phones to tell our home appliances to do things that would then be ready by the time we arrived home.
Things like defrosting a steak, heating up a pie, filling the bathtub with hot water, turning on the air conditioner, etc.
About 30 years later, very few homeowners have that type of technology. But we do have smart microwave ovens and smart phones and smart TVs… all of which are expensive and are out of date in a couple of years. Or they break and it’s too costly to fix them, so you have to buy another one.
The question is, do we really need “smart” products that can think for us? Or at least do things we think of and tell them to do?
Do we really need a smart meter that can tell us exactly how much electricity we used yesterday compared to the day before? Or do we just need one that can tell the utility company how much to bill us for?
Do we really need a smart oven that can suggest how many spices to add to a pot roast, or do we just need one that can cook the darned thing?
Do we really need clocks with 15,000 features on them for giving us reminders to call our mothers, telling us what the temperature is outside and advising us which clothes to wear that day? How about one that just tells you the only thing you really need to know – the time?
Does anybody really know what time it is? (Sorry, I had to throw that in there, and if you’re 55 or older, you’ll know what I mean.)
Do we really need a vacuum cleaner that can move around the house by itself, or a microwave oven with 300 different settings or a car that can parallel park itself? (Actually, that last one is pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind having that.)
But the point is, all of these new bells and whistles that are supposed to simplify our lives end up costing us more time and money. And it’s always too expensive to fix them.
By the time you figure out everything it can do, it’s obsolete or it breaks. Then you have to add it to what must be an enormous “smart landfill” that has probably overwhelmed an entire Pacific island by now.
Just give me the dumb appliances. Give me a clock that tells me what time it is, an oven that cooks my food and a phone that allows me to make and receive phone calls. And, oh yeah… that car that parks itself. Then I’ll be happy.