Smart Appliances

Recently the Washington Post printed an article explaining how the appliance manufacturers plan to drive consumers insane. Of course they don't SAY they want to drive us insane. What they SAY they want to do is have us live in homes where "all appliances are on the Internet, sharing information" and appliances will be "smarter than most of their owners." For example, the article states, you would have a home where the dishwasher "can be turned on from the office," the refrigerator "knows when it's out of milk," and the bathroom scale "transmits your weight to the gym."

I frankly wonder whether the appliance manufacturers, with all due respect, have been smoking crack. I mean, did they ever stop to ask themselves WHY a consumer, after loading a dishwasher, would go to the office to start it? Would there be some kind of career benefit?

YOUR BOSS: "What are you doing?"

YOU (tapping computer keyboard): "I'm starting my dishwasher!"

YOUR BOSS: "That's the kind of productivity we need around here!"

YOU: "Now I'm flushing the upstairs toilet!"

Listen, appliance manufacturers: We don't NEED a dishwasher that we can communicate with from afar. If you want to improve our dishwashers, give us one that senses when people leave dirty dishes on the kitchen counter and shouts, "Put those dishes in the dishwasher right now or I'll leak all over your shoes!" Likewise, we don't need a refrigerator that knows when it's out of milk. We already have a foolproof system for determining if we're out of milk: we ask our wife. What we could use is a refrigerator that refuses to let us open its door when it senses that we are about to consume our fourth pudding snack in two hours. As for a scale that transmits our weight to the gym: Are they NUTS? We don't want our weight transmitted to our own EYEBALLS! What if the gym transmitted our weight to all these other appliances on the internet? What if, God forbid, our refrigerator found out our weight? We'd never get the door open again! But here is what really concerns me about these new "smart" appliances: Even if we like the features, we won't be able to use them. We can't use the appliance features we have NOW. I have a feature-packed telephone with 43 buttons, at least 20 of which I am afraid to touch. This phone probably can communicate with the dead, but I don't know how to operate it, just as I don't know how to operate my TV, which has features out the wasooty and requires THREE remote controls. One control (44 buttons) came with theTV; a second (39 buttons) came with the VCR; the third (37 buttons) was brought here by the cable-TV man, who apparently felt that I did not have enough buttons.

So when I want to watch TV, I'm confronted with a total of 120 buttons, identified by such helpful labels as PIP, MTS, DBS and JUMP. There are three buttons labeled POWER, but there are times - especially if my son and his friends, who are not afraid of features, have changed the settings - when I cannot figure out how to turn on the TV. I stand there, holding three remote controls, pressing buttons at random, until eventually I give up and go turn on the dishwasher. It has been, literally, years since I have successfully recorded a TV show. That is how "smart" my appliances have become.

And now the appliance manufacturers want to give us MORE features. Do you know what this means? It means that some night you'll open your "smart" refrigerator, looking for a beer, and you'll hear a cheerful recorded voice - the same woman who informs you that Your Call Is Important when you phone a business that does not wish to speak with your personally - telling you, "Your celery is limp." You will not know how your refrigerator knows this, and, what is worse, you will not know who else your refrigerator is telling about it.

But if you want to make the refrigerator stop, you'll have to decipher an owner's manual written by nuclear physicists. ("To disable the Produce Crispness Monitoring feature, enter the Command mode, then select Edit function, then select Change Vegetable Defaults, then assume that Train A leaves Chicago traveling westbound at 47 m.p.h., while Train B...")

Is this the kind of future you want, consumers? Do you want appliances that are smarter than you? Of course not.

Your appliances should be DUMBER than you, just like your furniture, your pets, and your representatives in Congress. So I am urging you to let the appliance industry know that when it comes to "smart" appliances, you vote NO. You need to act quickly. Because while you're reading this, your microwave oven is voting YES.

Sergiu Hart's
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