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Are New Smart Devices Really Better Than Old Dumb Ones?

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GUEST POST BY DAVID RUIZ

We’re a little more than a week away from Thanksgiving, which, for the modern American consumer means: It’s officially Christmas.

As our country’s permanent festival of capitalism and conspicuous consumption marches forward, prepare for some holiday-infused reminders of what you, your family, and friends must absolutely buy to stay happy. And this year, what you absolutely need to buy is the Internet, but on devices.

There’s the app-assisted, Bluetooth-enabled water bottle that reminds you to take a drink. The $300 “first-ever touchscreen toaster” that toasts your bread, but for $300. Don’t forget the “smart” washer-dryer combo that might finally solve the problem of how to remove the stink of failure.

Revolution Cooking says ‘it’s not just a toaster, it’s a revolution’… Sure, a revolution in how much you can charge for a toaster (image from RevCook.com).

These are the products of today’s Internet of Things—everyday tools that have been connected to the web to bestow us with both its awesome benefits and its unforeseen shames. Don’t want Samsung knowing you’re stocking its latest fridge with only Totino’s pizza rolls? Too bad!

Before you stroll down the aisles to pick up one of these hot tech items, though, we wanted to present you with a guide. Here are the pros (+) and cons (–) for several smart devices today, matched against their dumber, plainer counterparts, from the ubiquitous smartphone to the only refrigerator appliance to be endorsed by the NSA.

Smartphones vs. Dumb Phones

Smartphones: 

(+) ???

(–) Leave behind a digital trail of your activity that, when collected or wrongfully accessed, can reveal more about you than your middle school diary.

(–) Create a condition in some folks known as “Nomophobia,” or “No Mobile Phone Phobia,” which is more embarrassing to say out loud than to suffer from.

(–) Support an economy in which the most obvious answer to a minor obstacle in life is to develop an app in which someone who makes less money than you will do it instead.

(–) Cost more than $1,000 and undergo yearly cosmetic changes that companies believe warrant another $1,000.

Dumb Phones:

+ Incapable of leaving behind sensitive web browser activity.

(–) Incapable of running a modern web browser.

Winner: Undecided. We’re a little baffled by this one, too. While we hate nearly everything that smartphones allow—a 24/7 work culture, a heartless gig economy that treats workers like servants, a form of capitalism in which private companies surveil our every digital move—we’re finding it really hard to give up scrolling through chonky cat pics while avoiding eye contact in the elevator.

Smartwatches vs. Dumb Watches

Smartwatches:

(+) Integrated fitness apps provide a convenient way to track your mobility and health.

(+) May literally save your life one day with automatic emergency notifications.

(+) May one day predict our deaths, which would make waiting for it far less stressful, and would do absolute wonders for Millennial Burnout.

(—) Could reveal jogging routes and GPS locations if data gets into the wrong hands, similar to when the third-party app Strava published Fitbit data of U.S. soldiers.

(–) Requires a recharge every night.

(–) Involve various operating systems not supported by every popular app.

Dumb Watches:

(+) Popular “native operating systems” (Quartz and Automatic movement) are secure and future-proof.

(+) Require a charge (battery change) once every two years.

(+) Sometimes have that cool green light that you can turn on in the dark.

(+) Have no data to leak, cannot reveal your location, do not care about where/why you jog.

(–) Have been co-opted by the 1% to serve as status symbols.

Winner: By a hair, the dumb watch! It may not save your life, but it will save you from looking sloven at your funeral.

Strava’s ‘heatmap’ for San Francisco and the Bay Area, showing fitness app users’ running and biking activity (image from Strava’s “heatmap” page, updated monthly).

Smart Thermostats vs. the Dumb Thermostats

Smart Thermostats:

(+) Learn your habits to automatically cool and heat your home based on your work and weekend schedule.

(+) Allow you to adjust the temperature away from your home, so that your cold cat can feel like a toasty tabby.

(–) Also allow controlling, vindictive individuals to torment their romantic partners by increasing temperatures to unlivable conditions.

Dumb Thermostats:

(+) ???

(–) For most Bay Area homes, date back to any year between 1885 and 1900.

(–) Bad at what they do.

Winner: Wearing a sweater at home.

Smart Fridges vs. Dumb Fridges

Smart Fridges:

(+) Equipped with webcams to spy on your veggies when away from home, on your phone.

(+) Can determine when certain items, like milk and cheese, will expire.

(+) Can talk to you.

(–) Can talk back to you.

Dumb Fridges:

(+) Keep things cold, most of the time, I guess.

(–)Not equipped with webcams to spy on your veggies, away from home, on your phone.

(–) Sometimes louder than the experimental XF-84H aircraft, a plane so loud it earned the nicknames “Thunderscreech” and … *checks notes.*… the “Mighty Ear Banger.”

Winner: The smart fridge. Look, nothing will convince me that I do not need a webcam to look at my fridge’s contents. One, the ability to look inside the fridge and wonder what the hell I should eat—without opening the doors—will cut my PG&E bill in half. Two, grocery lists will become futile, replaced by the clearly superior option of squinting into my phone to decipher my oat milk’s expiration date while crashing my Safeway shopping cart into a Tostitos display. Three, I plan to find a way to use my fridge’s webcam to host a Zoom conference at work.

Happy shopping!

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