These days, you can install indoor and outdoor cameras on your home to catch a burglar. You can reset your heating, air conditioning and turn on the lights as you're driving home so the house is comfortable when you get there.
If you've got the right digital kitchen equipment, you can remotely turn on the grill, oven or slow cooker with an app for your iPhone or Android so dinner is ready when you arrive.
Of course, there are dozens if not hundreds of wearable trackers to count your steps, measure your heart rate, fat, BMI, muscle mass and even pregnancy.
Just about every day a bunch of new gadgets come on the market and those above are only a handful of the most obvious in the new-ish category of “smart home” living.
The closest Crabby Old Lady has gotten to it in both personal interest and use is the Alexa – she owns three and you probably would not be wasting your money if you bet that sometime soon she will throw at least one of them against a wall.
They regularly misunderstand words, behave as if they are deaf unless Crabby shouts, don't have an answer for commonplace questions and – a new one Crabby hasn't been able to fix yet – play random music when she hasn't asked. If that grill controller is as iffy as Alexa, Crabby hopes it comes with an automatic fire extinguisher.
Her skepticism notwithstanding...
The biggest demographic market for smart devices may be elders. There are the ubiquitous home alert necklaces that can and do save lives – just ask TGB reader Darlene Costner. And Crabby has come to believe that electronic pill monitors could be useful especially for those, like her, who need a chart to track when a dose is due.
For Crabby, however, it gets trickier when talk turns to sensors that monitor an elder's activity and send the information to distant caregivers or family members.
Marketed as a way to help elders live independently at home for as long as possible, hardly anyone has spent much effort yet to find out how the spied-upon old people feel about inanimate objects acting as nannies and tattling to their human controllers.
When you look into these gadgets, one of the first things notice is that elders themselves are left out of the conversation as though they are already too senile to evaluate the service themselves which, obviously, begs the question about why, in that case, anyone would leave them home alone - sensors or no sensors.
Here are a couple of examples of how marketing language is typically aimed toward the children or caregivers and not elders themselves:
'Looking after an elderly relative who lives alone can be a huge source of worry. But what if your smartphone could automatically alert you if your mother has stayed in bed all morning or suffered a fall?
“If a senior does not get up in the morning and turn on the coffee machine as usual, the system detects the lack of activity and the person's carer is warned by text message.”
Oh yeah? What if Crabby just wants to sleep in this morning? Are you really going to wake her for breaking YOUR rule about her morning routine so you can congratulate yourself about your caregiving chops?
There's more. A newly-developed sensor uses radio waves to map where people are in a room. Another company is working on a sensor that warns when a senior is at risk of falling by detecting sudden changes in their walking speed or gait.
Does that second one make any sense at all? Maybe she's just dancing a little jig because it's a beautiful day. And if she's about to fall, Crabby doubts anyone will get there in time to save her from it. Plus, does anyone think the police or EMTs have time to show up at someone's home on a maybe?
Are these helpful things or intrusions, do you think? Lifesavers or invasions of privacy? And why don't sellers target elders themselves about this stuff? Here is one point of view in a short, humorous film about an 70-year-old widow, Thomas, whose adult children have loaded his home with smart gadgets to organize his day.
The film, Uninvited Guests, was developed about three years ago by an organization called Superflux. It stars actor James Leahy:
(Thank Chuck Nyren, proprietor of the blog Advertising to Baby Boomers, for sending this video which prompted today's post. You can find his thoughts on wearable tech gadgets here and you can read more about the film and its genesis at the Superflux website.)
Do any of you, dear readers, live with such monitors and reminders? If not, would you consider it – for yourselves or, perhaps, for you own ageing parents? Here is what Superflux says about the issues raised in their film:
”The brightly coloured 'smart objects' in the film are...symbolic ‘ghosts of the future’, where with time, their physical presence fades into the fabric of our environment, and all that is left is their invisible halo constantly monitoring, logging, tracking and processing ambient feedback.
“Ultimately it is our intention that this, at times comedic story, plays on and gives form to some of the growing tensions between human and machine agency. And in doing so, provoke questions about how we want to live and grow old in an increasingly technologically mediated word.”
Crabby Old Lady sees value in some of these new electronic helpers and in particular, she is looking forward to virtual doctor visits via her computer one day.
But she is skeptical about the privacy issues and about the control of elders' daily lives and schedules by people – loved ones or otherwise - who believe they know better. Like it or not, however, it is only going to become more widespread and commonplace.
What do you think?