The Current

Sunday Mornings 6:00am

I embrace technology like we all do. I get a little twitchy without my phone nearby to Google a question that pops into my head. And I can barely find my way around the radio station without map apps.* But that’s the problem. With all of these “smart” devices, are we becoming less smart?

As the Vegas CES 2019, the gadget show, kicks off, attendees will get a deeper look into the future. So many of the debuting products are “smart” items for your home. Let’s take, for example, the smart oven. Ovens of the future will be so smart, they’ll tell us where to place the turkey for optimal cooking using animation on the door. Well, that sounds great. I’d love my turkey cooked to it’s full, juiciest potential. But how about this? The oven can sync with your digital calendar to know how much time you have allotted for cooking so it (the oven) can recommend recipes. And could we see a future where the oven is talking to your fridge to know what ingredients you have on hand? Sure.

Now some of this sounds wonderful to me. Things will certainly speed up a bit in the kitchen if I don’t have to even think about what to cook. But at what price? With a smart oven, as with all smart devices, I find three areas of concern. First, smart home devices are designed by their MANUFACTURER to collect your data and habit-track you, presumably to know what you might be most interested in buying so they (the people they sell your data to) can send you the best targeted advertisements. Maybe you’re cool with that. Makes shopping easier for you, too. It comes down to your comfort level with companies knowing about your personal habits.

Speaking of personal, let’s get a little conspiratorial and talk about the general idea of this sort of “decentralized surveillance.” I know plenty of people who say, “Hey, I’m not doing anything at home that is illegal.” Great! But would you feel comfortable having everyone know every private conversation you have in your home? Alexa certainly knows what you’re talking about. Hopefully, she and all of these other smart home helpers are good secret keepers. It’s just a basic question of privacy. How much is it valued and protected?

And with all smart devices, we give up a little when it comes to brain power. You might say, “Hey, Roxanne, remember Steve Jobs wore the same outfit every day so he didn’t have to waste his decision-making power and could use it for really important decisions?” Okay. I like that idea. But what about creativity? What about letting inspiration strike to help you best decide what to cook for your family on a particular night? How about keeping the conversation between you and your (human) kids? Tossing around ideas about what you might be in the mood to eat, rather than rely on your smart oven to tell you what to make based on an algorithm derived from your past habits on a Tuesday evening when you’ve got twenty-six minutes available to cook.

I think with all technology, awareness and balance are key. Don’t let the smart devices take away your free-thinking and creativity…or spill too many of your secrets or secret family recipes.

*I have always had a bad sense of direction. And it’s gotten WORSE because of map apps.