How Much Value Do Smart Gadgets Add, Anyway?

Topics: Negative Impacts, Parenting, Technology

How Much Value Do Smart Gadgets Add?

Home gadgets have taken us by storm but it hasn’t always been this way. Back in the 80’s I woke up to a wind-up Donald Duck clock that had two old fashioned bells on the top. It sounded so much like a fire alarm that I lurched out of bed to stop, drop, and roll.

The clock that gets me up today is much different. Instead of an alarm signaling a nuclear strike, I awaken to the gentle chirping of woodland birds. My bedroom lights gradually brighten like the rising sun on a cloudless day. 

But I sometimes wonder why I bothered to buy the high-tech clock and light bulbs that sync together. After all, my old-fashioned clock got me up just fine. 

What do we get out of these home gadgets anyway?

Let’s take a quick tour of some of the gadgets out there before we answer that question.

Home Gadget #1: The Smart TV/Picture Frame

I binge on Netflix as much as the next person, but when I’m done watching all five seasons of Fuller House everyday after work, I need something to fill the void. That’s where the TV/picture frame comes in.

The TV/picture frame displays high-resolution images when you aren’t watching your favorite shows. This has the power to change the mood of your space with real artwork and not just the family photos of Fluffy.

These products display the highest quality images of some of the greatest artists out there. You aren’t wasting wall space on a dead TV screen.

It’s not a bad idea but it isn’t cheap either, with one brand coming in at a whopping $1,200. Sure, it’s more cost-effective than an original Van Gogh, but you can find better ways to spend your money. Like, say, on several day trips with your family.

And if you really want to get in touch with your inner art collector, you can order a framed Van Gogh print for around $100.

Home Gadget #2: The Smart Garage Door Opener

Have you ever locked yourself out of your house because you couldn’t find the garage door opener?

I haven’t either. But luckily, there’s the smart garage door opener to solve that problem anyway.

This home gadget connects to your smart phone so you can open the garage door with little more than a tap. I’m usually already on my phone texting while driving anyway, so this will make it much more convenient. 

Home Gadget #3: The Smart Mirror

I use my smartphone to do all kinds of things. I can look up sports scores, check the weather, listen to music, and shave. Okay, there isn’t actually an app for shaving just yet, but a smart bathroom mirror is close.

Now you can listen to music, check the weather, and shave all at the same time! Smart mirrors connect to WiFi and allow you to complete Internet-based tasks all from the comfort of your own bathroom.

Too rushed to look at your phone to see if the Cleveland Browns won the Super Bowl? Check the score while peering into your bathroom mirror in a pre-coffee haze. It might even look like Cleveland won.

My favorite feature is the messages these mirrors can display. One advertisement for a smart mirror had the message “You’re sexy” displayed across the bottom.

But what does it say if you’re not sexy?

Home Gadget #4: The Smart Toilet

Speaking of appliances getting too familiar in the bathroom, now is the perfect time to talk about the smart toilet. This contraption warms your backside when nature calls. It can also serenade you with music from your favorite streaming services.

But what I like best is that some even come with colored mood lighting. If a wave of romance strikes me I can queue up Marvin Gaye while casting gentle shades of blues and reds throughout the room. 

That way, my girlfriend won’t mind if I propose while doing my business at the same time.

Home Gadget #5: The Smart Water Bottle

Hydration is important but not easy. Many of us move through the day so fast that we don’t notice we’re thirsty.

If you’re too busy to pay attention to your thirst, you can outsource this pesky task to a smart water bottle.

At just $60 you can have your bottle remind you that it’s time for a drink. One brand vibrates and lights up to remind you to drink your 8 glasses per day. 

Or, you know, you can save some money and just notice you’re thirsty yourself.

If you truly can’t remember to drink when you’re thirsty, skp the bottle. You can just use your smart phone’s reminders app instead.

Just make sure it’s water you’re drinking. 8 gin and tonics might have a different effect.

Joking Aside

Although the home gadgets listed above are ridiculous, that doesn’t mean all home gadgets are useless.

Smart speakers like Apple Homepod, Google Home, and Amazon Echo have some helpful features, especially when combined with other gadgets.

Smart locks and security cameras can help keep you safe and might be worth it if you live in an area with crime.

Smart window blinds, light bulbs, and thermostats can all help you save energy and lower your electric bill.

