/ Technology

Is a world full of “smart” devices a dumb idea?

Letters spelling the word smart

First there were smart phones, then came fridges, TVs… even watches. So do we need everything to be web-connected? Would a smart world really make our lives easier or is it just technology for technology’s sake?

I’ve always been interested in the development of words, and enjoy hearing about new additions to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Before too long we’ll be reading about the word ‘smart’ gaining an extra definition when used as a prefix to products such as TVs, phones and alarm clocks.

The term ‘smartphone’ was first coined in 1997 by Ericsson, when the GS88 handset was released, although the IBM Simon from 1992 could have been labelled smart with its email client and ability to receive faxes.

Smartphones these days are commonplace, and according to a recent Olswang report, 22% of the UK population owned one in March this year.

What makes a product smart?

The term smartphone initially described a mobile phone that was able to do a bit more than simply make calls and send texts, but these days smartphones have speedy web-connectivity, capacitive touchscreens, high-spec cameras and the ability to download third party applications.

And while Smart TVs don’t have all these features (would users want a TV to take photos?) the web-connectivity and app-based features are there.

Smart TV is a growing trend, and the available features have genuine consumer benefits that go beyond the gimmicky nature of 3D TV. The big TV brands are all bringing out smart TVs with a host of features including on-demand video services such as iPlayer, Skype video calling and multi-player gaming – however not all have adopted the ‘smart’ moniker yet.

Until last year, Samsung’s web TV service was called @internetTV, while Panasonic’s was branded Viera Cast. It was only recently that LG and Samsung both started to use the term Smart TV, and now that stores such as Currys are using it too, it’ll be just a matter of time before we all are.

Is it dumb to live in a smart world?

I’d like to see smart watches. LG and BlackBerry have launched watches that double as phones in the past, and they didn’t exactly catch on, but what I’d like is a watch that allows me to keep up-to-date with news headlines on topics I follow, and live sports results of the teams I support.

And I don’t want it to stop at watches. I’d also welcome a smart alarm clock that knows my work schedule and factors in live traffic and transport issues before it wakes me up. And, perhaps a step too far for some, but imagine smart glasses that could display additional information from the web, on request, about where you are and what you’re looking at.

Already we’re beginning to see more smart fridges. I scoffed at these initially, and I still don’t think I’m ready to let the fridge do my grocery shopping, but I can see the benefit when it comes to recipes. I regularly use online recipes and would rather refer to a splashproof screen on my fridge door than spill custard on my laptop.

So my question is: do we need everything we own, such as our phones, cars and alarm clocks to be web-connected and communicating with each other? You must at least be with me on the smart alarm clock? Everybody would welcome the occasional five minutes longer in bed each morning.


Where was it I read that a smart fridge had begun ordering extra milk for the cat without telling its owner? It’s smart to have things that actually make life easier. However, one man’s ‘easier’ is another’s useless accessory. There also has to be a good reason why smart things connect with each other, otherwise that’s dumb too. How they connect is important. Try downloading bluetooth photographs and see how long it takes. These days manufacturers go out of their way to make sure things don’t inter- connect unless you buy their accessories and connectors.
I like to keep up with the latest gadgets and ideas, but I’m very selective about what I buy. I’m afraid that the smart alarm clock would not be on my must have list, nor would HD television (I get a superb ordinary picture on my Panasonic ) Kindles, i pads, cinema surround, robot vacuum cleaners, on line mobile banking and cloud storage. Others find these things essential… I don’t feel deprived.

“do we need everything we own, such as our phones, cars and alarm clocks to be web-connected and communicating with each other?”

No, lets keep some human element in our lives, retain our privacy and keep up our face-to-face relationships

Mark says:
24 July 2011

I predict a future where we are held captive by our own schedules and notifications, our kitchen appliances telling us what to do and where to do it, and the inevitable cultural movement against such a future. I fear for a future where human beings no longer control their own destinies, instead marching to the beat of illusory desires, fuelled by the marketing departments of global corporations. Zombies.

Hello Mark, your comment caught our imagination this week so you’re now our Comment of the Week and will be featured on our homepage for seven days! Congrats!

Who is storing all our smart information? Something as simple as an alarm clock that knows your schedule, can also inform companies of other things connected with it.
There is a good reason why companies are so keen to get us to use smart devices, its impossible to see where data and analysis of that data goes, is stored and who it is sold on to.
We are charged not based on the cost to the company of the product we choose, but the demographic we are pigeon holed into for maximum profit.

