Why the smart home is not such a brilliant idea

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 March, 2006, 12:00am

As I research this story, I am spinning the scroll wheel on my mouse hard. The reason: since I will scarcely leave this seat in the next six hours, let alone take a walk or work out, I need to burn some calories.

So the last thing I should do right now is move into a remote-controlled hyper-connected smart house. Rather, I should be living in a log cabin, chopping wood and carrying water.

But I am sure that smart houses will catch on like everything else that makes life less sweaty, from the robot vacuum cleaner to the microwave.

Smart houses decry and remove hard labour in every department, and are usually powered by smart wiring: a tangle of copper cables threaded through a house during construction. Smart wiring links lights, home theatres, irrigation systems, fax, phone and computer systems - everything except the cutlery.

As a result, anywhere in the house, just by using your fingertips, you can scroll through a list of songs and albums, and funnel the music into whichever room you choose. If you are in the kitchen and suddenly feel the need to blast Gershwin simultaneously in the nursery and the garage, it's a snap. You can do the same to adjust the lighting, the temperature - indeed, you can pretty much adjust everything except the contemptuous expression on the face of your significant other.

Just keep spare batteries handy and you will scarcely ever need to stand up again. Instead, you can watch the plasma TV or the aquarium and remotely fine-tune the lighting as your beautiful angelfish perform their aquatic ballet. Alternatively, you might stare at the fibreglass, maintenance-free indoor fountain offering six soothing sounds: rainforest, thunder, summer night, sunrise, 'loons' (birds with a distinctive laughing call) and wind chimes.

If you still need to unwind, you can play with the lighting special effects, turning water drops blue, red and yellow. When you tire of the light show, you have the automated fireplace and the garden: forget just looking out the window, which is so last century.

You can experience it digitally via cameras programmed to home in on real-time highlights such as, say, bamboo lining a pond embossed with lotus flowers. If you want more detail, you can zero in on a single bloom and let your eye roam over the sepals and petals. If you notice that elsewhere the flowers are wilting, you can always program the automated drip irrigation system to increase the water flow. Who says gardening need entail blisters and dirt?

Should you ever need to wash despite the machinations of your robot vacuum cleaner, your smart bathroom has you more than covered. Inside, while pampering your body in the soothing mist of a rainforest shower, you may, if you wish, answer the speakerphone because the water cuts out automatically when it rings. And, to stay right on top of the latest developments, you may also check your e-mail courtesy of a waterproof computer.

For the truly obsessed, even the loo can be rigged up to function as a satellite workspace with a retractable desk. You wonder though, why you would ever feel the need to deal with

e-mail while standing covered in lather or seated obeying the call of nature.

For that matter, you might not feel motivated to access it via the internet fridge while having breakfast. Total connectivity appears a mixed blessing. Being in touch with everyone everywhere 24/7, you run the risk of more, not less, stress while your muscles waste away. Smart? Hardly.


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