Smart Is The New Dumb

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Smart is the word of the moment. It’s become the prefix for the 21st Century, but how smart is smart actually proving to be?

I read recently of the inability of smart meters to change behaviour, and also the shock of journalists, bloggers, Tweeters and even energy industry experts on hearing this news. To me, it was inevitable.

Humans have adopted technology as a blanket, a warm and snuggly babysitter willing to do the things that the safe, white middle-classes aren’t interested in doing. I have a smart meter, and it happily lets me know that I’m using well below the average for a house and family my size. So, what do I do? I’m sure you’ll be unsurprised to find it’s not turning down the thermostat, or limiting my electricity usage. Why would I? I’m already consuming less. It’s the same with water – I’m always elated when my bill arrives each year telling me I’m using the equivalent of a one-person household and my annual charges are but a drop in the ocean compared to those households who are unmetered.

Removing human interactions from processes is supposed to lead to a more efficient world, one in which everything is carefully measured so that there is no wastage. So why is the opposite happening?

I previously wrote about how technology is being used as a babysitter, and the consequences of that happening, some time ago, and if anything the internet of things is only accelerating these effects. Connectivity may make devise smart, but it’s making humans dumb. Or dumber, depending on your outlook.

Now, with the proliferation of sensors – and how inexpensive they’ve become – it’s almost impossible to create a physical product that doesn’t connect to the internet, even if doing so adds very little, or in some cases actually makes the product worse. Until Connectivity as a Service takes off and we can choose a single subscription for a number of devices and have one universal app that allows us to control them, we’re living at the whim of the manufacturers and software companies. This, in the short-term at least, isn’t making anyone look smart. For further reading on this, I’d recommend catching up on Louisa Heinrich’s recent posts, in particular this one.

So, as the new gold rush is connecting everything and anything to the internet, and smart denotes anything that can be controlled with a phone app, why does it feel like I’m losing huge swathes of my intelligence, not to mention a whole heap of skills?

It’s time we looked to change this and call out those apps that are dumbing us down. That’s the smart thing to do.

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