IoT kitchen babel?
So is current technology helping us, or is it all just really getting in our way? Amber Case, fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Centre for Internet and Society and a visiting researcher at the MIT Centre for Civic Media, is asking that question, writes Sally Ratcliffe*.
Speaking at the recent Front End Innovation Conference in London, she gave the example of the smart fridge as a way along a damaging design road of what she calls the ‘dystopian kitchen of the future”. Forget the image of a humble kitchen as a place to cook. No, this is a shiny tech hub which burns with all the wrong ingredients. Here, via the Internet of Things, every device speaks a different language, everything alerts you in a different way, every gadget is incompatible.
In tech-innovation circles a smart fridge is considered a must-have but is it really a valuable addition to our beeping world of devices? Case, who is also an IOT and AI anthropologist, has been asked many times to research, or come up with solutions to, pressing refrigerator questions. One of her favourites is: Is it possible to build a fridge which will keep you from eating sweets? She has a great answer. She could have a smart fridge with a fingerprint lock on it but also a ‘dumb cupboard’ where she could stash her secret sweeties anyway.
There’s a limit in how many things we should connect, in what way we should connect them and in what way they alert us, interact with us and grab our attention. As a millennial, Case describes growing up in an inventor’s household where her father was looking at every gadget and device under the sun, so much so that her bedroom was populated with various alarm devices which beeped of their own accord, couldn’t be switched off, or worse, spoke to each other.
More often than not they never did what was really needed –one alarm to wake her up at the correct time instead of the early hours!
So, are we building the ‘right’ things? Case thinks not. We are too excited by ‘things’ and they are going obsolete very quickly. Today, with trend insiders considering the prospect of the next 20 billion objects coming our way by 2020 – we need to factor in our own human senses, she says. She calls this ‘calm technology’.
This is human-led design that responds to our senses instead of dominating them. We need to think of designs which are easy to launch, useful and which remain reliant and unobtrusive.
Let’s not forget simple processes in design as we become more and more reliant on Wi-Fi which can drop at any moment without back-up, common sense and human thinking needs to come first again for us to be calm.
Image: Steve Mullins