Last year I moved into a house that needed some work. So far I’ve replaced the foundation, installed seismic upgrades, added central heat, repainted, and much more. (Anybody know a good fireplace guy?)
Along the way, I’ve been slowly upgrading to smart home technology. I ripped out my old, broken doorbell and added Ring, which detects when people are at my door and sends a video notification to my phone. I took out an old CD/radio combo from circa 1974 that was bolted to a kitchen cabinet and plugged in a couple of Sonos speakers, which let me stream whatever I want anywhere in the house. And as part of that central heat installation I put in a Nest, which lets me manage my heating from my phone.
I was expecting a regular series of headaches. Wi-fi breaking, apps crashing, microchips malfunctioning… the usual technological failures. Instead, my gadgets have worked alarmingly well.
I have noticed only one notable side effect: they’re making me a whole lot lazier.
Consider the Nest. I handed the little box to my furnace guy and he installed it for me. Since then, I occasionally turn down the heat in my house to win a “green leaf” for my outstanding eco-conscious behavior. I also spend approximately 10 seconds reading a monthly email about how much heat I have used recently, to see if I beat my slacker neighbors.
Other than that, I do zero. Plus, I no longer wake up freezing and my gas bill is lower. Win!
The downside is that Nest sets the gold standard for laziness.When my Ring goes off, I’m annoyed at simply having to swipe open my phone—I just want it to work automagically. As for my sound system, the four to seven gestures of activating my phone, finding the Sonos app, searching for an artist, and hitting play now seem downright masochistic.
Technology has always been aimed at freeing up time. Faster, smarter, less hassle. But the smart home has also made us dependent and, undeniably, lazier.
Permit a quick defense of selectively going slow.
In 2008, I rode my bike 830 miles across Eastern Europe with my dad. I didn’t bring a computer—and brought an old-fashioned journal. At night, I wrote out my recollections of the day’s journey by hand.
It wasn’t that tough. I wasn’t milking cows or chopping wood. But it made a difference. Because I can’t write by hand as fast as I can type—and because I had no delete button—I thought more about what I was going to write. I took the time to reflect, to ruminate, to add flourishes, and take detours. My prose and my recollections were notably richer.
I found that cutting out technology can be a blessing. Recently, I forced myself to stop using GPS in my neighborhood so that I would actually learn how to get around. I quit ebooks, forcing me to focus read without the option of baseball scores a tap away. I don’t bring my phone into my bedroom (usually) so that I can sleep buzz-free.
I’ll continue to add onto my smart home—accepting recommendations!—and I’m going to do my best to enjoy just how amazing it all is. But moments of slowness have value too.
Just so long as I can still stream a baseball game while I’m ordering food by talking to Siri.