Unfolding the smart home set up
A little girl sits by herself in the living room, dangling her leg at the rhythm of the nursery rhyme being played out, while scribbling something on the paper. She seems rather preoccupied, content and cheerful, in the company of the voice assistant. Her dad walks into the living room, settles himself and commands, “What is the news?”. The assistant almost immediately reads out aloud, distracting and offending the girl beside it. She makes a grumpy face at her dad, as he promptly reacts and instructs, “Play nursery rhymes.” The assistant abides; the little girl is pleased; and a giggle fills up the room.
Well, for most, the above scene in a nutshell is the contemporary reflection of our homes,
and may even be the step towards the future possibilities of a home. An assistant in the home, that acts as a medium to enable a family; not only to dictate information but also an emotion.
Within all that unfolds in the scene above, did one notice, that the two people (humans) chose to listen and speak to an assistant (a machine) rather than to each other? Well, of course, it may be argued that one does not exchange words to communicate, and true as it may be but why do you need an in between - a third object to enable an exchange? The other question that prompts is why did the father sitting beside his daughter, not recite the nursery rhyme himself? Maybe he was smart! That way he could do his own work while the trained voice entertained his daughter. It is efficiency after all – that seems to be the mantra infiltrating everywhere, even percolating into our homes.
Now, let us roll the scene again!
A little girl sits by herself. She is occupied by a voice assistant who is playing her a nursery rhyme. That keeps her entertained, and she sits dangling her legs and scribbling on the paper. Her father enters the room, sits on the sofa and instructs the assistant to play out the news. The assistant obliges. The girl passes a stern look towards her father, but the father is unmoved. The girl urges her father, yet they don’t speak a word. The father continues to be consumed in news that is being read out as the little girl leaves the room and heads towards her mother.
“I am leaving home”, declares the little girl to her mother. Her mother chuckles and shakes her head almost nonchalantly to dismiss her plea. The little girl is adamant. As she move she says, “You better make some jalebis, so when Ramu kaka finds me, he can lure me back home!” "So, you remember?” her mother surprisingly enquires and emphatically says, “Have you seen a Ramu kaka in our house? Our Ramu kaka, is the Wi-Fi. It can do almost anything. Switch on the lights, make coffee, regulate the temperature of the fridge, turn the geyser on, play music and even put you to sleep! But I am afraid he cannot fetch you if you leave the house... At least, not yet!”
The little girl listens with mixed feelings, and responds “You come and get me then!” She heads to her room and comes with the bag pack on her shoulder. “Bye!”, she announces. Her father is still unmoved. Her mother walks into the room to witness the drama unfold. The girl reaches the main door, tries to open it as the lock displays a message ‘Unauthorized access.’ Her parents giggle out loudly filling up the entire room.
The smart-home, works again to render an emotion within the household. For the parents - it is a laugh, for the girl - a disappointment. Not that she could not leave. but she just did not even have the opportunity to do so. That is efficiency, one may argue but it could also be about denying an experience. And where? At one’s own home! Conversely, this home can even be called ‘smart and secured’ – where a child cannot leave the house and is monitored not by her parents, but the house itself.
That is a real ‘selling’ point, isn't it? The parents no longer need to be parents; neither do they need to be family members of the house but mere individuals, concerned with doing independent tasks. While the new Ramu kaka – an unseen force – does all the chores simply by a command or a click of a button. No fuss, no mistakes, no unnecessary confrontation... No blame games, no complains, no argument... A mere systematic, ordered and an effective house environment. Is this not truly energy saving?
What about the girl’s memories for an encounter with the real Ramu kaka? A memory that is probably passed down to her as part of a regular household, only to be denied and replaced when the girl wants to live it. But that is a common and recurring phenomenon. The more we advance, only reminiscences of encounters, and the objects remain. It is called progression. But, is it necessary for our home to progress at the same pace as the rest of the surroundings? And by doing so become an incentive, dream and an aspiration? A dream for a systematic, error free living, by replacing possibilities, chances and ad hoc rendezvous.
Let us roll the scene again. ONE LAST TIME!
The girl is sitting on the sofa listening to the voice assistant. The father enters, and as soon as he prompts to speak to the assistant the power fails. The father and the daughter are dumbfounded. An eerie silence takes over the room, both keep staring at each other. Who will read the news? Who will sing the rhyme? And more than that, what can they say to each other? The mother walks out of the kitchen - the coffee machine is no longer responding either. Each of them just settle in the sofa, frustrated, awaiting in anticipation for the power to restore.
The grandmother seated at one corner of the room, knitting, looks around at the silence. She trudges, sits beside the granddaughter and says, “I will read out the rhyme for you. Come let us go outside!” They both walk to the door, unlock it and sit at the doorstep. She commences, not in the same fluency and accuracy as the little girl listened to the rhyme before. But with little repetitions, pauses, a few clearings of the throat, a few hand gestures and in between interpretations from her own end.
She speaks of her experiences, diverts to another rhyme, breaks into an anecdote, and eventually returns from where she left. The girl listens patiently, as her father and mother now join them leaving the silent room. They interject the rhyme telling their personal connotations, clarifications and past expositions. The atmosphere of the home fills up with human voice. In the background, the assistant light keeps blinking, as the family continues to giggle.
Well, one can say that even this time ‘smartness’ worked. Had not that power failed; the four individuals would not have got the opportunity to behave as a family. Indeed, it did. Not because of the appliance but rather the human. The human that allowed this encounter to unfold. Sometimes smartness would be inappropriate, but today if one does not use ‘smart’, one does not really value. More than that, it just reveals that between a smart home and a home, the line is very thin! In fact, there is no line, for the word home is both a noun and an adjective. A prefix or a suffix is merely a deterrent, that at the best can act as a supplement rather than becoming a definition.
Let us go back to the scenes and compare. The comparison is quite clear... Each of the scenes have the same conclusion – they all end with a giggle. So why all the fuss? For whatever one does whether controlled, completely, partially or without any assistance, the home resounds the same experience. Just the instances vary. Now one may see instances as a task or as an experience. And the lens one chooses to look through reflects their individual capacity of smartness.
Here one may argue, that smart homes is not just about an individual or a family; but is also about lager social and community good. For it boasts about energy saving, resource management and sustainable living. If that is the case, then why do smart homes always get visualised within the plush interior walls of the elite and not within those shelters atop which the ‘SMART’ signboards are mounted? Is sustainable living a measure of affordability? What it reveals, is that, may be till date this ‘smartness’ has just been a luxury. An attractive package luring the current generation and tempting the future ones of the possibilities of an intelligent technology.
No doubt it is intelligent. But why is this intelligence pictured only for residential homes? Why has this idea not been extended and played out for other ‘homes’ - the institutional kinds? The nursing, the caring, the retirement ones, the differently abled ones and even hostels where this very technology can assist in many ways than what is does for the people residing in these smart homes. This technology may make a real impact to the ones who lack certain basic amenities or even abilities.
Would that not be a smart home? What else can be smart? Or what should be a home? Cannot decide an answer? Take some assistance. Until then, OK Giggle!