Getting Smarter

I just ran across this plug for something called “Allure Energy’s EverSense”

Make your home smarter with smart technology provider Allure Energy’s EverSense ($299), a home environment control platform. Ever-Sense senses when you are home and when you are away, and adjusts your home’s lighting, heating and air conditioning accordingly. Yet, unlike traditional thermostats, EverSense has wireless speakers that stream music from any device, an app that turns its high-resolution display into a digital picture frame, video playback, and an weather app with animated radar.

It brought to mind THIS POST from Dave Sikkema on the subject of “Smart Homes.” Dave’s post, which I highly recommend, includes this quote from Wendell Berry’s essay “Men and Women in Search of a Common Ground”:

According to the industrial formula, the ideal human residence (from the Latin “residere, “to sit back” or “remain sitting”) is the one in which the residers do no work. The house is built, equipped, decorated, and provisioned by other people, by strangers. In it, the married couple practice as few as possible of the disciplines of household or homestead. Their domestic labor consists principally of buying things, putting things away, and throwing things away, but it is understood that it is “best” to have even those jobs done by an “inferior” person, and the ultimate industrial ideal is a “home” in which everything would be done by pushing buttons.

While I realize there are some advantages to smart houses, I can’t help but wonder if even as our homes are getting “smarter,” the residents of them are not.

27 comments on “Getting Smarter

  1. Ann Wood says:



  2. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I don’t believe in having devices or systems that try to be smarter than me. I’m not one to relinquish control of my life to a piece of machinery. Yes computers can and do make life easier but they can also become too distracting and steal away my time for real life. People today do know a lot more than generations past but I would hardly say that they are smarter. I have a school teacher friend and she informs me that kids of today have no use for learning but only believe that the knowledge of how to find the information is the only thing needed. As a result, when being tested in class with a traditional test, they don’t see looking at some one else’s paper or using an electronic tablet to find the answer cheating. Our society would be seriously in trouble if suddenly the Internet and cell phones were gone.

    Have a great getting smarter day.


    • Bob Braxton says:

      my paternal grandfather farmer (1887 – 1978) never bought a tractor – he “agricultured” with a mule. However, he did drive Ford motor vehicles (pickup mostly) and traded with a cousin for a new one generally every year.


    • Bill says:

      That’s interesting. I heard an interview recently with someone talking about how memorization isn’t taught anymore because Google makes it unnecessary to memorize things. Handwriting isn’t taught anymore either, since we seem to use it so little.

      I don’t think it makes sense to teach subjects we don’t use but at the same time I worry about trusting computers to store all our knowledge. My seminary still requires M.Div. students to learn Greek and Hebrew, but not many do anymore. Even with that knowledge it will likely always make more sense to do that work on the computer. But as you say, we’ve become pretty dangerously dependent upon machines.


      • shoreacres says:

        There have been a multitude of studies that show pretty conclusively that the ability to remember things degrades when the first impulse always is to turn to Google. And on another front that’s pretty interesting, there is evidence that people who constantly are taking photos with their smart phones tend not to remember what things look like. They don’t interact directly with the subject matter — whether a landscape or a museum piece. They spend all their time interacting with their phone.


  3. jubilare says:

    There are times when I kind of wish my house could and would make me a cup of tea and bring it to me. Times when I am dead-tired and yet really want tea. But it doesn’t take much introspection to realize the ramifications of such a thing. Getting up and making my own tea is good for me, even when I am exhausted.
    The funny thing about humans, at least in my culture, is the more “time-saving” things we have, the more stuff we pack into our time until we have no time to breathe.


    • Bill says:

      Wendell Berry addressed that subject in a letter to the editor he wrote in response to an article advocating a shorter work week. I love the way he put it:

      And what are people going to do with the “more life” that is understood to be the result of “less work”? Mr. de Graaf says that they “will exercise more, sleep more, garden more, spend more time with friends and family, and drive less.” This happy vision descends from the proposition, popular not so long ago, that in the spare time gained by the purchase of “labor-saving devices,” people would patronize libraries, museums, and symphony orchestras.

