My mother was 89 years old when I tried to help her understand email. The more I talked, the more her expression turned from bafflement to skepticism to outright disbelief. (I think her exact words were, “Send mail without a stamp? That’s impossible. Don’t lie to your mother.”) So I showed her. I sat her down at the computer, pulled up a new message screen and told her to write a note to my sister in Boston. “What do I say?” she asked. “The same thing you’d say in a letter,” I replied. My mother thought for a moment and typed: Hello, dear. This is your mother. I hope you are well. Do you still have a cough? Then I told her to click Send and wait a few minutes. We sat silently, my mother looking like she’d just released the launch codes for an intercontinental ballistic missile. A few minutes later a message came back from my sister: Hey, Mom. Glad you’re using email. Welcome to the digital age! My cough is fine. Love you.
My mother stared at the screen, stunned. It was as if she had seen a vision. Then she shook her head and said, “I’ve lived too long.”
I always thought that was funny—until I read a magazine infographic titled The Smart Homes We Live In. Now I’m beginning to think I have lived too long. If you’ve ever worried about human beings creating a world that’s too smart for its own good, this piece will remove all doubt. The infographic, published in a 2016 issue of The Week magazine, features an illustrated cross-section of a house, with call-outs pointing to all the gizmos that can raise your home’s IQ to the point where it qualifies for Mensa. Starting in the living room, there’s a product by Samsung called SmartThings that sets off the sound of barking dogs when it detects an intruder—which could be anybody since it doesn’t say how the device can tell the difference between an intruder and the mailman.
There’s also the Netatmo Welcome, which recognizes your family’s faces and lets you know when they’ve arrived home. This works fine as long as nobody grows a beard or gets a face-lift, in which case you could be permanently locked out of your house. Of course, if you have both the Samsung SmartThings and the Netatmo Welcome you’ll know the family is home by the sound of barking dogs.
“Send mail without a stamp? That’s impossible. Don’t lie to your mother.”
Then there’s Singlecue, which allows you to change TV channels with the wave of a finger. Just be sure to close the shades so people outside can’t see you. Sane people don’t wave at their televisions. If you have a pet, there’s the Petzi Treat Cam, which “lets you spy on Fido and reward his good behavior with treats, even when you’re not home.” Well, I have a dog, and if he was home alone and a treat dropped out of a box on the wall, he’d rip that thing open faster than you could say “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
Moving into the bathroom we have the Withings Smart Body Analyzer. This is a scale that measures your weight, body mass index and heart rate—then gives you the morning weather report. I consider this a risky purchase. The technology is impressive but it could easily ruin your day. Imagine stepping on the old Withings in your pajamas only to find that you’ve gained weight and the day will be cold, gray and rainy. This is when you realize what you’ve really bought is the Withings Depresso-Meter.
Not to leave the bedroom out, we have the Sleep Number x12 bed, which tracks your caffeine intake, exercise and sleeping patterns so you will know how to get a better night’s sleep. Not in my case. I’d be up all night worrying that any bed smart enough to measure my caffeine intake could easily track other things—like my late-night consumption of Rocky Road ice cream.
Finally, we come to clothes—or, as it’s called in a companion piece to the infographic, “wearable technology.” There is Blacksocks with Plus+, a device that tells you which socks belong together and how often they’ve been washed. Why we would ever need this I don’t know. I’d prefer it simply tell me how my socks mysteriously disappear. Be that as it may, the day I need a computer chip to tell me which socks go together is the day I really have lived too long.