There are gadgets and contraptions
There’s a program you can download now
That will even dream your dreams
It’ll even dream your dreams
For a monthly fee
Clear up your complexion
You get a hundred hours free
—John Gorka, “When I Lost My Faith”
As a quinquagenarian tech consultant some years back, I often found myself around a table with 20-something guys (always guys) trying to pull a business plan out of thin air in order to spend a couple million bucks. Those were heady times, when URLs looked like — www.xyz1403BxfindVO2JujubeanXC%5EfOkss.com — and no one knew what to call business conducted over the Internet. Hell, no one could even agree on what to call the Internet.
I start this way so you’ll know that I’m not a Luddite but only a growing skeptic at the ways technology has IMHO begun to go off the rails. Yes, I used to go to all the tech conferences and sing along heartily with the “Faster, Better, Cheaper” choir. Well, now, whether because of my age, my incrementally increasing wisdom (I can only hope), or my inertia I am singing a different tune, and right in the middle of the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas — where what happens in Las Vegas, I agree, should stay in Las Vegas.
A dumb home is fine with me
Let me say outright and upfront, I do not need a smart home. I do not need a video doorbell (I can see who’s on my porch from the living room and by then it’s too late); a vacuum-bot that can identify a sock and therefore not suck it up; or a $12,000 toilet that closes its lid automatically. But in case you do — and you can certainly make up your own minds about this — let me review a few of the “top items” launched at CES 2019.
OK, let’s start with Samsung’s Family Hub Refrigerators which are “smarter than ever” because they are now enhanced with “Bixby voice recognition and control.” They can deliver daily news reports and have a large digital screen in the front, in case you want to talk to your cheese or find out who has moved it. This fridge can be voice-personalized so that each member of the family can talk to it personally and intimately and get therapy advice (no, just joking); though you can, if you like, call up an Uber ride or buy a plane ticket using Expedia (not joking).
Then there’s, sort of in the same bailiwick, the Capstone Connected Home Google-enabled Smart Mirror with both voice and touch screen capabilities. Yes, folks, you can check the weather or traffic while you’re shaving (although it will not apply bandages when you nick yourself) or stream YouTube if you get bored while slathering on face cream. As for me, I’d rather have a mirror for when I ask, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all” that announces loudly, “You are, darling!” This mirror, I read, can also be used to type email messages in case you want to work remotely from your bathroom. “The Smart Mirror should blend in seamlessly to any home, appearing like a normal mirror when not in use.” I am so relieved!
Now on to the previously mentioned vacuum-bot from a company called, in this case, Evovac, which has purportedly unleashed “its smartest robot vacuum model yet.” This vacuum, yet to be initiated into Mensa, is AI-powered and uses machine learning to keep your floors spotless, “without accidentally sucking up articles like socks that will prove bad for its digestion.”
Another entry in this field is the Deebot Ozmo 960 which can “currently identify around 500 objects (and the company plans to add more obstacles to the Deebot Ozmo 960’s database over the coming months) so it’ll become even better at avoiding everyday household hazards,” like the dog or other small mammals.
And I know you may have already heard this latest buzz — the rollable television. A prototype of this TV was shown off at CES 2018, but this year it’s a real product that consumers can buy (though they’ve been too afraid to announce the price yet). It rolls and rises out of a “sound bar” (whatever that is) and, according to some aficionados, “feels like pure magic. The TV is there when you want it, and disappears when you don’t.” Frankly, I don’t. I don’t even have a television, rollable or otherwise.
Back away from the stove
I think I am perhaps most offended by the Whirlpool Connected-hub Wall Oven, which features a 27-inch transparent LCD in place of a traditional glass oven door. This thing’s LCD screen means you can’t just look into your oven and see if the pie is done. No, instead you can view a calendar, look up recipes, get personalized dietary options, or turn on the AR (augmented reality) feature and get step-by-step cooking instructions. It will even tell you “where exactly to place food for optimal cooking.” (I suggest on the racks inside the oven.)
In my family, activities in the kitchen were near sacred. You got cooking instruction from mom, who showed you where to put two pies so they would both get cooked evenly, or how to test to see if the brownies were done. AR seems more like “DR” to me — demented reality. I don’t need to look at a screen to have my oven advise me on dietary options, like, “Don’t have that second piece of cake.”
I do have one exception to my tirade on digital and technologically enhanced gizmos. I was given an Ember for Christmas, which at first I pooh-poohed. You plug a base station into the wall and put a small ceramic mug on it.
Then you download an app to your iPhone that connects you to that cup of coffee, which you can set at exactly the right temperature. Then this thing will keep your coffee (tea, or cocoa) at your primo temp for roughly an hour, from across the room. It blinks different colored lights (you can personalize these, of course) to communicate to you when it needs recharging. I love this crazy thing — I have used it every morning since I got it.
But, OK, you can make your own judgments here about which techy advances you think will improve your life. Just remember that every digital device is also spying on you.
And/but for a truly moving and reality-based experience that will certainly enhance your life, don’t miss singer-songwriter John Gorka’s performance at the Performing Arts Center in Astoria — a fund raiser for KMUN — this Thursday, Jan. 17, at 7:30 p.m., tickets $20. He’s the real deal. (Info here: https://tinyurl.com/ya54uwd3)