      But what if the liberated workers drive more?

      What if they recreate themselves with off-road vehicles, fast motorboats, fast food, computer games, television, electronic “communication,” and the various genres of pornography?

      Well, that’ll be “life,” supposedly, and anything beats work.

      The entire thing, which I highly recommend, is here:


  4. Bob Braxton says:

    [also posted on “My Retirement” dot Org:
    Personally, I call this my Rule of Zero – a “to do” list consists of zero item(s).
    Anything more (such as One) is too much:
    do “nothing except if it felt like a hobby”
    i.e., “satisfy interests while providing entertainment value with zero pressure, n
    o schedule and no feeling of duty”. The rule is to wake up with the aim to “do nothing”,
    have nothing scheduled and avoid the usual guilt (or shame) encountered by most
    when “wasting time”, have minimum committments …


  5. Dave’s blogpost on “The Smart Home” and the quote from Wendell Berry are fascinating food for thought. However, my first response when I read your post was to say…but!

    I think there might be a place for technology like this in institutional settings. For example, in my church, they have the lights in the bathrooms linked to a motion sensor so that the lights only come on if someone enters the room, and they turn off after the last person leaves. Apparently, people are really bad about leaving the lights on…and since most of my church congregation is older than me about 15 years or more, this doesn’t say much in favour of people raised in the “good old days” of manual everything, nor about all those very elderly people also in my congregation who were certainly raised to be thrift conscious and who would most definitely have practiced economy with the lights in their own home, if they even had electricity where they grew up. Repeated admonitions at the start of services, notices in the bulletin, emails, little signs on the mirrors and doors – none of it worked. The church hall thermostat is now on a timer; if you turn it on, it will go off after 3 hours, as users were bad about turning it down when they were leaving. So I think the technology has a place in this situation.

    But back to my “but”…my own example kind of points up what you’re saying, doesn’t it? All these people know better, but just don’t practice what they know to do, though they more than likely keep the lights off in the bathroom at home. So are we giving up on people by installing smart systems? Allowing the laziness? Maybe. You would think that the red ink on the church financial statement would be enough of a consequence to get parishioners to see the need to practice some good old household economy, but it doesn’t seem to work that way.

    As to Dave’s article – I think he’s suggesting that auto alarms that tell you when a pipe has burst in your vacation home are one kind of smart and having a coffee pot that does it’s own thing for whatever time you want it, is another. That we need to be smart about what’s smart. I think what Jubilare said at the end of their comment is right on. What are we doing with all the time we free up with these time saving automatic/programmable devices?


    • Bill says:

      Take a look at Wendell Berry’s piece that I quoted and linked in my response to Jubilare’s comment. I think it’s excellent.

      When I first wrote this post this morning I had a paragraph about how some of these ideas made good ecological sense (adjusting the temperature depending upon whether anyone was in the house). I deleted that paragraph after thinking about it for a second. It makes sense, but why not build houses that self-adjust the inside temperature based on the time of year, as Amy Lou has done ( Do we even know how to do that anymore? Are our houses smarter because we aren’t?

      I use technology all the time and I’m not opposed to it per se. I recall hearing that when my grandfather was building a new house the family wanted him to but a bathroom in it. He thought anyone too lazy to go outside to use the bathroom was a sorry excuse of a person. But he relented and put in the bathroom. I prefer it that way too. But on the other hand when a friend of mine was building a house in Tampa 20 years or so ago the contractor recommended that he install two dishwashers in the kitchen. Evidently lots of people were doing that then. So they could put dirty dishes in one while taking clean dishes out of the other. Good grief.