But by comparing these more practical gadgets with the humorous ones, I hope you realize that smart home gadgets aren’t always worth it. We made it through life without these gadgets in the past, so do we really need them now?

Like any new consumer tech we should think before we buy.

Getting Smart about “Smart” Devices

The word “smart” describes any piece of technology that gathers information to learn about your behavior in order to improve convenience or productivity.

Data-hungry companies like Google and Amazon use these devices and services to collect huge amounts of information. Introducing smart devices into every area of our lives makes it easier for these companies to gather data about us.

The introduction of smartphones has caused our device use to skyrocket. We use them so often for so many different tasks that companies can form eerily accurate pictures of who we are.

Now that smart home gadgets are in the mix, data companies are gathering information about us in completely new ways. And what they know about us is becoming ever more complex and personal.

If we don’t get smart about our smart gadgets, they’ll get far more value from us than we’ll ever get from them.

Privacy

Tech companies of all kinds have one big thing in common when it comes to their customers: they want to get to know you--and they never forget a face.

Smart phones were just the beginning. Home gadgets are directly linked to our most intimate affairs.

Fitness trackers, smart health devices, and smart toilets can give companies information that you wouldn’t tell your own mother.

Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo know what you sound like. Smart locks have got your fingerprints on file. And security cameras can recognize your face.

Mozilla, a company that puts tech consumers first, compiled a list of trendy home gadgets and other devices. The list describes each item’s privacy features.

The Amazon Echo Series Smart Speakers meet Mozilla’s minimum security standards, but they can still snoop on you using cameras, microphones, and location tracking. Most of the same is true for Google Home.

Apple’s Homepod smart speaker includes some of these invasive features too, but Apple is known for more consumer-oriented privacy practices.

A range of other products can also keep tabs on your behavior. These include certain thermostats, home security devices, and even smart litter boxes.

Fortunately, many of these home gadgets offer some control over your data privacy.

What you have to remember is that value no longer ends at the exchange of money for product. When you buy a Google Home smart speaker you give Google money and they give you a speaker.

But this doesn’t mark the end of the transaction. What Google wants more than anything is your information. That information allows them to make a profit from your purchase long after you’ve paid them.

In other words, you never stop paying.

Dollars and Cents

Value comes in many forms, but the most obvious is cold, hard cash.

When you see something labeled “smart” remember that the only thing that is smart is a living thing. People are smart. Dogs are smart.

Thermostats? They might learn when to turn the heat on and off, but at the end of the day you are telling them what to do. They just save it to memory.

What’s really smart about these home gadgets is the way companies market them. The word “smart” is just a tool used to sell you something. It doesn’t always mean a device is useful.

But one thing you can be sure about is that “smart” usually means “expensive” when it’s attached to the things we buy.

To justify the price of some of these gadgets, you have to ask yourself if you really need its smart functions.

Do I really need to have Alexa lock the doors for me so that I don’t have to lock them myself?

Is it important to me to pay four times more for a TV that displays works of art?

These aren’t trivial questions. There are many uses for money besides equipping your home with a fleet of smart devices. You could spend it on other things, including family outings, charity, or investments.

Think before you buy. Don’t let the smart tech industry outsmart you.

Alexa, Make Me Smart

Now you have some questions to ask yourself.

Is it worth it to trade the details of my life for the ability to automatically adjust the lights?

Is paying top dollar for something labeled “smart” really the best way to spend my money?

Do I really want to propose to my girlfriend from the toilet? (She said yes by the way.)

You may answer yes to all these questions and that’s fine. I’ve already spent a lot of money on smartphones alone throughout my life. I've disclosed large amounts of personal information with my social media use and numerous apps. This may be unavoidable in contemporary life.

But before you grab the newest home gadget off the shelf, realize that they are what they say they are: home gadgets. They will be living with you, listening to you, recognizing you, and seeing when you come and go. It may be more fun to get out of the house and disconnect with an immersive experience.

Consider the trade-offs and read the fine print before you bring these devices into your home. If you still think you’ll get something out of them, then by all means buy them. Just be intentional about your purchases before you make them.

 

Scott Wysocki

Author: Scott Wysocki

Scott is a graduate of UC Berkeley and is an experienced educator. He has worked around the country with children in multiple grade levels including extensive work with special needs children. His work focuses a lot on behavioral intervention and technology influence. Outside of work and writing for Digital Detox, Scott is an avid guitarist and creative writer.