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Home networks: a solution in search of a problem?

Personally, I have no desire to talk to my refrigerator from my home office. A walk upstairs and a peek inside would suffice. hed: Home networks: a solution in search of a problem? Dek: Personally, I have no desire to talk to my refrigerator from my home office. A walk upstairs and a peek inside would suffice.

We have been covering the emerging trend in home networks since Bill Gates built the ultimate smart home a few years ago. When I speak of home networks, I’m not talking about wiring your home for multiple computers. This is something worth doing, especially as more and more households need a computer on every desk. I’m also not talking about the convergence of PCs with entertainment systems. PCs already make better stereos and TVs than do many devices designed for that purpose. With a few add-ons, users can get great sound and video at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated entertainment system. And smarter TVs and stereos will make every couch potato happier. “It’s a good thing,” to quote Martha Stewart.

Here, I’m referring to wiring wiring computers with other home appliances such as refrigerators, lighting consoles, climate-control systems, and the like. A lot of companies have been busy designing products for this market and even getting analysts to make pronouncements as to the “multibillion-dollar” emerging market for these products. IBM is even in the mix here, as a story on our site today indicates. While I can see some advantages to some of this stuff, most of it strikes me as a product in search of a solution.

The story describes a lifestyle that would be more of a burden than a help for most of us. Some of the stuff makes some sense. If I’m away on vacation, it would be nice to be able to check on my house and reset the thermostat remotely a couple of hours before I get home. I suppose a lighting system that can be programmed to simulate activity while we’re away would enhance security. But most of the stuff would be more of a burden than a help. And that¹s not to mention the privacy issues covered in the story.

Refrigerators with front LCDs that give a list of contents without needing to open the door? I’d just as soon open the door and look inside than pay extra for a unit that requires me to keep the list up to date. A smart stove that automatically mixes all ingredients from recipes downloaded from the Internet? What ever happened to the creativity of cooking? A smart medicine cabinet that could alert us to possible conflicts between medications or tell us when we need to refill? Puh-leeze! Do we really want to turn off the part of our brains that keeps track of these things? Of course we don’t. Humans have basic needs that are often stifled by technology. These are the hard limits to the markets for devices. We need to get away from technology when we go into the wilderness in order to heighten our long-lost awareness of our humanity and its place in the world. As Nelson King will describe in our forthcoming September issue, hauling a bunch of wireless stuff into the wilderness precludes the experience we seek there. We also need our homes to be places where we actually think for ourselves rather than letting our devices think for us. In short, for most of us, it’s not a good thing.

James Mathewson is editorial director of ComputerUser magazine and ComputerUser.com.

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