As we come out of the other side of both CES and the MWC for 2019, one thing is becoming increasingly clear. The smart home revolution - and by that I mean the further integration of digital assistants and a growing array of connected consumer products - is not slowing down. Resistance exists, but it is futile.
There is always a backlash to new technology. It has been this way throughout history. Disruptive innovation creates a lot of change. And people, generally, don’t like change. Let’s have a look at some of the main arguments against smart home tech, before explaining the problem with such a stance.
Reasons why smart home resistance exists
Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of putting off the purchase of smart home products is the one that is often the most relatable - the cost. Making our homes ‘smarter’ is all about convenience. At least that’s what the manufacturers tell us. Using your voice to control your lights is more convenient than using a switch. Having a smart doorbell show you who is at the door via a video link to your smartphone is more convenient than getting up to look through the peephole. And so on and so forth….
However, this convenience comes at a cost. The purchase costs of smart home technology are still quite high. Filling your home with a full set of Philips Hue light bulbs, and the hub required to run them, for example, is not insignificant.
The issue of price ultimately comes down to a simple calculation. Is the cost of installing smart home devices recouped in terms of convenience gained? Sure, the initial price could be considered an investment, but for many, it is currently a sunken cost until the functionality and efficiency of these devices catch up.
The second argument for avoiding smart home tech is sort of related the first. If you are going to ‘invest’ in a smart home hub or connected home ecosystem such as Samsung’s SmartThings, you are reliant on the future development of whichever system you have chosen to invest. Smart home is still in its infancy, and the products and services available today are a fraction of the larger vision.
Think about smart security cameras, an area of the smart home market that is really taking off. A lot of these devices are cloud-based. If for some reason, the manufacturer goes under or stops supporting that service, you could end up losing all of your footage and be stuck with a redundant product (that probably wasn’t cheap to buy).
Then there is perhaps the biggest issue of them all - privacy and security. Concerns over the amount of data we provide to big tech companies, what those companies do with that data, and how vulnerable that data is to hacks, leaks and unwanted access is growing. What is interesting about the smart home market is that it is growing side by side with these concerns. The current global total of devices with voice assistants, i.e. those can ‘listen in’ on our homes is estimated at 2.5 billion. Experts suggest that figure will grow to 8 billion worldwide in just five years. Logic would suggest that the rise of these smart home tech is on a collision course with the rise of society’s privacy and security concerns over big tech data collection.
Finally, there is some resistance to smart home products from those that think it’s all a fad. I get this one, and every time I see a Smart Egg Tray or a smart hairbrush I allow myself a wry smile as more fuel for a list of “pointless smart home tech” presents itself.
All of this resistance, however, is futile. I’ll tell you why.
A lesson from history
People have a habit of fighting change and resisting new technology, but history shows us that the protests tend to fall on deaf ears. After all, the was significant backlash towards refrigeration around the start of the 20th century, and look how that turned out. And in the Medieval Middle East, people put up a fight against the drinking of coffee, something unthinkable in today’s caffeine-hooked society.
Calestous Juma, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, has explored this idea in a book titled ‘Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies.’ The book takes a look at 600 years of innovation and how humans often oppose technology, but there are not many success stories of resistance.
Even if we look at more recent technologies that were dismissed before becoming mainstream, there are some glaring examples. In the early 1980s, mobile phones were the size of bricks, weighed just as much and cost thousands of dollars. It didn’t take long for the jokes to die down and for us to get to the stage we are at today, did it? I used to know a man who, in the early 2000s, used to say his life’s ambition was “to never send a text message”. He now does Instagram stories.
Sure, you don’t have to rush out and buy every smart home product on the market today. It is sensible to wait until the technology is affordable, practical, more widespread, just like you probably did when you bought your first mobile phone. But the point I’m trying to make is that smart home technology is going to become mainstream. The next generation won’t be so resistant. And the one after that won’t know a life without digital assistants and smart doorbells and an oven that knows what’s cooking inside it.
How far along the path to a smarter home are you? Do you agree that smart home resistance is futile? Share your views in the comments below.