The Smart Home: What Are We Getting Ourselves Into?

The Smart Home: What Are We Getting Ourselves Into?

For years – decades, in fact – people have talked about a futuristic world where homes would feature smart technology that allowed them to conveniently respond to the needs and requests of the homeowner.

Billed as the next big thing in home design and development, it’s hard not to get excited about the potential that smart home technology affords society. But then there are some doubts. Are we ceding too much control to technology – and in the most private and personal of spaces? There’s a case to be made on both sides of the issue.

What is the Smart Home?

You’ve heard the term before – and you likely have a good picture of what the gadgets look like in your head – but what exactly is smart home automation? There are a variety of definitions, but Houston-based property management firm Green Residential provides a pretty good analysis.

“Smart-home automation basically means that all of your gadgets and devices are linked together on the cloud,” Green Residential explains. “You can control temperature, lighting, security, and more from a single device, such as a smartphone, and these devices can detect your habits to create a better living experience.”

The last part of that sentence speaks to the stark dichotomy of the smart home. Everyone wants a better living experience, but do you want these improvements at the expense of having something else “detect your habits?” There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but it opens the door for a pretty passionate discussion.

The Case for Smart Home Tech

Let’s start by looking at the good associated with the smart home – and there’s plenty!

Here are three specific reasons why millions of Americans are joining this growing trend.

  1. Cost Savings

For starters, smart home technology offers the promise of tremendous cost-savings. Smart thermostats claim to reduce energy consumption for heating and cooling by as much as 15 or 20 percent. Smart lighting solutions allow homeowners to keep lights off during the day and remotely turn them on at night.

When you compound energy savings over many months and years, the cost savings can equal thousands of dollars. That’s thousands that can be spent chipping away at the mortgage, taking vacations, or paying other bills. Sign me up!

  1. Ease and Convenience

Then there are the practical benefits of smart home technology. Having a thermostat understand your preferences and automatically heat up or cool down, depending on the time of day, is convenient. Owning a home security system that automatically arms itself after the kids leave for school is reassuring. Being able to walk into a dark room and have the lights automatically turn on is also pretty cool. It’s hard to deny the practical benefits smart home tech affords homeowners.

  1. Cool Factor

On a surface level, having a smart home is just plain cool. There’s something incredibly fascinating about living in a home that automatically responds to your needs – sometimes before you even realize what you want.

You’ll have fun showing off all of your new gadgets to your friends and houseguests.

The Case Against Smart Home Tech

But for every positive associated with smart home technology, there’s an equally alarming risk. It would be foolish not to acknowledge these factors, so let’s take a look.

  1. Security Risks

While it isn’t receiving a ton of attention right now, the security risks associated with smart devices need to be evaluated and understood.  As tech blogger Dianna Labrien notes, “Hackers have already managed to breach Internet-connected camera systems, Smart TVs and even baby monitors. In the latter case, an unknown man was reported to use the connected camera network device to scream obscenities into a baby nursery.

The problem is that most people aren’t aware of when their devices become hacked. There’s usually no way of knowing, which means criminals could have access to your most private information and experiences for months or years at a time. It’s truly frightening to think about.

  1. Less Control

Most people are willing to give up some control in order to enjoy more convenience, but there will always be risk associated with giving up too much autonomy.

“Both prospective users and actual early adopters also express caution towards ceding autonomy and independence in the home for increased technological control,” explains researcher Charlie Wilson, who has studied the risks and benefits of smart home technology in the UK. “These broader sociotechnical risks are perceived more strongly than the privacy and data security concerns that have affected smart meter rollouts in the EU.”

  1. Outdated Technology

On a less serious note, there’s also the risk associated with outdated technology. As you known from personal experience with smartphones, tablets, and computers, technology changes pretty rapidly. Your cutting edge iPhone suddenly becomes obsolete as soon as the next version is announced. Well, the same is true in this industry. The thousands of dollars you invest in gadgets today could prove to be worthless when you eventually put your home on the market. Not a great investment!

Be Vigilant and Skeptical

At the end of the day, it looks like we’re moving in the direction of seeing smarter technology enter the home (whether you like it or not). Smart gadgets will become the norm and – much like the internet, smartphones, and other ubiquitous technology – you won’t be able to escape it.

The one thing you can do is heighten your sense of awareness. Vigilance and healthy skepticism will take you a long way and lower your risk of losing control.

This post is part of our contributor series. It is written and published independently of TNW.

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