Sunday, July 23, 2006

Honey, Your Laundry's On The Phone!

Can a toilet that calls to complain about the smell be far behind?
Washers and dryers that link wirelessly to Internet-connected home networks are being tested by consumers who are receiving updates on their dirty laundry via cell phones, computers and TV sets.

Why on earth would people--already inundated with IM's, e-mails, junk mail and constant calls from people who, due to the ubiquity of cell phones, expect instant availability and response--want to add to the cacophony with a direct dial from their own appliances? And when did monitoring one's laundry become such a challenge and a burden that a technological assist of that type is required?

Of course, microwaves that can cook food more efficiently and precisely are great. The idea that appliances can adjust to conditions--such as dishwashers that can "smell" dirt levels and washers that can self-level during spin cycles, etc.--is a
wonderful thing. But I, for one, don't want the darn things adding to my volume of calls, e-mails, or IM's, thankyouverymuch.
"When you think about it, it's just laundry. It's not exciting. But this isn't about technology. It's about the emotional impact of the technology," said Tim Woods, an Internet Home Alliance vice president.

OK, it's true that I "love" our Roomba, but I'm not emotionally involved with it and can't imagine becoming so with any appliance, no matter how technologically advanced. Isn't that what people, or nature, or works of art, are for?
"I think this is a great example of people using new technology to solve a problem that doesn't exist," said Laura Champine, a home products analyst for Morgan Keegan. "I've done my own laundry for four decades and I've never been away from my home and wondered how it's doing. Until the cell phone can load the dryer, I don't know how this technology will work for me."

I'm with her, even if that makes us both fogeys (a possibility, in my case, which I've already conceded). Except that I'm not so sure it's such a great idea to find ways to avoid toting laundry and loading dryers. Don't most of us already suffer from too much encouragement to sit on our butts and way too little activity for the amount (and types) of food that we eat? It's not as if most of us are going to spend the time saved working out at the gym or even with an exercise video in the comfort of our entertainment rooms. And what does it say about college students who have no problem taking the time and expending the effort to check for empty washers and dryers on a website, but think it's too much of drain on their schedule and energy to just trot down to the laundry room and use the eyes with which they were born? (After all, even they could use the exercise, statistically speaking, these days.)

You know, I've always thought the human mind--certainly its potential--is the most amazing piece of technology imaginable. How ironic, then, that we seem to be so enamoured of using that power to create technology that allows us to demand less of ourselves, that implies that we're less competent than we really are, and that increasingly makes us more and more dependent on complicated, expensive, resource-hungry and self-sufficiency-gutting externals.

Are we really sure that all of these "tools" are truly adding more quality--in terms of time or any other measure--to our lives? And if we never have to remember anything, or organize ourselves around tasks as opposed to the other way around, is it possible that we will gradually lose some essential abilities, some core flexibility and organic self-sufficiency attached to those skills? And what about raising the bar, yet again, for what's considered "necessary" for comfortable survival in daily life? I'm not sure that's worked out so well, in the big picture, and most especially if the electricity ever goes out for an extended period.

After all, there's a fine line between between being freed by technology and ultimately enslaving ourselves to it, down to the tiniest details (and, I'm sorry, but in my book starting the washing machine is a tiny detail).

Where's your line?