The light bulb solved the problem of darkness. Cell phones solved the problems of landlines. Cars solved the problem of transportation. What problem does a connected coffee machine solve?
While the smart home craze is in full throttle, it’s easy to forget that innovative technology should follow one hard and fast rule: it must solve a problem. This is the distinction between innovation and modern convenience. Everything from lightbulbs to toothbrushes are now connected to the cloud. The components to connect devices are affordable enough that companies can add them without making their product too expensive. With how easy it is, many of them are doing it just because they can, not because it solves a problem. It is no longer difficult to imagine a (very near) future where everything, from our washing machine to our saucepans being connected and linked to our mobile phones. Unfortunately, due to the ease at which companies can add the Wifi component to a device, smart home technology is trending towards generating data for data’s sake, rather than time saving efficiency.
Your smart home should make you smarter and more efficient, not just be WiFi-enabled. For example, your connected alarm system or thermostat delivers environmental, security and money-saving functionalities at a distance. But your connected dog feeder conveniently ignores that we have taken care of pets for centuries. It’s why we got pets in the first place - to love them and spend time with them. At a certain point, the convenience of modern technology may end up alienating us from the exact things we valued in the first place.
In our competitive consumer market where the buyer wants the latest, easiest and most advanced version of something, it’s no surprise that companies are jumping to add connectivity to their products. If they don’t, someone else will. This is the sort of reasoning that has historically led to all sorts of unfortunate decisions. Now that we can add tablet technology to our microwaves and make dedicated iPhone apps for our WiFi enabled slow-cookers, it is more important than ever that companies use discretion before releasing a connected spoon (I don’t think this exists yet, but it’s probably on someone’s roadmap).
In a couple years, it’s going to be difficult to buy a toaster or a coffee pot that isn’t connected. How are we going to ensure that we don’t give this long list of frivolous internet enabled devices more credence than they deserve? WiFi enabled smoke and carbon monoxide detectors offer potentially lifesaving capabilities. However, what is going to stop us and make us think, I bought a connected coffee pot but for what real reason? I still have to remember to clean it, fill it with fresh grounds and water every day. What superior function am I achieving? Do I need to be connected to it 24/7? We are understandably suckers for convenience. When taken one by one, these advances equal modern convenience. But once our homes are filled with these devices,one has to wonder whether we’ll find value in the data or become numb to the deluge of information.
Just today, I spent way more time finding my thermostat app on my phone and waiting for the temperature settings to load than I would spend simply walking to the next room to look at it. Bob Dylan sang, “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” but I’m acting as if I need a mobile app to know whether I’m hot or cold. If we’re not careful, we’ll all become inconvenienced by our desire for convenience. Not to mention even more lazy - have you seen Wall-E?
Connected devices are great. It’s nice to have the convenience of staying on the couch and checking in on everything you own. But where do we draw the line? At one point is it just silly, without moving the needle? Take a step back and think, do you really need your hairbrush to be on WiFi? I sure don’t.