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Finding Convenience, Losing Touch On The Internet Of Things – WBUR


December 16, 2016 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Internet Of Things


COMMENTARY

I’m embarrassed that we have refrigerators that connect to the internet. You know, the ones that you can look inside from the grocery store to see if you have eggs? I’m embarrassed about those, and a whole bunch of other products from this new-fangled “internet of things.” Easy is widely overrated. And the consequences of easy are often under-considered.

I got to thinking about all this after the cyber attacks in October that paralyzed several large social media and content sites where people like to live, eat, sleep and breathe.

Easy is widely overrated. And the consequences of easy are often under-considered.

Underlying these attacks was the ability for hackers to tap into so-called “smart” devices in households and use them as Trojan horses to invade much bigger online networks that pass you along to, say, Netflix, when you type in that site’s web address. The smart devices are there to make daily life very, very easy, and it appears they do the same for hacking. There are a whole bunch of technical terms and nuances for all of this, and I understand and have command of none of them.

Which might be enough to accuse me of being a grumpy old Luddite. Fair ‘nuff. Except this isn’t just about the staggering risks to security and privacy that our thirst for nearly psychotic levels of convenience is creating.

It’s not about being able to double check that we locked our car doors back home while sitting in our cabana in the Caribbean. It’s about what else we’re short sighting. It’s about the value of effort in shaping our characters, some moderating sense of our own importance. To say nothing of solidarity for those breaking their backs without access to such conveniences, either because they can’t afford them or because that level of technological priviledge is still eons away. And for what? Yes, we’re busy. But are we really that busy?

Some people are. I’m going with the single parents juggling jobs and childcare so that, some day, their kids might not have to. I’ll give it to the president of the United States, too, although I’m pretty sure checking for eggs in the White House fridge is already someone else’s job. And I’m guessing there are a few other people out there who legitimately need drones to deliver Amazon packages to their back yards within the next three hours.

The rest of us? No.

Don’t get me wrong. We feel that busy, and many of us live crazed lives. But they are crazy by choice. The easier it gets to separate ourselves from the inherent dignity of little tasks that show care and keep us grounded, the more we reinforce the legitimacy of that craziness, and the more we remove ourselves from a simple but powerful form of human meaning: effort.

I don’t know where the threshold between “better” and “too much” is, but I’m guessing that when the entire world has the ability to hack us though our digital cameras, we’ve started to reach it.

Mine is an easily assailed argument, I know. If, for example, I assert that I don’t really need a washing machine that reorders Tide for me when I run low, one response might be, So laundry is so glamorous that we shouldn’t make it easier? We’ve been fighting for more than a century to get women out of the laundry room. That’s true, and each weekend as I fold untold numbers of underwear, I renew my gratitude to innovation and technology that I’m not wringing out each pair through a hand crank.

Each convenience makes wonderful sense in the moment. Each technological advance leaves us time for the meaningful things in life, and for that I am also grateful. That is, until easy starts actually replacing some of life’s meaning. Work is meaningful. Chores are meaningful. Manual labor in service to others is meaningful. Daily effort in the labor of life is meaningful.

I don’t know where the threshold between “better” and “too much” is, but I’m guessing that when the entire world has the ability to hack us though our digital cameras, we’ve started to reach it.

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