      I suppose I come down in favor only of smart things that make homes smarter. 🙂


    • nebraskadave says:

      sailorssmallfarm, I am not totally against technology. I worked in the tech field for 41 years and practically grew up with the transistor. I used to know everything there was to know about computers back in the DOS days but not so much today. Would I want to return to those days. Heaven sakes no. I too have lights that are automatic in operation. One is by the front door on entry and another is in the laundry room. Both are places where people stay a short time but always leave the lights on. I’m not against automation when it works for me but when it tries to think for me is where the line is drawn. One thing I detest is automatic braking systems on cars. The manufacturer never says the car will stop faster, in fact it doesn’t. They just say it will stop in a straight line. I’d rather stop faster and be a little sideways than stop with extra footage in a straight line. Of course I understand that in the near future people will not be driving and cars will be fully automated. I’m not sure exactly how I feel about that yet. I will most likely hang on to my old truck until it’s banned from the highway. 🙂


  6. Dave Sikkema says:

    Hey Bill, you were quoting from me, Dave. I have a twin Doug though. So strange that even in cyber-space I am getting confused for him! (Thanks for the shout out! Always enjoy reading your blog)


    • Bill says:

      Dang Dave. I obviously know your name. Sorry about that. Fixed now.
      When I saw that ad I immediately thought of your post and the quote from WB. Glad to be able to share them here.


  7. What do we do with all of the extra time? Blog? 🙂 –Curt


  8. rhondajean says:

    Hi Bill! While I certainly have labour-saving appliances here, I tend to verge on the low tech side of things. I sweep daily and vacuum weekly, I gave away my dishwasher and prefer to get my hands wet, I write letters – by hand – and send them in the snail mail.

    I guess we need all the labour-savers so we have enough time to work to pay for them all. :- )


    • Bill says:

      Good point. 🙂

      I’m all for saving labor when it makes sense to do that. But much of our “labor saving” proceeds from the notion that labor is a bad thing, to be avoided if at all possible. If we see good work as a good thing, then how we choose to “save labor” will probably start to make a lot more sense.


  9. shoreacres says:

    Here’s what I foresee: as robots, computers and smart devices assume prominence, there is a very real danger that we’re become nothing more than a cog in a system. It won’t be the system of the Industrial revolution, which so many fought against in the name of a greater humanity, but it will be a system nonetheless.

    You can see it in the smartphone phenomenon. Everyone says, “Yes, but… it’s so practical for this or that.” And yet, when you look at them actually using it, you see that very many aren’t being connected — they’re living more cut off than ever.

    Like you, I’m not Luddite. But here’s the issue: I like to be in control of my life. I don’t use cruise control in the car. I want to drive. I use an electric juicer in the kitchen, but I chop my own veggies and stir my cookies up in a bowl, not a food processor. I put in a digital thermostat, and have saved money because of it. But I don’t need some wired-up system turning on my lights, etc.

    Besides, so much of this smart house business depends on smart phones and wireless systems. I don’t have either. Dumb me. 🙂


    • Bill says:

      Some futurists predict the ultimate integration of human consciousness and machines, allowing for some sort of immortality. Mind-boggling stuff.

      In the meantime we seem to be increasingly living into something like The Jetsons.


  10. EllaDee says:

    Entertaining post and comments discussion – congratulations 🙂 Smart houses? Not necessarily. And I read just this week – – so we’re apparently not getting smarter, we’re just sold stuff to compensate…


    • Bill says:

      That’s a fascinating article. Thanks for sharing it. I only recently learned that human brains were once larger than they are now. I had assumed that we’re getting smarter as time passes, but there seems to be a lot of evidence to the contrary.


  11. avwalters says:

    I read this and laugh. We’re headed in the opposite direction–a dumb home? No dishwasher (that’s what hands and the sink is for), no fancy technology. When we’re home, if it’s chilly, we’ll throw on another log. We will have back-up heat and a thermostat–you have to leave sometimes. Still, the concept of a “smart home” only further disengages us from living in the now.


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