Why technology isn’t always better

We live in a world where technology is ubiquitous. It’s hard to escape from it. E.F. Schumacher, British economist, and author of the 1973 book “Small is Beautiful“, stated that “The system of nature, of which man is a part, tends to be self-balancing, self-adjusting, self-cleansing. Not so with technology.” For a while, technology only ensconced itself in our lives through mobile devices, but ever more so, it has started its assimilation of our homes. A good example is lighting. In its simplest form, if you turn a switch on, a light goes on. Turn it off, the light goes off. Then we added the dimmer, which allows the brightness of the light to be modified (I’m convinced that very few people actually use dimmers, unless the bulb is über bright). Along the way we transitioned to more energy efficient light bulbs – from incandescent, to CFL, then LED. I ♥ LED. But now we also have lights that can be controlled by an app. Have we gone too far?

For a while I thought that some of this technology would be useful, but these newfangled wireless devices often suffer from having too many [quirky] features, and not enough usability. If I need to read instructions on how to operate a light switch it is too difficult. There is also the problem of privacy. If devices are wirelessly attached to your network, and perform “updates” automatically (see my post on the Nest Protect), then one has to wonder what else they could possibly be doing. Could an intelligent washing machine be transmitting information on my washing habits back to the manufacturer? Sure this data might be useful in creating the next generation of washing machines, but wouldn’t it be an invasion of my privacy? Look, washing machines wash clothes, and the mere fact that most people only use 2-3 cycles means that they don’t have to be smart, or feature-ridden. The same with fridges. Adding chips and code to a device that does something simple just complicates things and means that if something does go wrong it might be harder (and more costly) to fix.

I thought about a smart thermostat for a long while, but I just haven’t been able to break down and buy one. I know one thing – no Nest. Too many issues with software, (remember the hand-wavy thing – it still doesn’t work). There seems to be a lack of confidence in their software – check out this article on geek.com. I still have one Nest Protect (the hard wired one) – which *seems* to work – if nothing else it makes a great motion activated night-light. Yeah, sure I like that the Nest thermostat looks cool. But in a small home an intelligent thermostat might not make much sense. There are probably better ways to be energy efficient too. Like getting a furnace that is the right size – many home furnaces are oversized. I thought about the Honeywell Lyric as well – it doesn’t use a learning algorithm, but rather geo-fencing (i.e. proximity of cell phones). However it also doesn’t have a web interface, doesn’t allow changes to be made remotely, and doesn’t allow a program to be scheduled manually. Nuts.

What does this mean? The evolution of over-technological devices for the home. Designed by companies who will try and convince you that you need them. That it’s better to control your whole home from a smart mobile device. That it all needs to be done remotely.

Remember that technology (just like magic) comes at a price.



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