Internet Of Things: Limitless Dumb Possibilities

Many of the "improvements" to ordinary household objects promised by SmartThings, a software company just acquired by Samsung, are already available elsewhere or seem like overkill.

consume your "handcrafted" coffee, without the pressure of appearing in the kitchen on the coffee machine's schedule.

— "Get light to follow you as you go from room to room." Everyone wants to be a star with a follow-spot. Try a light switch.

— "Set rules to automatically turn off your lights, electronics, and thermostat at different times or when not needed." This is a repeat of a "peace of mind" benefit.

— "Set your washing machine to tell you when the laundry's done." If the washing machine bell doesn't tell you and you can't be bothered to note the cycle time and return at the appointed hour, just set a timer on your smartphone. Siri is always glad to help.

— "Get an alert if your pet unexpectedly leaves home." Again, does this happen often? What you really want is a tag that can locate your pet (without a subscription fee). That would be a worthy product. Too bad existing pet-location tracking systems are too bulky for cats.

— "Change the color of your Philips hue lights when you get a new Twitter follower." Really? Twitter's incessant notifications aren't enough? If you're that determined to celebrate, just point a flashlight at your face until someone asks why, and then you can explain that you're an Internet celebrity.

— "Make it look like you're home when you're on the go." Another function properly classified under security. You can buy non-networked devices that will switch your lights on and off at random intervals.

So there you have it: Security appears to be the most compelling benefit that SmartThings has to offer. And that's if you ignore the reports coming out of security companies that the Internet of Things is full of vulnerabilities. So much for peace of mind.

Appliances: Not much to say?
The Internet matters in a consumer context because it allows people to connect with each other and to gain access to information across great distances. Among networked things, distance is only sometimes relevant. Being able to check a webcam from afar might be useful, at times.

But most home appliances don't benefit from remote operation and tend not to have much of value to communicate. How often are you really going to check the moisture sensor in your attic? Being able to read your home thermostat from work has a certain novelty appeal, but isn't ultimately that useful. If you're actually participating in your life, you can probably get by with operating your thermostat manually.

Internet of Things companies often mention smart appliances or smart devices. By "smart" they mean "programmed," and anyone who has written computer code will admit that programs are only as smart as their programmer and that programmers don't always implement programs in smart ways. If we used the term "programmed devices," we'd be more inclined to acknowledge that such things only do what they're told. "Programmed" is a better term because it implies limitations in a way that "smart" does not.

We have the technology to put everything online. What we need is the sense to keep most things offline, for the sake of our privacy, sanity, autonomy, and dignity. Delegate too much responsibility to your things and you might stop paying attention to what's going on around you.

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