The Audio Cynic

The IoT is Not For Me

I’ve worked in tech fields most of my life: high-performance audio, racing engines, and medical imaging. In spite of that, I admit that in some ways I am a Luddite.

The term originally referred to mill-workers in 19th century England who destroyed weaving machines, fearing that such machines would eliminate their jobs (foreshadowing the robotized 21st century, no?). Meaning of the term has broadened through the years, and now refers to anyone who is resistant to technological change, with perhaps an implication that such a person is old-fashioned and out of touch. You know, like the look your kids give you when you can’t figure out how to download an app.

This year’s CES was overrun with self-driving cars (perhaps another verb would’ve been a better choice), drones, and products proclaiming their connectivity and connectedness. I’m not talking about computers or things that audio-types could view as being usefully connected to the internet, like music streamers. I’m talking about household appliances, cars, every damn thing you can possibly imagine.

Now, I grew up watching The Jetsons as a kid. In the early ’60’s, the idea of automated houses and domestic robots seemed remotely possible, given the rate of technological advancement during the space race. Such things were viewed with a touch of whimsy, and an awareness that “smart” devices could, on occasion, work against their human masters.

 

After The Jetsons, I grew up reading science fiction, and the dystopian warnings of Asimov’s I, Robot have always been in the back of my mind.

Fast-forward half a century to now. A friend told me that she had received an email from her dishwasher. Dishwasher said, “Help, my filter needs changing!!”

Pure and simple, that freaked me out. Who knew that dishwashers had filters?

All kidding aside,  I’m both an introvert and a control freak, and there may be just a tiny, tiny bit of OCD in the mix, as well. I don’t even like electrical outlets that are controlled by wall switches: give me the reassuring ka-CHUNK of a mechanical lamp switch or on/off button, any day. I also take my responsibilities wayyyy too seriously, and feel guilty when my dogs give me the stink-eye when I’m late feeding them. The last thing I want in my life are the kind of horrors presaged by that dishwasher, where every freaking device in my life can berate me for neglecting their needs.

This, friends, is the alleged glory of the connected universe, annoyingly dubbed the “Internet of Things”, or “IoT”. Read anything in the fields of consumer electronics or home integration over the last several years, and you’ll discover vital necessities like bathroom fans that can be turned on by an iPhone app even before you do your business. “Lack of enthusiasm” doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings for such things. Think somewhere between “bored disdain” and “extreme contempt”.

A few years ago this Wired piece gave an overview of the phenomena of the IoT, but if anything, it understated the level of connectedness that’s being pitched today. Later that year, the darling-of-the-moment of connected tech, the Nest thermostat, sold to Google/Alphabet for $3.2 Billion–that’s with a “B”. A couple years later, reality has set in, the CEO was dismissed, and the corporate equivalent of “what the hell were we thinking??” has set in.  I have tried, unsuccessfully, to not gloat.

Did I mention that I might be the teensiest bit paranoid, as well? Having seen the FBI bugging mobsters’ Cadillacs via the On Star system, I predicted that whole Alexa-bug thing ages ago. And in the near future, every guest at the Wynn hotel will be blessed by/subjected to that level of non-privacy. Yippee.

So, that’s my take on this whole IoT deal. I’d be happy if it went the way of another tech non-event, 3D TV—but that seems unlikely. I’m not as tech-averse as Jay Leno’s parents—who put a remote control in a drawer because they “didn’t want to start a fire”—but it has taken me a while to appreciate some of the benefits of computer-based audio and a few other developments we now take for granted. Maybe you’re a fan of the IoT. If so, that’s fine.

Me? I just don’t need a single thing more in my life telling me what I’m doing wrong. I may be a masochist, but even I have my limits.