Companies build up profiles of every household/person and use this data to maximise profit at our expense, using our own information.
The sooner people go back to doing things for themselves, paying in cash and telling companies to “mind their own business” the better!

Damn Young says:
30 July 2011

Good old fashioned anonymous cash.

Brian Gauntlett says:
26 July 2011

Can we do without the use of American slang e.g. dumb but stick to the queens English?

Life seems so stressful with all these ‘aids’ that compartmentalise us and bury us in small print. What used to be basic and simple is now complicated and tortuous and people seem to move towards living in isolated pockets with technology to keep them company. We are expected to fill our time with mindless activities and it feels as if we are becoming less ‘human’ as our lists of unknown friends expands through screens. What are we screening out?

Damn Young says:
30 July 2011

I like my gadgets to have fewer O-levels than me, so I can feel superior. These smart ‘benefits’ are invented by people who have no idea of what I want to do. Living in a wooden shack on a remote deset island, with only the sun for a clock, would be acceptable. Modern life is just getting more complicated. Every new gizmo brings more than its value in strife to you, but you’re a habitual junkie, and get sucked further in. Enjoy the benefits of kicking the habit.

Mark says:
30 July 2011

One obvious disadvantage of smart devices is the total lack of security. As we have seen with
phones, these devices can be hacked for malicious purposes. For example: “this is an expensive
TV that hasnt been switched on for a week, lets steal it”.

paolo thomas says:
4 August 2011

Anything that increases efficiency – allows us to do more things and do them faster – can’t be a bad thing, right? That’s progress. I mean, ‘Life is short’, and ‘time is money’.
Two beautiful expressions that roll off the tongue and perhaps help to define the modern developed world and the need for ‘smart things’ but are either of them actually true?
‘Life is short’ – Apparently a girl born in the developed world this year has a one in three chance of reaching 100. Life, for most, is certainly no shorter.
‘Time is money’ – Presumably for some, time does literally equate to money. But perhaps ‘Time is money’ for most, could really be understood as ‘time is precious’.

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.”

Matt says:
4 August 2011

Why not? Especially if the innovation can slowly seep into the social innovation space – such as tools allowing developing country farmers to more effectively grow their crop and get it to market at the best price – http://www.eurekalert.org/features/kids/2011-04/njio-sdw041511.php etc! Those products may then find their way to our SmartFridges.

Alex says:
4 August 2011

So if 22% of the United Kingdom are already on board with the ‘smart’ way of living, I have no doubt that the very same people will be dazzled (and I am one) by the prospects of nearly all household items one day being hooked up to the greater wide world web, (Back to the Future III feels within reach!)… Meaning that ideally – in the not too distant future we can get told how everything should be done – say – around the house: when things have gone off in the fridge (if we have not cooked them as advised already), when to vacuum (I mean Dyson) due to dust ratios and when to watch TV because our favourite shows are on. Smart – we might soon be able to achieve total dis-engagement of our brains and just sit back and enjoy the count up to 100 in the bliss of our own private technological utopia.

But what of the other 78% of the population then? Presumably they have either abstained or cannot afford to join in? Do they still have to trudge around the mean streets day to day using their mere brains to get by, struggling through the daily tasks which life brings, hoping they have got it right – all before they get to sit down, relax and see what is on TV of an evening??

Fast forward a generation and these two tribes could be quite different… but who will be smarter?

Usul says:
5 August 2011

SMART wife?

hilary sheppard says:
18 May 2012

Am afraid of the word SMART it means no privacy, Big brother watching you, there will be no privacy for anyone,

Heard about this on the radio this morning – Is there a need for a smart mattress in the market, really? :


Whatever next !!!

If you think you need one of those, perhaps you should be saving your money for a divorce instead!!!

Is this the modern chastity belt? Would it turn cuckolding on its head? At present everyone except the husband knows his wife is having an affair; in future the husband could know before anyone else . . . but not who with. Of course, serious adulterers are careful not to use the marital bed. The very act of purchasing such a smart mattress would probably wreck the relationship well before the app was deployed.

Aha, good comments alfa and John. This product is completely bonkers, in my opinion!

Andrew, I presume you used the term “bonkers” deliberately? It seems apt. 😀

‘Ooh matron…’ 😉

Are you in a hospital bed Patrick?

Unfortunately it wasn’t planned, but great observation Malcolm – Haha! It’s nearing the end of the day, and I’m nearly out of coffee *sigh*.