The slow uptake on smart living technology

Abby Cleaver explores the lack of enthusiasm towards smart living tech, and asks if it’s been overcomplicated to the point that it isolates those who need it the most

Smart living technology are technological devices or systems that are designed to enhance daily life. This is a very neat way of summarising a huge idea, as smart living technology is an umbrella that covers an enormous range of products and services. Smart home security systems, wearable health monitoring devices, home automation systems, digital assistants, and home entertainment are all examples of distinct areas within this smart home bubble. Applications of this technology can empower you to feel safer in your home with smart sensors and doorbell cameras, to conveniently turn lights on and off with an app or a voice command, and to save money on your heating through a smart thermostat system, and much more. This technology is engineered to improve your quality of life, to increase your efficiency, to solve your day to day problems. Sounds great, right? So why hasn’t it taken off?

The way that smart home tech is marketed and advertised is, for me, suspect number one. The advertising around these products is exciting for some, while confusing, overwhelming, and potentially isolating for others. It is tailored for a young and tech savvy audience looking to further enhance their lives, to make their lives every bit more convenient. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially in a busy modern world. Smart lights that can be programmed to gently wake you up with simulated sunlight is pretty decisively much better for your circadian rhythm than a blaring alarm clock – and a more pleasant way to start your working day! A coffee machine that can be set to have a hot americano ready at 7.35am  might be a dream help to a young professional always running out the door. Imagine every screen in the house is linked, so that when you walk from room to room whatever you’re watching comes with you. These images are the sort that we see across smart living advertisements. These ads are typically fast-paced, colourful, and bursting with energy to embody what this technology represents for the targeted consumer: the next best thing, existing and life changing smart technology that can level up your life.

“The unfortunate thing is that this is a group that could hugely benefit from this type of technology. Think of a nervous elderly lady who lives alone, and what peace of mind she might get should she be able to check her doorbell camera before opening her house to a potential stranger”

It makes sense that this is the direction that smart tech is being pushed in. Young families and young professionals are the most likely to be interested in this type of technology, their minds more open to the idea of using technology to make their lives more convenient. In addition to this, they are also the least likely demographic to be wary of this type of product, or at least, the demographic the most empowered to address their concerns head on with researching, for example, their concerns about data and security. They would at least know where to start. An older generation may not, particularly the elderly population who may already be suspicious and wary of new technology. The unfortunate thing is that this is a group that could hugely benefit from this type of technology. Think of a nervous elderly lady who lives alone, and what peace of mind she might get should she be able to check her doorbell camera before opening her house to a potential stranger. Think of an elderly man with a heart condition, who is able to monitor, log, and store data of his heartbeat and vitals for his doctor through a non-invasive wearable device, such as a watch or a discrete monitor. Someone with reduced mobility, who loves their dog very much but struggles to bend down and refill its food bowl twice a day, purchases a smart dog feeder, and now only has to have the feeder filled once a week. Even more basic, think of an elderly couple in bed who do not have to go downstairs to check if they left the lights on, or get out of bed to turn off the switch themselves.

The kind of advertising I mentioned above, with its loud music, flashing colours, and so many products being displayed in a one minute video, potentially isolates this elderly demographic who could benefit from this technology far more than the more youthful generations targeted. These ads over-complicate the idea of smart living for someone who might not consider themselves good with technology. This kind of marketing further emboldens the attitudes of non-tech savvy consumers that this kind of thing is not for them, pushing them away rather than inviting them in. On this point, and probably the most important factor, the types of products generally advertised are the flashy ones, the coffee machines turning on remotely, the colour changing lights. It is no wonder that smart technology could be looked at as a whole in this way as a bit of a fad, some craze that will pass when there’s a new “next best thing”. My own grandparents would look at those ads and think “well what the hell would I need to turn the coffee machine on with an app for? What’s wrong with a lightswitch? Who is Alexa?” The smart living products that this generation could potentially get great use out of, such as the home security side of things and the more boring but practical lifestyle enhancing products, are not the ones being pushed to the masses. They are not as flashy. The older generation is presumed uninterested before given the chance, and being left behind. Not just the elderly per se, but everyone who feels as if they are already outside the loop is being pushed out even further, and likely looking at this whole thing as a gimmick, something for the young, rich middle class to play with before getting bored and moving on. Maybe that is a partially correct assumption, but it acts to further widen the technology gap between generations and social classes in a way that leaves people potentially missing out because they are uninformed. People are wary of things they do not understand, and now that there just seems to be too much to stay on top of, why try? Instead of simplifying their lives, it is completely understandable the fear that this technology is making life more complicated instead.

Smart technology will take off, I think, but with more time. As always when new tech pops up, people need some time to get their head around it. At first, concerns with AI were rampant when ChatGPT cropped up. Concerns about academic integrity, about data security and privacy, crept into people’s minds and became a problem even though AI has been around and integrated into modern western life for years previous to this. People have learned to become increasingly wary of new technology and the potential threats posed by it. That said, it is also completely conceivable that in 20 or so years’ time, when more and more information becomes available, and understanding and exposure to smart technology becomes more widespread, interest and pickup of smart technology will be just another integrated part of our lives. 

While it may be too late for the elderly generation now to fully avail of the benefits that a smart home would offer them, technology will do what it always does over time, and trickle down. No longer will it be as exclusive, as expensive, and as enigmatic. Everyone and their mum will turn the light on and off with an app. The tech will be more accessible and more widely understood. Perhaps not even as understood, but widely accepted, as seems to be the way that these things go. People are less wary of something when everyone seems to do it, as is the mob mentality that we subscribe to in our joyful but mindless consumerism. It is not impossible, or unlikely even, to imagine a world 50 years into the future, where our generation are grandparents, who feed their pets with smart feeders on a timer, and who’s coffee machine automatically makes them a coffee everyday at 9am. 

Abby Cleaver

Abby Cleaver is the current life editor at Trinity News, having previously served as comment editor, and is a final year English literature and philosophy student.