A recent class discussion over what exactly constitutes “too much” digitization and connectivity, sparked by smart fridges,piqued my curiosity about the conveniences I already enjoy that might be viewed as excessive or unnecessary by previous generations.
The smart fridge proposes to ease the burden on fridge-owners by transferring the responsibility for monitoring food levels and freshness from the owner to the device. A smart fridge owner at the supermarket need not ponder over whether the milk is still fresh or whether they’re out of tomatoes; their fridge will tell them. Many of us, myself included at first, found the concept to be a bit silly; why would I need the fridge to hold my hand when it came to managing my food? After all, I can monitor my fridge well enough right now. After a minute, however, I began considering some of the automated conveniences I now enjoy.
For one, I have no need to heft around a collection of maps. I have always enjoyed access to online map services and printing from the age where I began to have need of such services. My father takes a dubious view of online maps; he sees them as unnecessary, since he already owns a collection of paper maps which allow him to navigate just fine. I see the ability to input two lines of text and get directions within thirty seconds as highly convenient, while he has no problem with taking an extra minute or two to find where he’s going. Online map services can streamline the process of obtaining directions, just as a smart fridge might save me time at the store, but I don’t need Google Maps to find my way. I simply allow a program to do my work for me, as it’s convenient.
I also enjoy the ability to easily structure my day with the use of digital devices. A phone or iPod can be set to trigger alarms at a certain time on certain days of the week to serve as reminders of something I must do. I am capable of regulating my schedule without transferring the responsibility of remembering my commitments to a device, but I choose to do so anyways because it’s convenient.
After contemplating the degree to which I have already transferred responsibility in my life to automatic processes, I no longer find the concept of a smart fridge very absurd at all. Just as some members of older generations might view as superfluous many of the conveniences I find essential, I have begun to look askance at new automation techniques which will likely be seen as an unremarkable fact of life in a few decades’ time. The process is a bit sobering, and serves as an effective reminder of the massive and constantly evolving influence digital technology exerts on our society.
Image used under Creative Commons license from the Wikimedia Commons. Uploaded by M.Minderhoud. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Koelkast_open.jpg