Mark Cantrell, Author

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Blog: My Fridge Really Doesn't Need Internet, You Know

Posted by Mark Cantrell on May 10, 2017 at 5:00 PM

Snake oil is as much a lubricant for tech sales as any other branch of business

THE next big thing in tech is the so-called Internet of Things (IoT), which largely seems to consist of connecting up our domestic appliances to the web, whether we like it or not, writes Mark Cantrell.

We can log on to our kettle on the bus and set it to boil just in time for when we walk through the door. Or else, we can set the heating to make sure the home is nice and toasty when we get back from work, all courtesy of a handy little app on our smartphone.

As for what the fridge gets up to online when we're not around to check its browsing habits, well that's anybody's guess. But let's not go there; the smart telly might notice and file a report.

Supposedly, the smart fridge doesn't just keep our comestibles suitably chilled, it checks to make sure we're not running low, and orders stuff in when it's needed. Or so I am led to understand. Quite how this digital mod con is supposed to make life a little easier, I am left hazarding to guess; have its adherents never struggled with updates and the frustrations of trying to make different gadgets talk?

At the end of the day, I'm not convinced all this IoT is about making life more convenient for us, Joe Punter; it's more about flogging us kit we don't really need, and then locking us into upgrades, and services plans, and micro-payment regimes that leave us not entirely in control of our cash flows.

And that's before we even consider all the data – our preferences, lifestyles, habits, financial situation etc – that this tech enclosure is harvesting and transmitting about us to a web of tech firms and third party businesses, all eager to find ways to sell us more stuff.

The digital revolution is increasingly coming to feel more like a digital corral; we're being herded and tagged, monitored and branded. Anything from our phone to our television, our PCs, and now our fridges, kettles, utility meters, cars, and – who knows – our clothes, are being linked up to watch us 24/7. Who needs a telescreen a la 1984 when you've got the panopticon of our household appliances bathing us in constant wireless surveillance?

But we mustn't complain, or resist; that's just cyber-luddism. Or worse, because nobody in their right mind would resist this emergent digital utopia, right? Not me, no: I know my place and I salute our digital overlords. But then, having said that, it’s hardly luddite to acknowledge the tool for the job; you don’t need every last one of them in the box.

Sure, some aspects of IoT are undoubtedly useful; how else are they to get us hooked in the early stages. It’s got to offer some sense of utility; otherwise we’d simply grow bored of the fad. For tech retailers and manufacturers, that’s a boon and a bust; consumer capitalism needs to sell us stuff.

This means stuff we don’t need; stuff we don’t want; stuff that has the engineered shelf-life of a mayfly, because the markets are saturated, and they must find ways to implant a yearning need for stuff that’s pretty much the same as the previous iteration, in order to artificially grow the market.

So, this IoT offers the best of both worlds: the means to identify how to sell us more stuff, and the stuff itself. It’s their bottom line that’s on the line, after all; if they fail to make the most of the data harvesting surveillance, and we’re fool enough to let ‘em know us inside out.

The thing is, why should my fridge have to be connected to the IoT because some sales gimp somewhere wants to make commission? Or because some marketing commissar wants to find a way to hack my mind and prompt me to buy some shit I don't need so that said sales gimp can clinch a deal?

Simply put, I don't want my fridge connected to the IoT; I don't need it to be connected to the Internet. It's the tech pushers, the marketing bods, and behind them the coupon clipping investors that need it, not me.

The IoT may be the next stage of the digital revolution, and we ordinary consumers may be Canute before the tide, but I can't help but feel it is all just another sales pitch; they want to flog us the same old shit, but with digital go-faster stripes.

Well, the wheels of commerce and consumerism are often lubricated with snake oil. Technology is no difference in that respect; it’s just that the oil is being extracted and refined from our souls. That’s chillier than my fridge, so let’s keep our cool and remember – not every need is a necessity.


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