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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

bossy technology « Previous | |Next »
June 6, 2008

The automated home used to seem like a such a nice idea.

Our new washing machine initially appeared to be your standard appliance. It washes pretty much like any self respecting washing machine does, but it's a dreadful nagger. Faced with an unbalanced load the old machines used to walk across the laundry floor until the opposite wall or an unplugging forced them to finish what they were doing or stop. This one stops what it's doing and starts beeping if a pair of socks is unevenly distributed during a spin cycle.

If it does manage to get through a load it beeps to let you know it's finished. Fine. If left unattended it beeps again. And again. And again. I haven't timed it but it feels like these beeps are repeated at about 15 second intervals and they only stop when you lift the lid. At first I obediently hung out the wash, but I've taken to lifting the lid and walking away just to annoy it. There's a toilet seat analogy in there somewhere.

For the most part technology serves us well, but at what point did the master/servant roles get reversed? Was it the Microsoft paperclip demanding to know whether we were planning to write a letter, what the hell did we want with that file anyway, and are we absolutely certain we've finished what we're doing? Where's the trust?

Having been advised by some database somewhere that a liquidity loan was a good idea, my pensioner mother now owns the newest car in the family. It nags incessantly. "The door is open." "Someone hasn't plugged in their seatbelt properly." "The keys are in the ignition." "You forgot your cardigan." "Surely you're not going out dressed like that?"

We've already modified a lot of our behaviour to meet the demands of our technological conveniences. We're slaves to email and always on thanks to our mobiles. We've been trained to recharge or perish and developed muscles we might never have used if it wasn't for all things hand held. We've encouraged ads and scams that depend on our habitual clicking on certain boxes, and developed sensitivity to beeping noises.

It's not surveillance exactly, but eventually our washing machines will have access to the internet. While it will be convenient to be able to pop on a wash via our mobiles during the daily commute, what will happen when our machines start telling everyone in our contact lists that we've left the laundry to moulder? Will they tell our MySpace friends that a bra underwire has escaped and made its way into the pump? Will they gossip with the fridge about the rubbish food we're letting the kids eat? Do we really want to give beer and bar fridges the ability to communicate with the outside world?

I don't want my car telling the police I failed to indicate on exiting a roundabout even though there was nobody around to indicate to. I don't want my mobile to tell the police I'm texting death threats to my son if he's late home. I don't want the dog's chip reporting me to the RSPCA for missing walks. But would we even notice these things slowly, incrementally happening? We're already accustomed to CCTV and traffic cameras. Ten years from now, will we even care if the remote control has the capacity to report us for recording movies off television?

| Posted by Lyn at 1:56 PM | | Comments (7)


Have you noticed that a women nagging sounds very much like a beeping sound?

This is why I miss you in your periodic absences Les. You're such an earthy fellow.

I'll grant you the women thing because I'm feeling generous. And can't be bothered arguing about male to female ratios of nagging.

Nah. A woman nagging doesn't have the same kind of urgency. In my experience anyway. Women nagging is like talkback radio - annoying until you learn to tune out. Or learn to nod with a serious look on your face until you figure out some way to blame it on the government. This is like the sound of a young magpie or a baby crying sound, much harder to ignore.

Perhaps then you will need to put a bag on its head to muffle the sound.......and maybe have an extra glass of wine.

The automated house of yesterday is the digital house today. It is less a case of bossy technology than technology not working--eg., not being able to access ABC 2 through our digital set top box.

"an extra glass of wine" - now why didn't I think of that. Well done Les. Thanks.

Find yourself a reasonably friendly 12 year old and ask them to get ABC2 for you. Digital natives are very handy people.

There is a negativity to this post. Technology can also be liberating---eg., digital has bought me back to photography because it is cheap to take shots, I can process them without going into a darkroom, and I can post them on the internet through Flickr for others to share. It is also easier for me to see the work of others in other countries.

Sure it changes my behavior eg., on holidays.These now require me to take a camera, computer, to seek accommodation with recharging and wireless etc, so that I can post to my weblogs and Flickr.

Gary, Reading about this stuff there are utopians, dystopians and a more level headed bunch in between. So far I agree, new technologies have been mostly liberating. But the new washing machine made me stop and think about whether, in my own life, it is all positive.

Weighing up the pros and cons, it's more positive than negative, but there are negatives.