We only need to glance at tech conference CES 2022 to get a sense of how smart technology has now firmly taken root in our homes, with umpteen organisations announcing their commitment to adopting Matter – a mixture of Wi-Fi, Thread, and Bluetooth – that represents a new and more stable means of ensuring that smart devices can communicate with one another.
However, while smart devices may have wormed their way deeper into the infrastructure of our routines, our uses for such gadgets remain largely superficial.
Though some devices may contribute towards smarter energy consumption or increased home security, it’s hard to argue that voice-activated blinds, lighting, and televisions represent little more than a party trick (or, perhaps, “smarty trick”).
This doesn’t mean that smart technology can’t have an enriching impact on our lives – it absolutely can. But to unlock the more beneficial qualities of smart devices, we need to reflect on the detrimental possibilities of technology which reduces our mental and physical stimuli.
By looking beyond profits and accentuating the value of technology which empowers us, the smart home of the future will become a place of aspiration, far from the sedentary and thoughtless lifestyle that marks the path we’re currently in danger of travelling.
Smarter tech or dumber users?
Though smart home technology still holds a certain amount of novelty value, we aren’t entering the era of the ‘Internet of Things’ blind.
Our relationship to smartphones suggests the shape of things to come in the world of smart tech – after all, our phones come hand-in-hand with a comparable blend of enriching and distracting characteristics.
Research released in December 2021 from the Ruhr University Bochum notes that the pandemic has thrown new light on the already troubling phenomenon of smartphone addiction.
The study found that overuse of smartphones was associated with increased fear of missing out, a disproportionate preoccupation with negative news, and – perhaps most worryingly – poor self-control.
Similarly, a report from neurologist Dr Kaustubh Mahajan has noted that smartphone and technology addiction can lead to “digital amnesia,” as screen-related loss of sleep results in memory loss.
Taking these lessons from our now-ubiquitous smartphones and applying them to a new era of smart homes, in which we live inside precisely the kind of technology that causes losses of memory and self-control, it’s clear that the gimmicky aspects of smart technology have the potential to significantly dull the potential of our bodies and minds.
Empowerment through education
Of course, this perspective on smart homes is only one side of the story. We aren’t necessarily doomed to the sedentary world of Alexa as we mindlessly call upon voice assistants in place of our own thought.
In fact, recent research from the University of Cincinnati has found that smart technology doesn’t harm our cognitive skills – instead, it has the power to enhance our cognition.
The paper notes that technology in the digital age can be understood as a tool to aid in excelling, augmenting our abilities to make calculations and store information for future use.
This is a far more productive way to imagine the possibilities of smart homes. Leaving aside the superfluous luxury of voice-activated curtains, we should instead be looking to innovate in ways which supplement our minds and act as steppingstones to bigger and better things.
With investment in the right technology – especially by providers of properties like public housing – tenants can move from amnesiac screen addicts to strong learners.
Moreover, while there are applications for using smart tech at a young age – teaching basic listening comprehension to pre-school-age children via voice learning apps like Bamboo Learning, for example – this blend of teaching and tech extends well into adulthood.
One study from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that voice assistants improved academic performance for degree-level students, promoting their self-regulated learning in a manner sharply distinct from the loss of self-control notable in smartphone addicts.
Clearly, then, smart home technology can equally represent a path to brighter futures, paved by continuous and augmented self-improvement.
Smarter paths to social mobility
It’s important to draw a line in the sand between “beneficial” and “superficial” smart technology.
There may well be less money in developing smart tech that places an emphasis on self-improvement over self-comfort, but this shouldn’t outweigh the social responsibility that developers hold to advance this strain of smart tech, or to ensure that it is supplied to people in public housing who have the most to gain from self-betterment.
By furnishing tenants with the tools to move onwards and upwards, we can sidestep some of the pitfalls of smart technology while securing new levels of social mobility – and, by extension, securing a better tomorrow.
Roy Ledgister, Founder & CEO of the Convivia Group